More thoughts on the UFC’s production qualities

I recently expressed my thoughts on the UFC’s television production quality during my TUF 5 recap and when I was on Sporting News Radio on Sunday. Based on some of the reaction, I wanted to expound on my thoughts and listed specific areas where I think the UFC can improve.

By and large, the production hasn’t changed all that much over the years. The graphics used have been tweaked a bit but still are very similar to the way they’ve been the past few years. If you watch a DVD from a card four years ago, it doesn’t look that much different in comparison to what you saw last Saturday.

It made sense to pinch pennies during the lean times, but the UFC is making more money and has more viewers. There’s also greater attention being paid from the mainstream media so a broadcast looking its best should be a top priority. The fact that the WEC looks better on TV just goes to show you that there are minor tweaks Zuffa can make in order to improve how the UFC comes across on TV.

1. Better lighting. From the “live” cut-ins during a program that’s before a live UFC event on Spike to the opening comments, the dark background that we have to see whenever Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan on camera just makes the production look cheap. I feel like they’re at a nightclub and not at a sports event. Use the cage as the backdrop and get more lights for the overhang that used above the cage. Look at how “bright” the WEC appears on TV and how dull the UFC lighting looks. There’s a huge difference. I’m assuming the same production people for the WEC and UFC telecasts are being used, so why is the difference so noticeable?

2. Change the color of the mat. I’m not a big fan of the gray. Yes, I realize I sound like an interior decorator but I’m being serious. With all the sponsor logos on the mat it really makes the UFC look like a regional promotion. If you’re going to have all the sponsors on there, do a better job of making the mat look more professional. As of now, it looks like what it is, a bunch of decals stuck to the mat in the days leading up to the fight. The decals have become such an issue that I remember a fighter at UFC 72 or UFC Fight Night 10 complaining that the surface was too slippery and he tried to remain on the center logo for traction. The blue that the WEC uses works for me. If they don’t want to use blue, then pick something else that looks better on TV while also making the logos on the mat appearing more uniform to each other. I know a company isn’t going to change their logo, but make them all appear smaller. I see that mat and it reminds me of all the sponsor billboards that you see as the home run fence at a minor league baseball stadium.

3. Add a sideline reporter. As you know, I believe that post-fight interviews almost always suck. A post-fight interview is tough to do considering what your interview subject just finished doing, but I still believe there’s room for improvement. Joe Rogan has enough to worry about so why not spring to bring in a third full-time member on the broadcast team who just focuses on post-fight interviews, backstage interviews, and injury updates. Yes, injury updates! If a guy gets laid out like Jordan Radev or Sean Salmon, it’s time to stop covering it up. Providing an update on the web site the next day isn’t good enough. The mainstream media and casual fans aren’t so ignorant that they buy into UFC’s out of sight/out of mind approach when it comes to serious head injuries. If a middle linebacker gets run over by a 250 lbs. fullback during an NFL telecast, does CBS, NBC, or FOX just ignore it? No, they provide constant updates. The UFC wants to be treated like a mainstream sport (and rightfully so) but it needs to act even more like a maintstream sport. I’d also start doing pre-fight interviews from the dressing rooms and the locker room hallways. No MMA promotion that I know of is doing this but you see it on other sports. When athletes arrive for a game, you often see the top names appearing on camera for a quick interview. In the NFL, coaches are interviewed as they go to the locker room before halftime and when they come back for the second half. Breaking news is also covered backstage. I know not every fighter is going to want to talk but the UFC handles the production of its own product so they are in a better position to make demands of its athletes than any other sport out there. Especially since there is no fighter’s union. B.J. Penn probably isn’t going to talk before his fight but someone like Jens Pulver probably will. As him on camera about the 145 lbs. division and or whether he expects a title shot if he can beat Penn. Ask Manny Gamburyan if he’s nervous at all and or why Karo Parisyan won’t be in his corner. For UFC 73, I’d really like to see someone get in Sean Sherk’s face and ask him if he’s nervous about defending his title for the first time after such a long layoff. Ask Heath Herring why he thinks he can beat Nogueira after losing multiple times to him in Pride.

