Viacom is now a majority shareholder in Bellator, and the mixed martial arts promotion based in Chicago will begin broadcasting its fights on Spike in 2013, Newsday has learned.
Bellator is expected to make the announcement Thursday.
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“It absolutely solidifies the long, long term viability of this brand,” Bellator chief executive Bjorn Rebney told Newsday. “[Viacom] is an owner in Bellator, they’re not simply a distributor of content.”
The move adds weight to Bellator as the No. 2 MMA company in the sport behind Ultimate Fighting Championship. It also adds capital and clout as Viacom is among the largest entertainment companies in the world. Viacom owns the MTV Networks, BET and Paramount Pictures, to name a few. Comedy Central, VH1, Spike and Nickelodeon, to name a few more.
“They provide capital, and capital combined with that expertise to build the brand, to reach consumers, to reach top-tier fighters,” Rebney said. “We’ll have a platform to promote the brand that reaches 99 million fans. The benefit of what we’ve done in terms of this partnership is going to be reflected in who we’re able to sign, and where we’re able to sign them from and what we’re able to provide the fighters.”
Bellator’s tournament style — win and advance, lose and go home — has made its television home on MTV2 for the past year. But when the UFC’s six-year deal with Spike ended, there was a void in the cable network’s future programming. Since 2005, fans of the sport knew to tune into Spike to see fights. In 2013, those fans will see Bellator. UFC signed a seven-year deal with Fox and will have its programming spread across their family of networks beginning on Nov. 12.
Once the UFC deal was announced, it opened a debate as to who if anyone would replace their programming on Spike. Bellator, which has grown from a wee-hour 30-minute time slot on NBC to prime time on MTV2, seemed like a natural fit. For Bellator. For Spike.
“They’re the most powerful and prolific name in MMA television,” Rebney said of Spike. “They wrote the book on bringing MMA to hard-core fans but they also are responsible for crossing MMA over into the general market.”
Spike has contractual rights to the UFC library through 2012 and Spike president Kevin Kay said the network will honor that commitment.
“We provide a great platform and we bring expertise on the marketing side and on the development of fighters in terms of making them the big personalities and making them accessible to fans and building their stature,” Spike TV president Kevin Kay said. “The goal, and it’s the same goal that we had with our former partners, is about building stars. That’s what we’re good at. We’re not fight promoters over here on the TV side.”
So figure on 2012 being a planning year for both the network and Bellator. Plans for “shoulder programming,” i.e. shows beyond the live fights. Plans for building stars. What you can plan on not seeing, at least not right away, is a Bellator version of “The Ultimate Fighter,” UFC’s reality show that helped launched the sport, the UFC and Spike as a home for MMA.
“You wouldn’t want to do a reality show like ‘Ultimate Fighter’ with Bellator because the tournament is that,” Kay said. “There would be no reason to do that kind of show with Bellator. Where we want to find ways is to continue to emphasize the tournament structure.”