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Bellator Announces Three-Year Deal With MTV2 (Update II)

I’m not sure what happened with the reported FX television deal from a couple weeks ago, but Bellator just announced that they have reached a three-year deal with MTV2 to broadcast two live tournaments a year for the next three years. More details are sure to come. Here’s the release in the meantime.

Image via Sherdog

New York, NY, December 14, 2010 – Bellator Fighting Championships, a growing force in the world of mixed martial arts, has a new television home, MTV2.  It was announced today jointly by Bellator Chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney and Eric Conte, SVP, Programming and Production, MTV2. The three-year deal will commence in 2011.

Featuring some of the sport’s top stars, Bellator brings a unique format of world-class fighting to fans with 12-week, eight-man tournaments in respective weight classes. MTV2, which features the highest concentration of M12-24 and M12-34 in television, will telecast two of these LIVE tournaments per year, plus a collection of special feature events. The first tournament will premiere in March 2011.

“MTV2 is the perfect home for the intense mixed martial arts action of Bellator,” Eric Conte, SVP, Programming and Production, MTV2. “MMA is at the top of our audience’s wish list, and partnering with Bellator to bring live events and specials to MTV2 made complete sense since our viewers are so hungry to see more MMA on-air.”

“We are thrilled to partner with MTV2 which has such a strong audience of hard-to-reach young guys,” said Rebney.  “With a timeslot on a prominent nationally-distributed cable network aimed at young men, we now have the perfect platform to showcase our exciting, action-packed tournaments and fighters.”

Bellator which is Latin for “Warrior,” is based in Chicago, IL and was founded in 2008 by Rebney. The stable of fighters include some of the most exciting in the sport including Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard, Joe Warren, Ben Askren, Zoila Frausto and Roger Huerta, once featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Bellator events are held in venues all across the country.  Their fights have previously aired on Fox Sports Net, NBC, bi-lingual channel Mun2, ESPN Deportes, and the Score.

Update: Bjorn Rebney has confirmed with MMA Junkie that the FX deal did not pan out, but that’s perfectly fine because MTV2 was their number one choice all along. Even though FX is available in approximately 20 million more homes than MTV2 (100m vs. 80m), Rebney says the demographic that watches MMA is already on MTV2.

“There is absolutely no question our first choice was MTV2,” Rebney said today from Bellator’s Chicago offices. “It’s about who you reach and how reach them. There was no mistake in this deal or in this structure. TNT or USA or ESPN or FX or CBS or NBC or every network TV station, the biggest concentration of men ages 12-34 is on MTV2. It’s the same demo that lives and breathes MMA.

“If you’re going to build a brand … in this space, where could there be a better home? There’s no question this was the No. 1 option.”

“The receptive nature was based on who their audience is,” Rebney said of the Bellator-MTV2 talks. “If you were to carve out the perfect demographic … this is it. This is the network with the biggest concentration of males 12-34 in all of television. That’s verifiable. … And MTV2 is available in virtually every household.”

So would Rebney actually prefer MTV2 and its 80 million households over, say, FX and its 100 million?

“Absolutely,” he said. “Three-year deals in TV are extremely, extremely rare. This partnership – and I say partnership – is magical.”

Rebney also said that the events could be shifted from Thursday nights to another night, maybe even to a weekend slot, but that hasn’t been finalized. More details regarding replay time and specialty shows will be announced in the coming days.

The downside to this deal, as BE’s Luke Thomas notes, is that cable and satellite TV powerhouses DirecTV, DISH Network and Comcast don’t carry MTV2 in HD. Cox Cable doesn’t offer it in my area either. So basically no Bellator in HD which will likely be a turn-off to MMA fans who have grown accustomed to watching their MMA in high definition.

Update 2: Bjorn Rebney may be acting like this deal is a winning lottery ticket for Bellator, but many have already expressed their concerns with this deal. This biggest one appears to be that no one watched MTV2. Here’s MMA Payout’s summary of the concerns.

Though Bellator is currently trumpeting the MTV2 TV deal, experts within the industry see this deal as somewhat a similar deal Bellator already had with FSN, except that instead of worrying about preempted events, they now have to face new problems such as attracting a new fan base into a channel who is not known for sports programming and is notorious for not drawing many viewers, securing a good time-slot, and finding enough sponsors and partners to make the shows profitable.  Dave Meltzer commented on the deal over at F4WOnline, and stated that Pro Wrestling tried to air content on MTV2 and only drew 0.1 ratings.  He also stated that the announcement was a “major let down” since the network doesn’t draw viewers and that the new TV deal will not allow them to grow as a company and could be a death nail to the promotion, as it would severely limit them from becoming a major player in the MMA market.

Another big issue is becoming profitable off of this TV deal.  MTV is notorious for having low budget-reality TV programming, which does not require much up front in order to get great numbers, see “Jersey Shore” for example. MMA insiders believe that the licensing fees that MTV2 will pay Bellator won’t be much different than what they were already getting over on FSN, and may be able to cover their production costs. Not much revenue is currently being generated from the events themselves, when you consider sponsors, gates, attendance, fighter payroll, etc other than the site license fees they receive from the venues.  Rebney expects “news to flow regarding Bellator sponsorships, strategic alliances and fights now that the TV partner is official”.  He also expects MTV2 to strongly market and promote the live Bellator content.

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