Considering Bellator started out as a Hispanic-targeted MMA promotion on ESPN Desportes, the company has done some amazing things. Picked up by Viacom to replace the UFC on Spike, it seemed like everything was in place for Bellator to be gradually be nurtured into a legit major MMA promotion in America (as opposed to being #2 by default). But after one season on Spike, Viacom may already be sick of this ‘nurturing’ shit. Recent decisions like the signing of several UFC veterans including Rampage Jackson don’t seem to gel with the company’s former philosophies. And now the promotion finds itself being used to fill a shitty gap in Spike’s schedule:
Bellator has confirmed that it will be moving to Friday nights for live shows in the fall. The promotion will run its second season on Spike in the 9-11 p.m. time slot starting on Sept. 13, moving from Thursday, to avoid the National Football League games on the NFL Network, according to Spike TV President Kevin Kay in a story at SportsIllustrated.com, which first broke the story about the new time slot. A Bellator source confirmed the story to MMAFighting.com.
The night is notable because Bellator had run on Friday nights on MTV 2 throughout 2012, and ratings were down 18 percent from its 2011 numbers, on Saturdays. The promotion moved off of Saturday because of frequent competition from UFC events, as well as major boxing shows, but the Friday numbers without a similar level of competition were still considerably lower.
Friday nights have a long history of being the worst in TV broadcasting, to the point where The Friday Night Death Slot is a very real thing. Historically, Friday nights have been shite for MMA, most recently with The Ultimate Fighter having its lowest numbers ever despite a move from Spike to FX. Bellator events weren’t the only to suffer on Fridays, with the UFC on FX events on that date doing poorly as well.
In short, this is bad news for Bellator. They lose the pro wrestling lead-in they enjoyed on Thursdays and now find themselves on a night renown for poor ratings. Perhaps Viacom thinks bigger names like Rampage Jackson and Cheick Kongo will entice people to stay at home on Fridays. More likely they will just raise the cost of running Bellator up beyond the profitable point Bjorn Rebney et al have done so well at maintaining.
Is this the beginning of Viacom mismanaging Bellator into an early grave? It’s too early to tell, but in this case the company was faced with an important choice on where to focus its MMA product and they stuck Bellator in one of the worst slots imaginable. Bellator will soldier on as it always does, but if Viacom keeps making decisions like this while piling the promotion up with high priced over the hill athletes, things may get financially untenable fast.