The UFC is “incredibly disappointed” that its attempt to stream Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor to paying fans didn’t work out so well. Probably not as disappointed as the people who paid $100 for a fight they didn’t get to see, but still.
Showtime, on the other hand? It’s so disappointed that it’s actually willing to use those magic words – “a full refund” – when expressing its sorrow, which is nice, but also the least you can do when you sell people a product that you don’t actually deliver.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million people watched the fight via illegal streams, meaning that an awful lot of people who didn’t pay got something that was denied to plenty of those who did.
This is a problem for a lot of reasons. For the UFC, which leans heavily on pay-per-view as a cornerstone of its business model, it’s a pretty big one.
As more people opt to cut the cord and go without any form of cable or satellite dish in their homes, offering a reliable streaming option becomes vital for companies like the UFC. Cracking down on piracy of those streams also has to be a priority, but the technological trends in social media point to more and not less sharing, which means it’s only getting easier for each person to become a broadcaster unto him or herself. It’s not a problem you’re going to sue your way out of.
That brings us to Saturday night’s boxing match. I suspect that no one really wanted to pay $100 to a collection of already wealthy people in exchange for a fight of questionable value and significance. You might purposely pay for rather than illegally download an album from some up-and-coming musical artist, because you consciously realize that this person needs and appreciates and deserves your money. It’s hard to work up the same sentiment for the two rich guys fighting over a jewel-encrusted “money belt.”
So why did so many people pay for the fight anyway? Why was demand so crushingly high that it outpaced the ability of the streaming providers to actually provide it?
It’s possible that some of it was fear of retribution (the UFC, at least, is notoriously litigious about online piracy), but that doesn’t explain millions of legitimate buys.
More likely, it’s that the people who really wanted to watch the fight also wanted the reliability and quality that illegal streams don’t offer. They didn’t want to end up squinting at blurry feeds or have to go searching for a new stream every couple rounds as more and more were pulled down.
The irony is that so many of these fans ended up with exactly the type of frustration they had already paid an exorbitant fee to avoid. These are precisely the people who the content providers should be racing to compensate, since they’re the customers you can’t afford to alienate.
It’s even more egregious for the UFC to be so slow in offering restitution, considering how little it had to do with the actual fight. If anything, the UFC should be grateful and amazed that so many people turned to its streaming service to buy this boxing match.
It’s a sign that these people trusted the UFC, even when it came to a fight that wasn’t a UFC event. To take their money without delivering what they paid for is a violation of that trust that those fans won’t soon forget.
No party involved has more reason to offer swift and apologetic restitution, yet here we are three days later and the UFC has yet to guarantee a refund. Instead, UFC President Dana White offered a vague promise to “take care” of those fans. Then again, he’s made similar promises in the past, only to later decide he’d already done enough.
This shouldn’t be a difficult calculation to make. If people paid you for something that you didn’t provide, you ought to give them their money back. That’s especially true if you ever plan to ask for their money again.
If you do anything other than offer timely, full restitution, then maybe you can’t blame people who decide they’re better off taking their chances with an illegal stream. At least when those don’t work, all it usually costs them is time and a little bit of sanity.
For complete coverage of “The Money Fight: Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor,” check out the MMA Events section of the site.