Yes, it’s extra work and money to do this type of stuff but it would be well worth it because viewers deserve better than just hearing from fighters during interviews taped in front of a black tablecloth two days before a fight at Zuffa headquarters.

Having a full-time reporter on telecasts would also be great for injury updates after fights and if they need additional interviews in the event they need to fill time instead of Joe Rogan interviewing Shannon Lee in what’s nothing more than a program notice for Spike TV. Spike TV is justified in wanting to promote its other programming on UFC telecasts, but use live reads by Goldberg or commercials to do it. I hate when ESPN has “guests” on during the second half of MNF game to promote Disney-related crap and it’s just as annoying when Spike TV and the UFC do it.

4. Recruit bigger sponsors. I think it was during a recent NBC Sports interview where Dana White said he didn’t need Coke or big corporate sponsors. But he does need them and I think we all know that the UFC needs them to. Does he need them to survive? No, the UFC is doing a good job without them. I mean, does the UFC really need ESPN, SI, or HBO? Not really, so long as they have no interest in growing the company or the sport. Bigger sponsors would help the product come across more professional on TV. We wouldn’t have to see logos all over the mat like a NASCAR racecar or the awkward promotional spots that appear during telecasts. Ads and a simple read through would suffice for the big companies. They wouldn’t be as distracting as the smaller companies and they’d be paying more money. How can Dana not want them? You know he does and the UFC should go out and pull a Marc Ratner-esque move. Go to a Fortune 500 company and bring in their top ad exec, someone who has established relationships with the major companies and their ad agencies that can bring them into the fold.

5. Less pre-tape voiceovers. The UFC shows too much pre-taped coverage of its events. The sound levels suck and you can tell when Mike Goldberg is reading something live as opposed to taped. If you’re not going to fix the sound levels and make transitions sound more seamless, then just have Goldberg read more things live. It’s tough for an announcer to constantly improvise during a live telecast and if that’s the case, then make sure he has plenty of copy to read so that when he gets instructions from the producer on his IFB he can just look down at a piece of paper and read.

Another taped issue I have are the prelim bouts. I like what EliteXC/Strikeforce did this past Friday. Because of their live Internet broadcast, they can’t really have their swing fights before the main event. Both Josh Thomson vs. Nick Gonzalez and Paul Daley vs. Duane Ludwig were scheduled for after Shamrock vs. Baroni. Thomson vs. Gonzalez got bumped up while Ludwig vs. Daley still aired after the main event. I’d rather see the swing bouts live then know I am watching something that happened 2-3 hours before. If there aren’t enough time to show them, then just have the fights take place after the main event solely for the live audience. Yes, I realize not a lot of people would stick around to see those bouts but how many times is the arena packaged when those bouts take place before the televised card begins?

6. Get rid out the “Gladitator Intro” and customize the intro for each event. The Gladiator intro is a tough call because there is so much nostalgia that comes with it. However, it is too static and canned. They do a minimal amount of customization with the fighters talking about each other in black and white cutaways but the UFC can do better. I think the intros should be modeled after what the NFL, NBA, or MLB does before a big game. They really try and focus on the storylines and get you hyped for the telecast. Having a guy respond to a question from off-camera isn’t enough. Have Goldberg or a professional voice over guy do a narration and really get into storylines. For instance, for Ortiz vs. Evans it will just be them talking smack. Instead of that, try to communicate to the viewer how much Tito needs a win here considering he has two fights left on his contract. For Evans, really explore what this will mean to his career if he’s able to beat Ortiz. If you saw the EliteXC/Strikeforce show this past Friday, I think the intro they used should be the type of format the UFC goes with.

7. No more waterfall background. Do I really need to elaborate? It’s lame. It’s something you do when you’re a company with a tight budget that’s trying to look big. The UFC is past that stage.

