In the wake of MMA’s television ratings and pay-er view revenue declining, the sport seems to be trying a different approach. There is one major viewing audience that MMA has not reached out and capitalized on and that is women. I have noticed a more female-friendly approach that is not all testosterone and male dominated, at least in the UFC, the sport’s flagship production. Domestic violence incidents have peppered the reputation of male MMA fighters over the past few years. This is not helping the sport’s bad-boy image or with its appeal to women.
Recent success in gaining female fans and fighters can be directly attributed to the meteoric rise of Ronda Rousey. She is a former Olympic judo medalist who has quickly become one of MMA’s brightest stars. She is the UFC’s biggest asset when it comes to the female demographic. She has gained success despite Dana White’s insistence that he would never hire a female fighter, just three years ago. On Sept. 10, Fox Sports (FOX) kicked off a new season of The Ultimate Fighter, featuring an all female cast. The 16 women were competing to win the championship of the new female-only division in the UFC.
Even Bellator MMA is planning to reintroduce female contests in October. It has been almost 2 years since they have done so (thank you Jozette Cotton). The power brokers of MMA are resting their hopes on female fighters. The hope is that they will draw female fans inspired by seeing members of their own gender in the octagon, which is a bit chauvinistic in itself but hey, who am I? They seem to be also targeting male fans who find the female fighters sexy and fun to watch. “Easy on the eyes and hard on the face,” is how the UFC has promoted this year’s TUF.
Purchases of pay-per-view events, a high-margin business for the UFC, dropped a third, from 9 million in 2010 to 6 million in 2013. Bellator MMA has seen its events on Spike TV decline 15 percent over the past three years. A flooding of the market with average matches with average fighters may also be among the reasons for the decline. So, appealing to a female audience is critical but very difficult, especially for mothers, if the participants are representing a bad-boy image. The UFC, historically has promoted and highlighted fighters on the cutting edge of that bad-boy behavior. Now they seem to be promoting, at the very least, an environment that promotes better behavior ie; new drug policy and the new Reebok deal.
The UFC has the smallest share of the female demographic of all major sports. Only 27 percent of UFC fans are women. So, if the UFC needs to grow its audience, that female demographic seems to be the logical target. The female audience has the biggest potential for growth and the sport of MMA needs them if it wants to survive or better yet, thrive in the future.