This Saturday, Bellator Fighting Championships begins its live MTV2 broadcast of Bellator 37 two hours early (7 p.m. ET) in order to avoid head-to-head competition with the UFC 128 “Prelims Live” special airing at 9 p.m. ET on Spike TV.
The shift is not unexpected: Bellator officials noted soon after the promotion’s weekly events moved from Thursday to Saturday that its new time slot would be flexible. The change behooves not only Bellator, which steers clear of the Zuffa juggernaut, but also MTV2 and Spike, both subsidiaries of media giant Viacom. Rather than counterprogram one another, the networks will combine for three hours and a scheduled six bouts leading up to UFC 128’s 10 p.m. ET pay-per-view start.
For fight fanatics, it looks like a great night, but is five straight hours of MMA too much for the casual fan to digest? Bellator Chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney (Pictured) doesn’t think so.
“While both shows are MMA, they are different formats,” Rebney told Sherdog.com recently. “MMA fans will get will get something totally unique and different from 7:00 to 9:00.”
“In my opinion, MMA’s the greatest sport on earth, so I think five hours of world class MMA is a very good thing,” explained Rebney.Â “Fans can tune in for free on MTV2 from 7:00 to 9:00 and watch four great fights in the quarterfinals of our featherweight tournament featuring, Patricio ‘Pitbull,’ Eric Larkin, Georgi [Karakhanyan], Wilson [Reis], Daniel [Straus], etc., and then pay for what looks like it could be a great show on pay-per-view with the UFC.”
With the recent announcement that the UFC will bump its pay-per-view broadcasts up an hour earlier starting with UFC 129, Rebney does not rule out the possibility of Bellator starting even earlier than 7 p.m., if necessary.
“We will work with our partners at MTV to see where and when conflicts exist and then determine if we will push any programming an hour earlier,” said Rebney.
The promotion’s MTV2 debut overlapped with Strikeforce’s “Feijao vs. Henderson” on Showtime; its March 12 sophomore offering fell on the only Saturday in March without a UFC or Strikeforce card. This Saturday will be the first time it runs on the same night as a major UFC event.
Bellator programming has thus far yielded solid results for its new channel, averaging 200,000 and 230,000 viewers in its first and second live broadcasts, respectively, while pulling 241,000 for its second-week replay. Key advertising demographics in the time slot have improved by as much as 133 percent, in the case of men ages 25 to 34.
Rebney credits MTV2’s production, promotion and 80 million-home reach for the recent boost in Bellator’s profile and viewership, and feels fans are catching on to his promotion’s unpredictable grand prix style.
“Our unique tournament format speaks directly to any fan who enjoys real sports competition where winners move on and losers go home, whether that’s March Madness, the NBA Playoffs, the NFL playoffs,” said Rebney. “We are increasing our fan base and attention from not only the MMA fans but also from sports fans who are converting to the world’s greatest sport: MMA.
“Also, I believe, one of the reasons that the endemic market coverage has expanded so dramatically is because the endemic market media now recognizes that Bellator is here to stay and will only grow over the coming years.”