Monday, February 1, 2010


Eight years ago, not many networks looked to the ring for a ratings boost, much less for core programming. Pro wrestling’s biggest franchise, World Wrestling Entertainment, was still operating under a cloud of suspicion regarding steroid use by its athletes; boxing’s golden era of big marquee names in the heavyweight division was nearing its end; and mixed martial arts was trying to shake its image as a radical, new violent sport.

These days, the ring sports aren’t just pinning down record viewership numbers. For some networks, they’re helping to identify and build brand recognition among viewers. In 2009, USA Network’s WWE Monday Night Raw franchise averaged 5.8 million viewers, its best showing since 2001. It performed better than two of the network’s popular original series, Psych and In Plain Sight.

Spike TV’s Ultimate Fighter reality competition series has become the face of the men’s-targeted network and its most-popular show, averaging a series record 3.4 million viewers in its 10th season.

Even HBO’s 37-year-old World Championship Boxing series delivered a knockout ratings punch in 2009, averaging a cumulative 2.4 million viewers for eight live prize-fight telecasts, a 20% increase over 2008.

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