How will the UFC fare going head-to-head with the New England Patriots?
When the UFC show starts on Sunday night at the TD Garden arena in Boston, just 30 minutes up the road the New England Patriots will be kicking off against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.
The Patriots are the biggest draw in the northeast with almost 69,000 fans packing into Gillette Stadium each and every home appearance and the television ratings for the game are expected to bring in well over 50-million viewers.
The UFC booked the date and time in Boston knowing full well they could go head-to-head with the NFL, which is a juggernaut when it comes to ratings and attention from casual sports observers. There was never a guarantee of course that the Patriots would make it as far as they did or even at the time if they would host the game in the same vicinity as the UFC card taking place Sunday night.
Now it’s a reality and everybody is curious if the Patriots home game will spoil the UFC’s return to Boston.
"It’s great to be here the same weekend as them," UFC president Dana White said when speaking to Jim Rome this week. "We’re going pretty much the same time as them. They’ll be off about 40 minutes before the (Conor) McGregor fight, but I’m going to put the scores up in the arena on Sunday night. If they win, we’re going to do some fun stuff in the arena."
Make no mistake about it, if the Garden sells out the headline should be ‘McGregor sells out the TD Garden’
— Jon Anik
White is a lifelong Patriots fan and originally from the Boston area. UFC commentator Jon Anik also grew up in Boston and knows the city very well when it comes to the fans and how they are attracted to certain sports and not drawn to others.
Anik believes this weekend’s card will be a success, but the lion’s share of the credit should go to the Irishman in the main event, who has whipped the city into a feeding frenzy getting ready to see the brash featherweight take the stage once again.
"I always thought it was going to take a really special fighter, whether it was a Boston based guy or some unexpected phenomenon like Conor McGregor to get such a pro-sports city like Boston behind it because you can’t even get a crowd at Boston College football games. Boston is such a pro-sports town and the big four take up so much attention that I thought it was going to take a special phenomenon like Conor McGregor to get that city to care," Anik told FOX Sports.
"I can tell you McGregor gets them fired up. So it might be a later arriving crowd because of the game going up against the prelims, but I don’t see it affecting the live event at all."
Ticket sales for the show have been extremely well according to several sources speaking to FOX Sports and there’s a good chance by the time the main card starts at 10p ET, the TD Garden arena will be sold out.
While Sunday night shows are rare for the UFC, this one worked out perfectly with Monday being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is a Federal holiday and many workers will have the day off.
The way Anik sees this is the UFC didn’t choose to go head-to-head with the Patriots, but instead looks at this is riding a wave of sports momentum going on in Boston this weekend. Saturday night, the Boston Bruins will hit the ice and then the Patriots take the field on Sunday evening. By the time Sunday night rolls around, it finally becomes McGregor’s turn to take the stage and the best way to look at his fight is the closing act to an outstanding festival concert weekend.
"I always remember on championship Sunday wishing there was something at night. We certainly have something this Sunday. I think it’s going to be a sell out, I think McGregor deserves a lot of credit for that," Anik said.
"We saw his fans travel well to Las Vegas to see him at UFC 178 and this is a city rich in Irish tradition so it’s a natural draw. I give McGregor the bulk of the credit. Make no mistake about it, if the Garden sells out the headline should be ‘McGregor sells out the TD Garden."
As for White, his business side clashed with personal feelings for this weekend because he’s a devoted Patriots fan, but of course his long term loyalty should always lie with the UFC. If the hometown Patriots lost last weekend to the Baltimore Ravens, the UFC card would happen unfettered of any opposition from another Boston team this weekend.
White insists, however, that he wanted to see the Patriots win and now it’s just going to make Sunday an even bigger night for sports in the city.
"I absolutely 100-percent wanted the Patriots to win," White said.
FOX Sports 1 UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Siver kicks off starting at 7p ET with the prelims and to make sure you catch all the action this weekend, check out the viewing and schedule guide for everything going down in Boston on Saturday and Sunday.