By Zach Arnold | August 29, 2014
Next week is the big head-to-head battle in Connecticut between UFC & Bellator. I’m not sure why UFC decided to do this, but what the hell. They are obviously preparing for the Scott Coker era at Bellator. While they seem to be preparing for the competitive intrusion, they are busy selling more than 20,000 tickets for November’s Mexico City fight between Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum. Hopefully the fight drums up some interest in the States.
The irony of this is thick when you consider that Bellator started out as a Spanish-language TV proposition on ESPN Deportes and has now completely moved away from attracting Hispanic fans.
While the UFC was doing their thing this week, Bellator was also busy with their own announcements. They announced that King Mo signed a new deal. They also announced that Stephan Bonnar would become an announcer and perhaps also fight Tito Ortiz. And everyone groaned loudly.
In one sense, I understand why Kevin Kay and the Spike crew decided to bring in Stephan Bonnar. It’s always dangerous to try to read the minds of power brokers in combat sports, but I could imagine the logic looking a little like this:
He’s Stephan Bonnar. He had the greatest fight in UFC history with Forrest Griffin. We made UFC. We gave those guys the platform. The guy’s an icon. We long for the days of the 2000s when we made UFC. He still has juice left. Let’s bring in the nostalgia with Tito. It’s our version of cotton candy. Harmless. Only upside. He has name ID. The fight will pop a rating or perhaps draw some PPV buys.
Welcome to Corporate MMA. Spike is an odd ball with a lot of cash. They’ve put up with TNA for a decade and yet only got worked up when TNA lied about bringing Vince Russo back. Spike is always looking for the next big thing, so why does their gut always seem to be centered around guys from a decade ago?
The truth is, Bellator needs a battle plan. I’ve written a five-point battle plan of sorts and it makes a lot of sense. Of course I would say that — I wrote the damn article. But you get the point. Outside of Australia, the UFC is struggling to make big waves in the Asian marketplace. Canada at this point seems to be a lost cause on a big scale without Georges St. Pierre. The UFC is still viewed as a West Coast entity. Most people don’t really know what Bellator represents or what their philosophy is going to be.
We have some clues so far. We know that the women’s division is going to get ramped up and that’s a good thing. We also know that names like Jason “Mayhem” Miller are also being considered. That is a horrific thing. He was popular during the MySpace era. Remember those days?
In boxing, you can establish fighters over a much longer period of time. In MMA, the eras seem to last about every five years. Right now, Ben Askren is this era’s Jake Shields. The guy who has figured out how to build leverage outside of the UFC model on his terms in order to eventually get into the UFC. He’s someone that Bellator can bring back into the fold under the guise of co-promotion with OneFC.
The UFC announced that Ben Askren looked so impressive today that they are considering having him fight in the WSOF.
— MMA Roasted (@MMARoasted) August 29, 2014
The biggest question that Spike has to answer with Bellator is this: what is the overarching business goal?
We know they are cutting back from 26 shows to 16 shows a year. It’s gone from a cheap weekly TV property that attracts solid, slightly increasing ratings to now… what exactly? Ever since Bellator drew the numbers they did for their Memphis-area PPV, everything has turned upside down. If you’re going to cut down from 26 to 16 shows as a TV network, obviously you either think Bellator can significantly increase the TV ratings for the 16 shows about to be produced or 12 of those shows will draw what Bellator normally draws and 4 of the shows will end up as PPVs.
If the strategy is the former, guys like Stephan Bonnar aren’t going to crack the million viewer mark. If the strategy is the latter, guys like Stephan Bonnar aren’t going to break 100,000 buys on PPV.
I would rather build up new stars on TV shows drawing 700,000 fans than worry about drawing a million viewers to watch a fight like Stephan Bonnar vs. Tito Ortiz that does nothing for the company’s future.
For as tiring as watching 26 episodes of Bellator was on Spike, at least I got the strategy. Budget $60,000 a week to spend, draw some good ratings in key demos, and stay active. I have no clue what Spike wants to do with their new MMA play toy now. Let’s hope they actually have a clue. I think Bellator’s September 19th event at the big Savemart Center in Fresno may give us some positive or negative clues.