8. Better fighter intros. No, you don’t need to do what Pride used to do, but putting some more money into how fighters are introduced to the crowd would be a huge upgrade. If you go to regional amateur MMA shows you’ll see that the intros aren’t all that different than what you see on a UFC telecast. Hell, some of them even spring for a small stage, some smoke, and some lights.

I’m not trying to bury UFC. I’m a huge fan of MMA and just want them to do well. They are already doing great but I think the sky is the limit. They have the best fighter roster in the world and I think it’s in their best interest to have the best platform in the world to present them.

8 COMMENTS
  • says:

    I don’t believe Zuffa produces the WEC or the UFC independently on Versus or Spike. One of the few events they produce by themselves is their PPVs, which does feature updated format and graphics.

    I also don’t see any problem with their lighting, I don’t get the night club feel from it at all. But it should be noted, that the venues they do play in for these live shows are glorified night clubs, you can’t turn the Hard Rock into the MGM.

    I can’t remember the last time the UFC used a taped fight for a swing bout, if ever.

    Some of your ideas are on the money, like fighter updates, better sponsors and some of it is ridiculous.

    There’s a reason why fighters aren’t pestered by interviews while they’re warming up. You don’t want a fighter screwing up their routine, because they have to do an interview with Joe Rogan.

    The UFC is not going to change the color of their mat, the main sponsor or the venue is always going to get a huge decal in the middle of the ring/cage. Moreover, the number of decals on the mat (in the UFC) are on par with any other major boxing/mma event.

    What I’d like to see them get rid of is the ‘Bring the pain’ song, and go to the scores they create for their websites & countdown shows

    I’d also like to see more documentary style fight packages. With that said, they’re kicking everyone’s ass on PPV, they’d be stupid change their product now.

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  • says:

    I agree with a lot of these suggestions. I have a feeling that a lot of the criticism is because the UFC is growing so fast (and putting on too many shows) to make any big sweeping changes. They need to slow down, and start slowing making changes to the promotion to see what works and how the fans respond.
    I would like better intros, not the screaming woman type of intros but more storyline on the training, and gameplan and where they see themselves going.
    I would like less advertising, I don’t really care about ring advertising but less of the movie tie-in promotion. The free SpikeTV shows I understand the advertising but the PPV promotions should be ad free unless promotion the next show. I would prefer the time taking from this advertising to be put to some of your suggestions around interviews, intros and status updates.
    You’re probably right about intervierws, the UFC broadcast team does need another team member to provide commentary though I think I’d put Rogan into the cage to do the post-fight and other similar type interviews. He has experience and is comfortable enough asking the tough questions that I think if given more time he’d have some more interesting questions.
    I have a difficult time agreeing with yanking the Gladiator intro, perhaps because as you mentioned the nostalgia factor but perhaps the better intros and interviews would help round out the show better.

    The EliteXC show was good, they need some work with the cameras yet but the ‘show’ part of the event seemed a lot more professional.

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  • says:

    “Add a sideline reporter.”

    There’s a dude named Sam Caplan who might be interested in that position.

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  • says:

    I would agree with most of what you wrote. I would suggest keeping it grounded. ESPN and Fox come off too polished now. I enjoy the underlying, no-nonsense feel the UFC has. I think the ramp+pyro+gimmicks they had 5 years ago was lame. I enjoyed in the TUF final how the fighters had a short walk. I think they should try hard to snuff out the trash talkin and facades like Quinton tries.

    I think the biggest think they are missing is the internet. A large (likely largest) demographic has to 18-30 males. MMA and TV go together like motor oil and milk. They will never go together well. TV doesn’t work because:
    1) time specific — I understand PVRs are a patch, but internet distribution is the fix
    2) network centric — I live in Canada so Versus isn’t possible, that’s lame
    3) censorship — Let’s say they get their deal with ESPN and go live Friday Nights (like good old boxing) and someone (god forbid) snaps their neck. The FCC and CRTC (canadian version) are going to cause the Zuffa so much trouble for such a long time (governments are sloooow to make decisions) that they’ll wish they never bought the UFC.

