By Zach Arnold | April 14, 2014
Can a fight promotion that has given away all of their previous events on basic cable figure out the formula to convince fight fans to pay an unknown amount of money to watch fights on PPV?
We’re about to find out where Bellator stands in terms of fan loyalty in a month’s time.
We know the current situation with Viacom & Bellator. Viacom is making money off of Bellator programming. They’re drawing pretty decent ratings, too. However, there is a limited budget for each show. The talk that Viacom would unleash their resources to finance Bellator simply hasn’t panned out… yet.
If Bellator fails to attract many customers on PPV for Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler III, it won’t be a surprise. In many respects, expectations are justifiably low. And if Bellator bombs on TV, Viacom will not immediately kill the promotion or sell it to the highest bidder. So what is at stake with the May PPV? If the PPV beats expectations, it will give Viacom reason to turn on the spigot of cash to upgrade the current fight cards Bellator is booking.
What will the magic over/under PPV buyrate number be? My opinion is that 50,000 is the magic number, plus or minus 5,000 buys. If the PPV hits 60,000 or more buys, then I think there’s reason for Bellator to celebrate their future prospects. If the PPV draws under 50,000 buys, I think Viacom will attempt one more PPV but with a different model — perhaps a co-promotion with GLORY or TNA. This is not an option that is off the table.
I’ve noticed this week that the ad campaign for the Bellator PPV is starting to ratchet up on Spike. To what extent the ad campaign will be outside of the Spike TV platform, that I am unsure of. Viacom is trying to offer some steak (Chandler/Alvarez III) with the sizzle (Rampage fighting on native turf near Memphis). It is kind of odd that the promotion will run in Mississippi rather than Tennessee where there is no state income tax. Tito Ortiz will face Alexander Shlemenko. Rampage Jackson has King Mo. For the casual fan, they know about three fights on the card. The question is how many casual fans are there aware of a PPV upcoming.
If Bellator succeeds on PPV, Viacom will open up the checkbook and that is something the company needs given a lot of the bad press they’ve received for their fighter contracts. We know about Eddie Alvarez’s dispute with the company. We’ve seen the stories online about fighters claiming they had to sell a certain amount of tickets in order to get paid. It’s the kind of press that can hurt recruitment of talent. But all of that can be whitewashed the minute Bellator makes money on PPV. PPV isn’t an immediate life or death corporate situation for Bellator but it could sure change their momentum in a hurry if Viacom decides to make a deeper financial commitment.