MMA Mathematics: How Paige VanZant Impacts Ratings

Paige VanZant is a UFC star. With over 2.1 million Instagram subscribers, she has more followers than every UFC champ with the exception of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Jon Jones. As a matter of fact, she has more followers than both current champ-champs, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo, plus Weili Zhang, combined.

The trend continues across all social media. VanZant has 328.4k followers on Twitter, where she is least active, and 712k on Facebook. VanZant has come under scrutiny recently for saying that she might not want to fight anymore and that she makes more money on Instagram than actual fighting. That stems from a call out from Maycee Barber after her win at UFC Boston. Paige VanZant’s media presence cannot be denied. But does that success translate to actual viewers for the UFC? We took a deep dive into the numbers to find out.

Watch the full Paige VanZant interview on Ariel Helwani’s show!

Also, for those curious, I’ve put the rankings of the champion’s (also Paige VanZant and Conor McGregor) Instagram followings below:

  1. 32 million: Conor McGregor
  2. 17.7 million: Khabib Nurmagomedov
  3. 4.3 million: Jon Jones
  4. 2.1 million: Paige VanZant
  5. 1.8 million: Max Holloway
  6. 1.6 million: Israel Adesanya
  7. 1.3 million: Valentina Shevchenko
  8. 1 million: Stipe Miocic
  9. 990k: Amanda Nunes
  10. 697k: Kamaru Usman
  11. 489k: Henry Cejudo
  12. 127k: Weili Zhang

Method to the Madness

In order to see how Paige VanZant impacts cards, we had to find out the viewership rankings for each of her eight UFC fights. Next, we took the main event on each of the cards she was not the main event on and saw what their headlining average was without VanZant on the card. To do that and consider the effects of rising or falling fighter popularity, we looked at the two main event fights they had before and after the VanZant fight. Listed below are the cards and viewership of PVZ fight cards:

  • January 19, 2019: UFC Brooklyn – 1.96 million viewers
  • January 14, 2018: UFC St. Louis – 1.2 million viewers
  • December 17, 2016: UFC Sacremento – 4.8 million viewers
  • August 27, 2016: UFC Vancouver – 1.98 million viewers
  • September 5, 2015: UFC 191 – 115,000 PPV buys
  • April 18, 2015: UFC Newark – 2.43 million viewers
  • November 22, 2014: UFC Austin 903,000 viewers

On December 10th, 2015, Paige VanZant fought Rose Namajunas. But, since that fight was on UFC Fight Pass, numbers weren’t released for that fight (thanks Jed). Those numbers obviously aren’t factored in this statistic.

Paige VanZant’s Impact: Step 2

As mentioned earlier, step two is to get a baseline of what the main event of each card was doing before and after the fight in order to have something to compare it to. Additional fighters were listed for cards they headlined before and after only, just so long as it was within two years of the card with VanZant on it. If there was not a main event within the two year limit, we took the fight next to it, whether it be the one before or after. We will combine the two and divide to get the average. Here are the fighters:

  • Henry Cejudo: 265,000 PPV buys*
  • TJ Dillashaw: 258,000 PPV buys
  • Jeremy Stephens: 2 million
  • Doo Ho Choi**
  • Michelle Waterson: 2 million***
  • Demian Maia: 743,500
  • Carlos Condit: 1,726,500
  • Demetrious Johnson: 223,500 PPV buys
  • John Dodson: 3,850,000
  • Luke Rockhold: 735,000
  • Lyoto Machida: 937,500
  • Frankie Edgar: 575,000
  • Cub Swanson: 1,600,000

*UFC 238 is under the new ESPN deal and did not release PPV numbers
**Not enough recent data, Choi was excluded from the numbers
***VanZant was Waterson’s UFC debut.

These numbers give us a relative pulling power before and after the fight with Paige VanZant. Here is how the numbers improved (or didn’t) with VanZant on the card.

  • UFC Brooklyn +86.66%
  • UFC St. Louis -40.00%
  • UFC Sacremento +100.00%
  • UFC Vancouver +37.65%
  • UFC 191 -94.35%
  • UFC Newark +65.59%
  • UFC Austin -16.93%

The UFC 191 card is a skewed statistic because PPV numbers are much lower than the viewership of Fight Night cards. We will exclude that from now on in our calculations. When you take into account all the fighters cards before and after, they totaled 8,317,000 total views for the UFC, averaging out to 831,700 average viewers. In comparison, the cards with Paige VanZant totaled 13,278,000 viewers, averaging 2,213,000 viewers. Paige VanZant graced cards averaged 37.36% more viewers if she’s not on similar cards.

VanZant Outside of Fighting

Paige VanZant has done well to promote herself outside the cage as well.

VanZant’s appearance on Dancing With the Stars was in March of 2016. After that, her next card, UFC Sacramento, saw a 100% increase in viewership. Her appearance on Chopped didn’t carry over the same improvements in viewership. The next card dropped 40% for Paige and her brand.

In May 2019, Paige VanZant was part of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue. For reference, other women that have been a part of the Swimsuit issue have been Kate Upton, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum among many others. This is another statistic that has yet to play out as VanZant has not fought since doing the shoot.

The last point in her career was the UFC’s debut on ESPN and ESPN+. In a fight that was headlined by a title fight between Henry Cejudo and TJ Dillashaw, VanZant saw another boost of 80% in traffic there. It’s unclear how much of that VanZant was responsible for because of the two belt holders headlining the card. But, given her past patterns, Paige VanZant was at least partially responsible for the increase in viewership with the triple header of her, champ versus champ, and an ESPN debut.

In Conclusion

I will admit, I was skeptical at first. I didn’t think men’s thirst on Instagram would actually translate to more eyes on the UFC, but 37.36% is a substantial amount. Recently, Maycee Barber said that the UFC built VanZant up and she didn’t deliver; the numbers say otherwise. Paige VanZant does deliver. The only time that Paige VanZant’s fame didn’t carry over was at UFC 191, which only did 115,000 buys which was interesting to me. While it could be an anomaly (the card was headlined by Demetrious Johnson, someone the UFC did not know how to market), it’s not a data point you want to throw out until VanZant is on another pay-per-view card. It’s cut and dry, Paige VanZant does bring more eyes to the UFC.

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Blaine Henry

Just your friendly neighborhood fight fan!

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