In a few weeks, the UFC’s brightest new star, Irish featherweight Conor McGregor, is set to headline his first televised main event, where he will look to lock up a title fight with champion and pound-for-pound great Jose Aldo later this year. Slated for a rarely seen Sunday night show in prime time and in front of a Boston crowd that is sure to treat McGregor like a god, UFC Fight Night 59 seems like extremely shrewd scheduling by the UFC in order to get some attention early in the new year.
Seems is the keyword, though. Whereas any other weekend this month would have been a home run, especially in Boston, the UFC chose the one night where the company has a very real chance at being overshadowed in its host city, along with the rest of the country, by the NFL’s AFC championship game, which kicks off moments before the UFC show goes live on Fox Sports 1.
In 99 percent of the cities in the United States, competing against the NFL that night is unfortunate, but it’s not a death sentence either. Trying to throw a show in the TD Garden at the same time Tom Brady and the New England Patriots could be looking to book a trip to the Super Bowl down the road in Foxborough, however, could be as close to a live-gate death sentence as it gets. As popular as McGregor is in Boston, Brady is a legend parallel with Larry Bird and Bobby Orr in the city and no one is going to be able to get a glimpse of the spotlight if the Patriots season is on the line that night. With the game unlikely to be over until after the main card is underway, the odds are slim that fans will be able to make both events. In that case, the Pats are going to win every time if Boston natives are forced to choose.
There’s no denying the live gate and interest for the event in general are going to take a hit in Boston if New England is playing that Sunday night, but the organization has to be worried about overall television ratings for the event as well.
The main card should be able to draw an audience reasonably well since most of it will take place after the NFL game, but the six-fight preliminary card that starts adjacent with kickoff is going to seriously struggle to gain viewers. Adding to the problem is the seemingly random Sunday night event, which has been tough to promote thus far with the UFC throwing all of its power in the direction of Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Worse, even after UFC 182 is dead and gone, we have a massive Fox card and the return of Anderson Silva suddenly looming on the horizon and hoarding all of the promotional attention. This isn’t the first or even the biggest event to get lost in the shuffle over recent years due to the UFC’s insane schedule, but it may end up suffering badly due to the Sunday night start time.
It’s all doom and gloom for the UFC’s Boston card, and there’s no denying that this event has suddenly become a much bigger challenge to sell than when it was announced a few months ago. It would have been tough to foresee a potential Patriots AFC title game taking place down the road from the venue at that time, and with this being the lowest-profile card in a stacked month for the UFC, the company probably figured it could promote mostly around Boston and use McGregor to draw in the casual fans on fight night. That’s obviously not going to cut it, and with bigger events to promote on the horizon, it seems like this card may end up dead on arrival.
Holding this card on a Sunday causes a ton of problems for the UFC, and this marks the worst weekend in months to not have thrown a show on Saturday night. The NFL playoffs are finally regulated to one day, and with the NCAA championship in the books, the competition for the promotion would have been minimal on the first Saturday night without football since August. With McGregor on the card and a huge co-main event between former champ Benson Henderson and ex-Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez, this could have been one of the highest rated fight cards for the promotion in Fox Sports history.
However, with the UFC desperate to get back to Boston and both the Celtics and Bruins taking over the arena the majority of the time, the promotion had to roll the dice and take a chance on a Sunday night with heavy NFL competition. Sadly, that plan backfired. Now, the UFC may end up with serious competition from the very city it was so insistent upon visiting again.