The next few days will be a crucial time for Bellator Fighting Championships as they debut on Spike TV and look to define themselves as a promotion on the same level of the UFC.
The UFC has a stranglehold on the market when casual observers are talking about the “major leagues” of MMA, but that doesn’t mean Bellator can’t exist on the same playing field.
No one doubts that it’s going to take time for Bellator to build an audience and grow viewers at Spike, just like the UFC encountered when they moved to the network in 2005. That doesn’t mean judgments won’t be made based on the first show airing on Thursday night featuring two title fights and the launch of the newest installment of their light heavyweight tournament.
Whether right or wrong, a secondary judgment will also be rendered when the ratings for Bellator’s debut come out 24 to 48 hours after the show airs. Can Bellator produce the same kinds of numbers that the UFC once did on Spike TV?
It’s a valid question, but maybe not one that should be asked after one show, and that’s the attitude that Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is keeping as his company looks to build into the next major MMA promotion on television.
“One of the things that’s great from my perspective is that Kevin Kay, who heads Spike network, has really been a partner in every sense of the word to me and to the organization. He and I have a very similar view of this – we view this as a marathon, not as a sprint,” said Rebney when speaking about the ratings with MMAWeekly Radio.
“We’re tweaking it and building it, but our vision is very long in terms of where this is going to go, and very long term in terms of our expectations and how we’re going to build it.”
Bellator first debuted highlight shows on Spike TV called “Bellator 360″ featuring some of their best and brightest fights from the past couple of years. Between the first two airings, the show ended up with nearly a million viewers overall, and that has to bee seen as encouraging considering the programming barely had any promotion ahead of time.
Rebney promises not to freak out good or bad when the final numbers for Thursday’s show come back from Nielsen’s rating system. He’s looking at the long-term goals for Bellator and Spike TV, and that won’t be accomplished on the first day they go into business together on live television.
“You become less concerned with the immediacy and the numbers, and you’re concerned with building out incredible fighters, building up the back stories behind them, creating great programming, creating the best mixed martial arts content anybody can find on television. That’s really what our focus is,” said Rebney.
“It’s a good start and we’ll see where we go from there.”