The topic of piracy is one that has plagued the internet since the days of Metallica and the music industry vs. Napster way back in 1999. Napster took the internet by storm in the new age of the broadband modem. You could download a song off of Napster with your new, nifty cable modem in under a minute flat and be listening to it through WinAmp within seconds of the download being finished. For the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) this was new, this was scary and it was acting fast, faster than they could get a stranglehold onto it. They were finally able to silence Napster but soon new peer to peer filesharing networks popped up, just as quickly as they could swat down the last, until BitTorrent exploded and things got really muddy.
Piracy is a touchy subject for a lot of people, because lots of people who aren’t internet savvy see it as a black-or-white type of situation, while many that are more internet savvy see it for what it is; a shade of gray. For most people the things that they are pirating are things that they’d never spend money on, so the whole argument of lost revenues is a slippery slope at best, but for others, it is a matter of budgeting and convenience. According to numbers right now 81% of Americans have access to the internet via their homes. Out of that number, 28% of Americans subscribe to fixed in-home high speed internet in their homes and a whopping 89% have some sort of wireless broadband subscription (think 4G phones, modems, etc.), with those growing numbers more and more people have access to endless streams of information.
Information doesn’t just stop at educational information or news, but it spreads and bleeds into entertainment as well. Services like Netflix boast 44 million subscribers worldwide with recent numbers pointing towards 33.1 million subscribers in the US. That’s just one example out of many, as even for the music industry we’ve seen the rise of digital album sales through iTunes and Amazon, or even streaming services like Rhapsody and Spotify having millions of paying subscribers. The point that I’m getting at here is that these archaic entertainment industries don’t really understand the internet and how it is changing the way we consume media, but the ones that do are profiting and changing those industries for good.
Some are starting to get it, as digital music sales and streaming royalties have begun trumping physical sales over the last few years and more and more people are watching movies and television through services like Netflix or by renting or purchasing them via the internet. So here is where we land on the topic that you care about; the UFC and sports. Even major sports leagues are beginning to understand the power of delivering content directly to their fans, as the NFL Network and RedZone had 72 million subscribers going into this last season. That service is around $4.95 a month and delivers more content to subscribers, plus there is NFL Sunday Ticket which costs in the range of $225 per season offering every game. Other major sports leagues have followed suit and this has become a standard, to offer your fans premium access to the sports that they love at a cost that won’t break the bank.
My question right now is; Why does the UFC hate its fans so much?
Last year the UFC held 13 PPV events, with UFC 168 costing $5 more than the usual PPV cost. Let’s be real here, it’s 2014, you are buying a HD PPV for $54.99 (or $59.99 for 168 and any other PPV that the UFC deems worthy of a $5 price hike). If you were to purchase every UFC PPV last year you’d of spent $720 on UFC PPVs alone, with it looking to be very similar this year. Now tack onto that UFC’s latest experiment, Fight Pass, which is aimed at their most loyal and hardcore fans, that costs $10 a month to gain access to select undercards, international cards and their disorganized fight library (currently without an app for anything outside of mobile phones, making watching Fight Pass on a television difficult, to say the least).
Those events, fights and press conferences which will be behind the Fight Pass paywall have almost zero appeal to the average fan and instead appeal to the hardcore fans who watch every UFC event, every UFC fight and every scrap of UFC material released to the public. Those fans are also the ones who do podcasts, vlogs, blogs and even, yes, the much-vaunted MMA journalists of the world. Those are the people that the UFC is raking over the coals for an additional $10 a month to keep up with the sport that they’ve kept afloat for years. That brings the cost of being a UFC fan up to $840 a year, which is bordering on the ridiculous.
I’m inundating you with these numbers for a reason, because I want you to understand why there are so many people out there who don’t buy every UFC PPV even though they are hardcore fans and still want to watch every event. These fans love the UFC product and want to see all of it, but sadly, the $775 a year figure is around the cost of one month’s rent in the United States. If it comes down to one month of rent or watching every UFC event, it will almost always come down to rent being more important than watching men and women pound each other out while red-faced bald men scream at you for not being a good enough fan for having an opinion.
It should come as no shock that the UFC is taking one of the most aggressive stances on piracy of anyone right now, as they are so disconnected from their actual fans’ and fighters’ needs that Dana White feels that he can close himself into a room with the press and go on diatribes about how wrong they are about any topic that they bring up as opposed to giving actual answers. The UFC’s copyright stance and team handling it come off as bumbling lunatics in an age where even the MPAA has given up on trying to sue individual users and instead have ISPs send polite emails informing their users of infringements and asks them not to do it again, usually threatening to throttle their internet if it keeps up. The UFC, always years behind the curve, is dead set on bringing everyone to justice to satiate the egos involved while completely ignoring the past 15 years of advances that we’ve seen with the internet and copyright laws.
What the UFC should be noticing is that if people are passionate enough about a product they are willing to spend a reasonable amount of money on it a month. PPV sales keep the UFC happy, especially with their current deal with Fox Sports that gives them good money, but not great money. PPV is still the UFC’s main source of revenue but their numbers have been less-than-impressive on average, with a few big events keeping their numbers from being something to worry about. PPV is as archaic of a form of entertainment as there is right now, as less and less tech-savvy consumers care to even subscribe to a cable or satellite provider, they instead turn to the internet. Of course, PPVs sold on the UFC’s website are just as expensive due to contractual obligations with the big PPV providers, making the already unattractive internet PPVs even less attractive for the price. For UFC fans there are no viable, affordable options outside of heading to crowded bars with multiple-drink minimums. C’mon, you are still going to spend at least $30 on drinks and food if you go out, right?
Even the WWE, which the product is goofy and behind-the-times as any, has taken to launching their own internet service in the WWE Network, which will cost the same as the UFC’s Fight Pass, offering a similar service in their back catalog, sure, but will also offer every WWE PPV as a part of the service. The service launches next Monday night and will launch with an app on just about every platform imaginable, making it as consumer-friendly as possible. Now, yes, WWE’s first choice was for a standard network on television, but when they were unable to find enough support this was the next best choice.
Dana White has publicly stated that Vince is a “madman” in the past and when asked about the WWE Network he thinks that the WWE is “devaluing” their product by taking this consumer-friendly approach. According to the WWE they need 800,000 to 1 million subscribers to the WWE Network to make everything even out, which considering they average 3 – 4 million viewers for their live weekly Monday Night Raw that doesn’t seem like a far-fetched number. Even if the WWE Network doesn’t work out to be a giant success, the WWE is trying to grow with the needs of their consumers, who no longer see buying PPVs for $50 a month as a viable way of entertaining themselves, as opposed to finding the ones who can’t afford those events and trying to hunt them down and wring them out for what equates to pennies after legal issues just to prove a point. We’ve reached a point where the steroid and cocaine-infused madman that is Vince McMahon is more lucid on the state of the world than the social media-savvy Dana White and the UFC are.
If the fans still want your product but have shown that they aren’t willing to spend what you are charging for it maybe it is time to think of ways to reach more people as opposed to attacking the few loyal fans that you have left. As we’ve seen the music, film and sports industries grow and change with the times, maybe it’s time for the UFC to stop pretending that they are fan-friendly and tech-savvy and instead become those things. UFC Fight Pass and suing people who watch streams is not how that will happen.