Bellator’s Spike Debut: The Good and Bad of the Promotion’s Big Move Sal DeRose January 20, 2013 News On Thursday, Jan. 17, Bellator 85 brought the dawning of a new age for Bellator as the promotion took its first giant step onto the greener pastures of Spike TV. The switch in networks brought some nice changes (an HD-quality picture, for one) that definitely added to the broadcast, but it also incorporated some head-scratching decisions that certainly need to be addressed (and changed) as the season moves forward. One key change that needs to be made is the start time of the main-card broadcast. Starting at 10 p.m. EST on a Thursday is just silly for those people residing on the East Coast. People have to work the next morning and by starting at 10 p.m., Bellator and Spike is all but guaranteeing a finish time of midnight or later. This alone helps eliminate some of the event’s broadcast viewership. While the demographic Bellator shoots for and earns isn’t necessarily comprised of people who hit the sack early, the start time does still affect overall viewership. If there weren’t quick finishes to three fights and if all four fights did happen to go to decision, this broadcast could have possibly been a little longer. For an event that already went past midnight—also effectively ruining the event for those people who rely on a DVR—that’s something that could hurt viewership, particularly in the easternmost time zones of the United States. Another aspect of the Spike TV debut to gripe about was the fact that the Emanuel Newton versus Atanas Djambazov light heavyweight tournament fight was on the preliminary card. Um, what? When a promotion hosts a tournament like this—and especially when it makes the tournament format into the focal point of the entire promotion’s concept—it should be trying to expose everybody in the tournament to its fans, since any one of these guys could be the next champion. By placing this fight on the preliminary card and only airing a brief replay of the highlights during the actual broadcast, Bellator and Spike are hindering the exposure that is afforded to a portion of its tournament participants. This could make it harder to not only sell them as potential champions, but it also makes it harder to sell the next fight. Who wants to watch a guy in a tournament fight who wasn’t even good enough to be featured on the main card? Was he considered a boring fighter? Is he not that good? Does nobody like him? These questions could get raised by the casual fan, and at least for Bellator, those fans are extremely important. The promotion is trying to break through to the UFC market and its fans. In hosting these tournaments, Bellator should focus on utilizing the entire field of talent to get every ounce of exposure it can for the contestants. But that’s enough crying and complaining, let’s get to the better parts of the night. After all, there were a ton of great moments. First and foremost, hats off to all the fighters who put on a great show. Outside of a couple fights, the night was filled with great finishes and great fights. For the first foray onto Spike, these fights definitely helped sell the Bellator brand. The production value definitely took a step up in the first Spike broadcast, and it was due to the little things the promotion did to push the presentation over the edge. Showing fighter walkouts on the main card and making them worthy of showing definitely was something cool to see. The lights, the music…it just all came together in the walkouts. Also, the fighter videos before the fight—especially highlights such as Renato Sobral’s deep, philosophical interview—were an added touch and were well produced (rather than the typical cheesy video) to help get fans more pumped about the fight. Leading up to this fight, Bellator sold the living daylights out of the card on Spike TV, and while it didn’t produce eye-popping viewer numbers—it only drew 938,000 viewers, which is a stark increase from previous Bellator seasons by more than 700,000 viewers—it was still a marked improvement and put the promotion’s product in many more homes, helping it to get wider notice from MMA fans. Even during TNA before the fights, the promotion and its network partner were hard at working promoting the product to ensure retention of some of those wrestling fans who may want to witness actual violence and not redundant script-based feuds. Bellator made great strides in its first show, though of course not every first show is perfect. It’ll take some time for Bellator to tweak those minor flaws, but the promotion is taking all the right steps here to enter the big times. The future is bright for the promotion, and Bellator 85 can certainly hold itself as the turning point where Bellator began it’s rise. Photo: Michael Chandler (L) walks away after submitting Rick Hawn at Bellator 85 (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Robby C. Good point about Newton vs Djambazov.