Bjorn Rebney: If Nate Marquardt wants to fight Hector Lombard & Ben Askren, fight in a Bellator tournament
By Zach Arnold | July 21, 2011
The Bellator business model
MIKE STRAKA: “You spin different verticals even in your own personal career, where it’s the television packaging, now it’s the promoting and have you come to terms with the way to bring it all together? Because you have to step aside and say, okay, it’s not just about promoting and it’s not just about the sport and it’s not just about these athletes, either. It’s about putting on a show. How have you reconciled that?”
BJORN REBNEY: “That’s a great question. It never ceases to amaze me how you can keep learning in this dynamic and I always kind of dreamed about that moment where, um, I was far from the smartest guy in the room. That’s what I kept hoping is that I could surround myself with a bunch of great people and I, slowly but surely, have been able to do it. Now, with the guys at MTV Networks coming into it, with their expertise, their background in this space, what they’ve been able to develop under the Spike banner and we’re able to leverage some of that expertise from some of those people onto our show, it just it continues to evolve it. I mean, we’re never going to get to a point where I look at it and I go, everything’s working in synergy, I can’t conceptualize being at that point but all the movement, all of the different pieces are coming together in a stronger manner. They’re getting, the show is now coming into a place where it’s closer to what I had in my head years ago than it’s ever been. I don’t know if it’s ever going to reach that picture, that synchronicity in terms of traction but it’s getting much closer and it’s starting to resemble that which I hoped it would and that’s just a matter of putting those pieces together and working with super-smart people because there’s no way you can do it on your own. You’ve got to have wizards working with you on TV and other facets of the game and that’s fortunately what I’ve been able to pull together.”
MIKE STRAKA: “You saw recently where the San Jose Sharks pulled out from Strikeforce and pulled Scott Coker’s financing out and, you know, UFC came in and sort of were the white knights for Strikeforce and kept them afloat by purchasing them. Have you had those instances where your finance partners are saying, okay, Bjorn, you know we’re putting in a lot of money into it. Even the Fertitta Brothers (with UFC) at one point said, ‘what are we doing here?’ Have you had those types of conversations? How has it been business-wise?”
BJORN REBNEY: “It’s been really good business-wise and I mean I guess the, um… the essence of it is that we had a two year plan to reach a cash-flow break-even position and whether it was that the business model was incredibly strong and the projections were wickedly on point, maybe there’s a sprinkle of luck tuned into it, but with the falloff from the sport with the acquisition of the WEC, the acquisition of Strikeforce, the demise of the IFL, the demise of Elite XC, Bodog, Affliction, the list goes on and on…
“Everything worked. Those numbers that we projected in terms of time frames and how it would fly, it all worked the right way. So, we hit the numbers we had projected we were going to hit at the time we projected we were going to hit them, so I never had to have one of those ‘tail between legs’ conversations with our investment group saying, hey, I know I said this would happen at this time but it didn’t, can we have more money? The money worked, the money funded to the point where we hit cash-flow break-even and now we’re at a point where everything we do in terms of money coming in is equal to money going out. So, we can build this brand according to the platform we want to.
“People ask me all the time, when are you going to do your first PPV? We don’t need to do PPV. There may come a time when we do, but that will happen when the stars align, when there’s a consumer demand for it, when there’s a kind of fight where you and I are talking to each other and we’re looking at each other and going, ‘this! oh! what a fight! I would pay for that, I would stay home on a Saturday night to watch that.’ But that can all happen according to a brand-building strategy as opposed to based on economic dynamics pointing us in a specific direction. So, it’s gone really well, it’s in a good place.”
MIKE STRAKA: “Speaking of economic dynamics, I notice this year what’s different about your live events is you’re at casinos now, where before you were at the Wang Theater, you were doing theater shows with MSG and things like that. And when I was at the Wang Theater and I was up in Chicago, there were a lot of empty seats. So, it was a challenge getting into the live event. Now, it’s not so much of a challenge because I think the casinos really lend themselves to having that kind of combat sports entertainment. Was that a business decision that you came up with?”
BJORN REBNEY: “Yeah, it was two factors working in unison. One of them was a business decision. We went to the casinos and when you got a casino, you can cut what’s called a site fee deal (sold show), they pay you a certain amount. If they make $5 million at the gate, you make the exact same amount. If you make five dollars at the gate, you make as the promotion the same exact amount. Well, as the brand’s been building and as fans have started to respond, you just saw last season we had six sellouts of the eleven events, so it’s building. The casinos are getting better return on investment. When we go to a casino now, we’re bringing in the right kind of player, typically a 24-to-32 year old male, $80,000 medium income, the kind of socioeconomic player that a casino wants on the floor, they want at the casino and they’re willing to step up and give us a site fee and we come in and give them great exposure on MTV2, we’re reaching 80+ million homes, the numbers are strong.
