The value of network vs. cable, and of an NFL lead-in, proved to be enormous as UFC’s second annual Christmas Eve special did nothing compared to the first one.
The Sunday night show at 10 p.m. on FOX Sports 1, which aired three fights from UFC 218, which took place three weeks earlier, did 357,000 viewers. The previous year, a similar special airing UFC 206 did 4,720,000 viewers and was the third most-watched UFC television show in history.
The difference in shows wasn’t so big. Both shows were high on action but hadn’t done big numbers when originally aired weeks earlier on pay-per-view.
In both cases, Max Holloway won the main event, last year over Anthony Pettis to win the interim featherweight title, and this year he retained the featherweight title over Jose Aldo. Both shows featured great supporting fights as well.
Last year’s two-hour show included two of the best knockouts of the year, Lando Vannata over John Makdessi and Donald Cerrone over Matt Brown. This year’s 90-minute show also aired a knockout of the year contender with Francis Ngannou’s win over Alistair Overeem, and a fight of the year contender with Eddie Alvarez’s win over Justin Gaethje.
But everything except show quality was different, and that made all the difference in the world.
Last year’s show aired at 8 p.m. on FOX, and followed an NFL game that did 15,541,000 viewers. This year’s show aired two hours later on FS 1, and followed the tape of a 3-on-3 basketball game from August.
The taped show still finished third in its time slot on cable in the key 18-49 demo, behind only College Football on ESPN and SportsCenter on ESPN 2.