What gives with waning interest at UFC 140?

UFC fighter Mat Mitrione spent time with at-risk kids as part of an anti-bullying campaign held at...

UFC fighter Mat Mitrione spent time with at-risk kids as part of an anti-bullying campaign held at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Dec. 6, 2011. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:20 PM ET

TORONTO - As my favourite Quahogian likes to say, “What gives?”

Why is it when the Ultimate Fighting Championship first arrived in Toronto last April for UFC 129, the 55,000 seat Rogers Centre sold out in minutes, but seven months later, the much smaller Air Canada Centre is still not sold out for UFC 140?

Is it the novelty factor? UFC 129 represented the first Dana White-led production in Ontario following a ridiculous government ban of mixed martial arts, and fans were clamouring for a chance to see a show live.

Was it the Georges St. Pierre factor? GSP was, and is, one of the most popular athletes in the world and certainly having a Canadian fight for a world title on home soil is very good for business.

Or has UFC 140 yet to sell out because it’s a sub-par card?

Or is it because people don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars just before Christmas?

Or is it because some unemployed UFC fans have decided that it’s more important to buy food than dine out on broken bones and Hematomas.

It’s probably all of the above, but I would suggest that the novelty factor is the biggest reason why the ACC is in danger of not selling out for UFC 140, which, frankly, would be shocking development given the pronouncements (always loud and brash) by White and his ilk that Toronto is the epicentre of UFC fandom. (Though UFC officials believe the ACC will be sold out by Saturday).

Tom Wright, Director of Operations, UFC Canada, agrees that there are a number of reasons UFC 140 hasn’t taken off like UFC 129, but he dismisses any suggestion that UFC 140 isn’t a stellar card. He says it is. He also brushes aside the idea that interest in UFC, in these parts at least, may be waning or has already peaked.

“Absolutely,” Wright said, when asked Tuesday if the popularity of UFC is still on the upswing.

“How do you gauge that? You gauge that in a lot of different ways. You gauge that by looking at social media, looking a Facebook, looking at Twitter. You gauge it in terms of business, in terms of pay-per-views, in terms of broadcast audiences, tickets, all those business metrics. It’s still growing.”

Of course, being an employee of UFC, Wright would say all those things.

The proof will be in the pudding down the road, whether future cards held in Toronto, not including GSP, will be able to sell out. But one thing hasn’t changed. The UFC is still genius at marketing, as demonstrated on Tuesday afternoon when they bussed in a group of kids from different schools across the GTA to hear UFC fighters spread an anti-bullying message at the Rogers Centre.

I’m not here to suggest that the UFC’s anti-bullying deal is a publicity stunt. Certainty the fighters are sincere. But by inviting the kids and the media at the same time, the UFC gains tremendous positive publicity AND they’re cultivating new fans. Fans, who in future years, will be of ticket-buying age.

Those kids at the Rogers Centre won’t forget meeting the UFC fighters. Kids remember stuff like that. It seems to me, most kids would rather meet UFC fighters than learn about protractors and the Family Compact.

So it was a win-win deal for the kids and the UFC, although some of our more “enlightened” politicians have spoken out against Tuesday’s gathering, suggesting that it’s inappropriate for kids to adopt UFC fighters as role models. To which I say, get a life. Kids watch sports like NHL hockey and the UFC, and if their heros preach a message of anti-bullying and respect, great.

Many of the kids at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday come from underprivileged areas of the city and would more likely listen to a UFC fighter than some dancer from the National Ballet of Canada

Not that there’s anything wrong with ballet dancers. If some radio announcers have their way, the NHL will be full of them some day.


Photos