    Keep spike/versus/whatever and add internet. Do not stream. Streaming sucks and it flawed. Use the bittorrent network. Offer different resolutions, package old fighter to help with hype, distribute pre and post game shows. Offer me access to all their connect for $3/month or $24/yr.

    Do not follow the NFL, MLB etc… learn from them, but be creative and do your own thing. Look at the facts and listen to your fans.

    -steve

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  • says:

    One last idea. Come out with some sort of ranking system. Understand why this is tricky. But it allows fans to get perspective. I always feel overwhelmed when an experienced fighter comes in. If i knew he was ranked 53rd in the world as a light weight it would help. I would tie things together nicely for the fans. You could watch your favourite fighter move up the rankings or be able to gauge how well your favourite fighters opponent is. Again i understand how simplistic this is and there are flaws but I think there is something there.

    -steve

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  • says:

    “I don’t believe Zuffa produces the WEC or the UFC independently on Versus or Spike. One of the few events they produce by themselves is their PPVs, which does feature updated format and graphics.”

    Zuffa does indeed produce WEC on its own. When Versus gets a copy of WrekCage delivered, it’s coming from the production company hired/people hired by Zuffa. As for the UFC and Spike TV, I’m not 100% sure how it works but UFC controls the production there as well.

    “I also don’t see any problem with their lighting, I don’t get the night club feel from it at all. But it should be noted, that the venues they do play in for these live shows are glorified night clubs, you can’t turn the Hard Rock into the MGM.”

    Funny you mention the Hard Rock because all of the WrekCage matches from the WEC on Versus were taped at the Hard Rock. If the WEC can make the Hard Rock look better, why can’t the UFC?

    “I can’t remember the last time the UFC used a taped fight for a swing bout, if ever.”

    The UFC just aired three bouts on tape during their live TUF 5 finale.

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  • says:

    ["Funny you mention the Hard Rock because all of the WrekCage matches from the WEC on Versus were taped at the Hard Rock. If the WEC can make the Hard Rock look better, why can’t the UFC?]

    The Hard Rock still looks like the Hard Rock to me, on one of their shows (can’t remember which) Faber came out from the back to the cage, and I recall thinking how small/minor league the show looked because of it. I believe they tried to use some camera effect during the entrance, but it just came off cheesy. You can’t fake a big atmosphere feel in a 1,000-seat arena. The in-cage production is top notch though.

    ["As for the UFC and Spike TV, I’m not 100% sure how it works but UFC controls the production there as well."]

    Spike’s UFC fight nights always had a different feel to it, I’m not postive on how much say if any Spike has over them, but the ppvs are produced a lot better.

    “[The UFC just aired three bouts on tape during their live TUF 5 finale.]”

    The swing bouts on the ppvs are almost always live. The Spike live events are a different deal, recently they’ve gone to a different format, where Spike will air 3 live fights and stick in a few taped exiciting fights when time permits.

    I’ll say this, if Zuffa IS soley producing the live Spike events, then you’re right, they need to step it up.

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  • says:

    it’s weird, but watching a wreckage event recently me and my friend were both independently struck by how lousy the lighting was. it was too stark and directional. huh.

    the fighter talking about traction was rick franklin. i’d love to see something done about the surface, it seems like we see a lot of slipping, and codifying the surface properties of the cage would be an important step forward to becoming more of a legitimate sporting league instead of a fight promotion. there’s nothing wrong with being a fight promotion, but UFC can secure a unique position for themselves by mixing promotion with league.

    i agree wholeheartedly about the production values…it’s kind of embarrassing bringing people who don’t know mma over to watch PPV’s at my house (i’m a bit of an evangelist). HBO’s boxing specials, while having a lot more cash at their disposal, are also a LOT more professional looking…the dollar cost in video production, if it’s standardized ahead of time, is pretty dang low, and the return is high. i do design at an ad agency, and have produced plenty of TV commercials. there’s a precise relationship with $$ spent to the quality of the finished product in TV production.

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