What Bellator’s New TV Deal Means Josh Davis May 24, 2011 News While it was speculated that Bellator Fighting Championships would soon announce a lucrative television deal with the FX Network, they instead recently announced a 3-year television deal with MTV Networks-owned MTV2. The deal includes the airing of two separate 12-week seasons a year beginning in 2011 with Bellator’s Season Four tournaments. Also part of the deal are various other off season live event and highlight-style specials. So what does this new television deal mean for Bellator as well as the rest of the MMA landscape? For the most part, this deal is positive news for the promotion that has largely been relegated to syndication death on Fox Sports Net. While the promotion advertised a weekly Thursday night primetime television slot on FSN’s family of networks, the weekly series routinely got preempted for other local sporting events. It was normal to find Bellator displaced into a middle of the night time slot. No longer will Bellator have to compete with local sporting events that would take precedence over the fight organization’s weekly two hour show. Having a consistent time slot will allow viewers to find the show more easily and will help Bellator build fan loyalty. Having cable television penetration is another important aspect of building your brand and gaining an audience. Being on cable television certainly doesn’t ensure strong viewership but it definitely gives Bellator the opportunity to penetrate the market in a way many promotions (i.e. Affliction, IFL) have not been able to. MTV2 also seemingly focuses on a demographic that aligns well with the general demographic of mixed martial arts fans. The cable station currently airs in over 80 million homes and boasts a heavy concentration in the 12-34 year old male demographic. This demographic would include the vast majority of MMA fans. The big question is whether or not these viewers will tune in. MTV2 is not a flagship cable station like the FX Network is. While a 3-year deal with any cable television station is a step up from Bellator’s deal with FSN, MTV2 is certainly a step down from FX, which features much higher ratings and viewership. MTV2 began as an offshoot of MTV, when the original network stopped airing music videos and began airing specialty programming instead. Since 2002, MTV2 has gone the same way of it’s predecessor in adding specialty programming to it’s lineup including True Life, MTV Cribs, and MADE. They also routinely re-air programs such as The Real World and Rob & Big. Surely, these programs are great for the adolescent in all of us but it definitely doesn’t scream out success for a minor mixed martial arts promotion trying to gain footing in a UFC-dominated market. So while Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney states that “…there’s no question this was the No. 1 option”, one can easily beg to differ if those options included a deal with an established cable network such as FX. It seems that the deal with FX, which seemed like a surprising one to begin with, didn’t get too far past preliminary negotiations. If they did, Bellator would be dim-witted to have forgone such a deal that would put them on the same station as critically acclaimed series such as Sons of Anarchy and Rescue Me. Those series would no doubt provide much more of a successful overlapping audience then Pimp My Ride or High School Stories. Overall, this television deal is unlikely to affect the UFC or Strikeforce. The UFC is anchored to SpikeTV for the time being and the relationship between the two entities seems to be going quite well. Strikeforce seems content with airing their live events on Showtime and hoping to someday get back on CBS. It doesn’t seem likely that Bellator’s new partnership will have a great effect on either of their primary competitors. It’s good for the sport over all for Bellator continue to grow and hopefully this deal marks the beginning of continued long-term success. The question remains, however, will we, in three years, be looking back and remembering the beginning of the end for the young promotion? With no solid streams of revenue, how will Bellator continue to function financially in the future? Ticket sales are slim, pay-per-view is nonexistent, and merchandise sales, well…c’mon now. The only possible revenue stream would be through television and does anyone really believe that MTV2 of all networks is handing over truckloads of guaranteed money to a small MMA promotion with no known stars? For the sake of all of the great fighters who have put on some outstanding performances over Bellator’s first three seasons and for the sake of MMA in general, let’s hope so.