Bellator CEO: Spike TV partnership pushed live attendance in Season 8


bjorn-rebney-10.jpgA bigger broadcast platform has brought bigger crowds to Bellator, according to the tournament-based promotion’s chairman and CEO.

“We had to get to a place where we had a true TV partnership as opposed to a classic licensing relationship, and we’ve got that,” Bjorn Rebney recently told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “So I’m able to sit down with Kevin Kay at Spike and the team there and say, ‘How can are champions defend (their belts) a minimum of three times a year? How do we keep fueling that machine?’ We’re finally at a place where we’ve got that set.”

Rebney said multiple event sellouts were a big part of a push from broadcast partner Spike TV, whose parent company, Viacom, owns a majority stake in Bellator.

“A lot of that is due to Spike, and we were reaching a million per week,” he said. “It really affected attendance, and it affected it in a positive way.”

But Rebney said there were other key factors in the success of the MMA promotion’s eighth season, which wrapped two weeks ago with Bellator 95. The move to Spike TV came with a new night for live events – Thursdays as opposed to the Fridays of the previous two seasons that broadcast on the less-seen MTV2. As a result, Bellator faced less competition from rival MMA interests and secured a strong lead-in from TNA Impact Wrestling.

Season 8 events drew an average audience of 861,000 viewers, live or via DVR, according to a Spike TV official. The previous season on MTV2 averaged just 162,000.

“Thursday nights were good nights for us,” Rebney said. “Friday and Saturday nights each have their respective problems, but Thursday nights seem to be a really good fit.”

Bellator also honed in powerful regional markets, holding two events in Southern California (both sellouts, according to Rebney) and one in Atlantic City, N.J. The promotion moved its headquarters from Chicago to Irvine, Calif., in 2012.

“California is a mecca for MMA, but it responded beautifully,” Rebney said. “So we’ve got a lot of plans coming up over the next year to be in California regularly.”

Bellator recently announced four-man tournaments in the heavyweight, light heavyweight and bantamweight divisions. Rebney said the smaller-sized competitions could become a regular feature for the promotion. Previously, eight-man competitions have been its sole offering.

The new format will decrease the turnaround time for champions, who in early Bellator seasons griped about long layoffs as tournament winners/title challengers emerged.

With more fights on the horizon, those complaints are likely to disappear.

“Guys are going to be very busy,” Rebney said.

For the latest on Bellator’s upcoming schedule, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of MMAjunkie.com.

MMAjunkie.com Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at noon ET (9 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, MMAjunkie.com lead staff reporter John Morgan and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

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