By Zach Arnold | April 7, 2011
I slept on this overnight after hearing the initial comments in order to get a better read on what is being said here. Earlier in the week, we laid out the various issues Bellator is facing with MTV2 both on the positive & negative sides of the equation. A big negative is that their time slot is not consistent, which happens to be a big reason they left Fox Sports Net (due to the shifting time slots and pre-emptions). However, FSN is a far bigger platform/chain of networks than MTV2. MTV2 isn’t on the roster of some cable providers and for many it’s either not available in HD or it’s on a pay tier. So, access is always going to be an issue.
Our buddy Jack Encarnacao asked Bjorn Rebney about the moving time slot on MTV2 and whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
“Well, yeah, I mean it… *sighs* That was… *sighs* I thought, and I still believe to this day, I think it’s a good philosophy and it’s a good way to be able to orchestrate because the UFC, as well all know, anybody who has been watching this game over the years knows that the UFC counter-programs and that’s not an unusual position for an organization in any sport or any entertainment industry to take. When somebody else was doing an event and, you know, the UFC existing under the MTV Networks banner was able to counter-program them, they did, and they did it really effectively. We’re under the same banner corporately that they are. MTV Networks owns Spike and MTV Networks owns MTV2 so it’s a conscious decision of our partners to move our programming up and to be able to say, ‘Hey, you can watch Bellator on MTV2 and then you can turn over when the Bellator show is over and watch the UFC on Spike.’ So, it works for us now. What’s going to happen in the coming year and years, you know, that’ll have to be dictated in terms of looking at the schedule and determining what we’re going to do. You know, I like the flexibility of not having, as an MMA fan, having to making a choice whether you’re going to watch one or the other but given the option to watch both.”
There are one of two reads you can interpret from this answer:
- MTV is doing it in order to protect Bellator from losing viewers if the promotion had to run head-to-head against UFC.
- UFC is Viacom’s golden goose for MMA and they are not going to piss off Zuffa, an organization that plays hardball, in order to treat Bellator as an equal in the MMA field.
You can pick which read you want to. As Mr. Rebney pointed out previously, having Bellator on a media platform that understands what the sport of MMA is and knows how to produce MMA programming is a big plus. However, Bellator is now under the same media umbrella as UFC and that will put them in a box in a lot of ways. The only way that ceiling is lifted is if Bellator’s numbers dramatically grow or if UFC leaves the Viacom umbrella and signs a deal with another big media partner.
Jack also asked the Bellator CEO a very interesting question about the Strikeforce asset sale to UFC. He framed it this way: “Is that a success or failure story to you?” The answer given was revealing.
“Well, it depends on what your business goals were. I mean, it would not be, if you’re looking at it and fast-forwarding in Bellator’s future, it would not be a success in our business model. But, you know, you got to ask yourself, what did the ownership of Strikeforce want? What was Scott Coker looking for? What did he want to accomplish? Quite obviously, it was an exit strategy. And, you know, he was able to accomplish that. And I guess congratulations are, you know, due to Scott for having accomplished that successfully. It’s not our model but, you know, ultimately the impact that it has on the game and the impact that it has on our sport… I look at it as a fan, I’ve said this many times. I think that the more competition you have out there, the more people you have out there regularly programming and producing, you know, high-level world-class Mixed Martial Arts events, the more world-class wrestlers, the more world-class judokas, the more world-class Jiu-Jitsu players, the more world-class guys are going to gravitate toward this game and ultimately more quickly what I believe is the greatest sport in the world is going to get better, stronger, faster, more exciting. So, from a fan’s perspective, I look at that transition and I think, hey, that’s probably not overall great for our game because the elimination of competition eliminates a number of options that fighters have to pursue this full-time. But, you know, hey, you have to ask the folks at Strikeforce, that’s obviously what they were looking for and they got it and it limits the scope of the field now.”
He knows what we all have known, which is that what has happened in the American pro-wrestling scene with one major player (WWE) is happening to the American MMA scene with UFC. The more failures and sales there are, the less inclined people are going to be to put up any sort of cash to get involved in the business. When that happens, salaries go down and there are fewer job slots open. When there’s less money, fewer people are interested in getting involved in making it a full-time career and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The danger that Zuffa needs to avoid is the fate that WWE has now, which is a fan base that has atrophied and been demoralized. That demoralized wrestling fan base has a substitute, not a replacement, to turn to in watching UFC. Where will MMA fans go when they get burnt out or get bored with the product?