The UFC anticlimactically debuted their FightPass digital network last month, quickly souring fans on what looked to be a revolutionary viewing experience from the promotion. To make matters worse, the WWE has just announced their own digital network, which will cost the same as FightPass and offer similar features - with the significant inclusion of all of the company's pay-per-views.
FightPass was offered to fans late last month for a free, two-month trial period (that still required credit card information) just in time for UFC Fight Night 34, a lower-tier event which aired exclusively on the network from Singapore. While many suspect the UFC rolled out their FightPass network prematurely to beat the WWE's announcement, the move may have cost them more than it gained. Very few positive reviews have been issued by fans that signed up for the free trial; with complaints ranging from confusing navigation, and an incomplete fight library, to difficulty canceling FightPass and poor customer service, the UFC looks to have shot themselves in the foot.
However, there are some key differences between the promotions and their services to note in order to best grasp the situation.
The FightPass service boasts full access to the UFC's library - which includes PrideFC, Strikeforce, WEC, WFA, EliteXC and Affliction, in addition to past UFC fights - several exclusive events like UFC Fight Night 34 monthly and other subscription-specific content. The WWE Network will include a similar selection of past events from theirs and other organizations (albeit with a much deeper library), new content and access to all of the organization's yearly pay-per-view shows. FightPass is currently only available on the computer, while the WWE Network can be viewed through the computer, as well as through the WWE App, which can be accessed on Amazon's Kindle Fire; Android devices; iOS devices; Roku; PlayStation 3 and 4; and the Xbox 360.
With the additional devices and access to pay-per-views at no extra charge, the WWE Network has FightPass beat in terms of nuts and bolts. Although it should be noted that, while the UFC's pay-per-view numbers haven't been as strong lately as in years past, they are still doing well distributing their product through that model; the WWE's pay-per-view numbers have been declining steadily for years. Thus, it makes more sense for the WWE to offer their pay-per-views along with the network than it does for the UFC. It's also a riskier move for the WWE, as they're looking for one million subscribers to make the product viable - while the UFC only needs 100,000.
So, maybe things aren't quite as bad as they look for the UFC. Of course, considering the way that the promotion has handled the FightPass rollout, it would likely benefit the UFC to begin expanding to other devices and maybe even offer some of their lesser pay-per-views (especially considering their ramped-up 2014 schedule) via FightPass. Obviously, the UFC needs to troubleshoot FightPass and make sure that it offers fans what it has promised them as soon as they can. Aside from that, they would likely benefit most from focusing on their own product and ensuring that its running smoothly before the bad press they've been getting persuades more fans to abandon ship.
Put in context, it really doesn't look like the WWE Network has surpassed FightPass by all that much. After all, the WWE Network hasn't even debuted yet and the FightPass two-month trial is free, with time to work out the kinks. Then, why does this still feel like a victory for the WWE?
The biggest issue is not what the UFC is offering with their product. Unlimited access to the entire fight library alone is almost worth the subscription price, with the obscure live events being just a nice bonus. The problem is the UFC's collective ego. When fans complained about bugs and incompleteness, the UFC reacted defensively. When those same fans went to cancel their accounts and found it difficult to do so, the UFC responded with dismissive and lacking customer service. Speculatively speaking, the entire reason that the UFC rushed the debut of FightPass was an ego-driven move, made to step out in front of the WWE (an organization that they've insisted for years is not a competitor). When they faced criticism for an inferior product, they didn't apologize or explain or promise to fix things quickly. They essentially told fans to deal with it, the same way they did when explaining the temporary pay-per-view price hike for UFC 168.
This sort of hubristically guided mistreatment of the fans likely won't sink the promotion, but it won't do them any favors in the long run. And if their goal is to look better than their competitor (with whom they swear they aren't competing), stumbling out of the gate and ending up with egg on their face is a very ineffectual way of doing so.
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