“So, that’s a dynamic now where you go in, you know the margins, you know exactly how much you’re making when you walk into the event, so it’s not a risk situation. You’re not praying for a big walk-up. You know what you’ve got coming in and you can model your business accordingly, so that’s worked out really well and it’s a more straight-forward, more economically-sensible way to do it. There’ll come a time where we start doing some events at places where we work with Ticketmaster and we put our own advertising out and we promote the event in an old-school fashion, much the way Strikeforce used to do on a consistent basis. But from an economic perspective in terms of the business, that’s not a strong model for us right now and the model we’ve got going on right now is just a blessing. We’ve got partners at the Hard Rock, partners at Mohegan, Caesars is now doing three events with us this Fall, so those are the kind of relationships you dream of as a promoter because it’s stability.”
Why Bellator hasn’t signed Nate Marquardt to a fight deal
MIKE STRAKA: “Well, speaking of big stars, recently Nate Marquardt was released from the UFC. Everybody speculated that he was going to sign with Bellator. You came out recently and said it wasn’t a good fit and when I hear that… I hear that, as an industry insider sort of speak, that means to me too much money, he wanted too much money. I mean, I don’t know if you could talk about it but what were some of the reasons why Nate Marquardt wasn’t a good fit?”
BJORN REBNEY: “I think the essence of it is is that we met with Nate, we spoke with Nate’s management, Nate was a consummate pro. He was charismatic and a great communicator and seemed like a really good guy, I haven’t spent a lot of time around Nate but the time I did get to spend I’ll remember fondly, he was a good guy. His management were real pros in their approach but, look… we have a model here that’s pretty well entrenched and until they drag me out of my offices kicking and screaming, it’s going to stay in place. You want to fight Hector Lombard? You’re going to win three fights in a tournament, you’re going to be on TV three times over a 90 day period, you’re going to earn $100,000, and you’re going to earn that right to fight Lombard. You want to fight Ben Askren? For a world title? You’re going to go through the exact same dynamics. It doesn’t matter how big you are or highly rated you are, whether you’re #1, #2, #3, or #6 or #7 in the world in Nate’s case, you’re not going to come into the organization and fight for a world title. It just doesn’t work that way.
“We’re real sports competition, any more so than the New York Giants are going to step up in New York and say, well, next year, we’re playing for the Super Bowl. And everybody would go, ‘not until you play the season, not until you win all the playoff games.’ Well, it works the same here, so that’s a dynamic that we’re going to stay very, very true to and it doesn’t really matter who the other athlete is, if they want to be part of that dynamic, if they want to jump into that, they’ve got a home here and it can be a spectacular home. It’s a short period of time.”
MIKE STRAKA: “Is there room for super fights, though, in Bellator? I’ve seen Eddie Alvarez fight Roger Huerta, that was a non-title fight.”
BJORN REBNEY: “Right. Yeah, we actually had discussions that opened the door, literally to a one-off against (Hector) Lombard. Come on in and do one fight against Lombard and that was discussed as well, but the synchronicity and the fit wasn’t there for that, either. And, again, it doesn’t make Nate a bad guy, there are other options. Perhaps not, that don’t maybe carry with them as much coverage from a television perspective as his former home or as Bellator does but there are other options and, of course, part of Nate’s dynamic and thought process may be, hey, I can get a few wins on a smaller show, a Shark Fights or a Titan or something of that ilk, and then I can bounce back into the UFC. That may be a thought process.”
MIKE STRAKA: “Do you think the expectation of fighters these days is that… they’re looking at the Tito Ortizs & Randy Coutures & Chuck Liddells & Anderson Silva, even Lyoto Machida said ‘I want Anderson Silva money to fight.’ Do you think that the expectation for fighters is getting too big for compensation?”
BJORN REBNEY: “You know, it’s an interesting question. Our format is so different and our format is so well-entrenched that we don’t run into those issues in the same manner because when you’re offering a fighter a title fight and you know that you need that title fight as a matchmaker, you’re putting together a fight, A is going to fight B, that is what I’ve decided, that’s what Joe Silva has decided to make a title fight, you’re in a much different position than we are as a company when if you win the tournament your contract is locked in, you know exactly what you’re going to make for that next world title fight, and your fourth fight in succession is a world title fight against Joe Warren or against Lombard or against Eddie or against Cole (Konrad) or against Askren. You know exactly where you’re going.
“There’s no negotiation that has to take place, it’s down on paper, it was agreed to a year, two years, three years earlier in terms of what you’re going to make and it’s not the same dynamic where you’re matching a fight as other organizations do and you’ve got to have this protracted negotiation to see if the money’s right based on what the projected PPV buys are going to be. Any more so than Serena Williams would say, ‘You know what? I know I made it to the final at Wimbledon, but I’m not going to play in it unless you give me more money.’ That’s all determined up front. She’s comfortable with it. The folks at Wimbledon are comfortable with it, and she’s moving forward. That’s what exists at Bellator.”