The prelims before UFC 234 averaged 1,339,000 viewers, the best in more than two years, but that number is misleading.
Normally strong prelim numbers are for the biggest pay-per-views. With the Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum main event falling through, expectations would be that the pay-per-view numbers will not be strong. Even with that fight, it looked to be a low-end number, with the most drawing power being based on Anderson Silva’s first fight in two years.
The difference is the move to ESPN itself has helped the UFC by being on a stronger station. Saturday was boosted by UFC coming directly after the Duke vs. Virginia college basketball game, which drew 3,318,000 viewers, making it the most-watched sporting event of the weekend.
However, to show how much it was the basketball game, the Teruto Ishihara vs. Kyung Ho Kang fight which opened the prelims, averaged 2.3 million viewers, showing that the audience fell hard from that point.
The number was the best since the prelims for UFC 207 on Dec. 30, 2016, leading to the Ronda Rousey vs. Amanda Nunes. That show did 1,511,000 viewers on FS 1.
The prelims were the third most-watched sporting event in that time slot, trailing the debut of the new AAF pro football league on CBS, which did 3,250,000 viewers, and an Oklahoma City vs. Houston NBA game on ABC that did 2,667,000 viewers.
An interesting note is that for both men and women, the retention from college basketball to UFC was consistent. In the 18-49 demo, it was about 50 percent retention. With teenagers, it was 40 percent, while with those over the age of 50 it was 32 percent.