By Roy Billington
On November 2nd, Bellator MMA will take the biggest risk in its promotional history, as it makes the crossover from solid TV product to pay-per-view. Since its inception, Bellator has always been eager to make it clear that it is not the UFC, nor is it the place for UFC rejects to come and fight, but for its pay-per-view debut, the decisionmakers behind the scenes have decided to put two former UFC champions making their promotional debuts in the main event, and this hasn’t proved popular with the fans.
As of right now, the promotion has only managed to sell a paltry 1,700 tickets for a venue that holds well over 10,000, and unfortunately for Bellator, their matchups have really failed to capture the imagination of even the most hardcore of fans. With dwindling ticket sales and a backlash from fans relating to Bjorn Rebney’s handling of the Eddie Alvarez contract crisis, the question needs to be asked: Is Bellator’s PPV turning into a Money Pit?
Firstly, it needs to be made clear that even at the best of times it’s very hard for an MMA promotion to make big money. A lot of media commentators seem to rattle on about how low fighter pay is, but I believe Bellator 102 proved just how risky having a high-paid fighter on the card can be. Cheick Kongo, who debuted for the organisation against Mark Goodbeer, was paid $65,000, which at a distance looks like a fair pay rate for a 7-year UFC veteran, but when you look closer, you see just how bad an investment it proved to be.
For Bellator 102 the total gate was a little over $73,000, and the attendance was just over 1,400, with almost half of the attendees being comped, so when you look at the numbers it’s clear just how disastrous of a decision it was for Bellator to sign a big name UFC reject for big money. It would seem as a headliner Kongo has very little drawing power, and he truly doesn’t provide bang for the buck when it comes to selling a fight.
Some have pointed to Bellator's viewing figures on SPIKE being a "huge success," but when you compare the numbers to how the UFC fared in its SPIKE tenure, it becomes clear that Bellator is only marginally as successful with the casual fans. Bellator’s tournament has been racking up viewer numbers in the high hundreds of thousands, which isn’t bad, but when you look back to how an episode of The Ultimate Fighter 10 pulled 7.25 million viewers to the station back in 2009, it becomes clear that media defines success differently between Bellator and the UFC.
A major problem leading into November’s pay-per-view is the massive purse the promotion will have to pay out. Tito Ortiz and Quinton Jackson alone will likely cost the better part of a million dollars between them, and then when you add in Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler, Pat Curran, King Mo, and Cheick Kongo, you realise just how astronomical the payout Bellator will have to make is. With disastrous ticket sales and almost no interest from even the most hardcore MMA fans, this event is almost certainly going to be a train wreck at the box office.
With Viacom as its parent company, many see Bellator’s financial future as safe, but Tim Danaher and the rest of the Viacom folks are business people first and foremost. They will not back a losing business for the sake of it, and I think a lot of people are really underestimating the hazardous effect this planned pay-per-view might have for Bellator. Not only have they gone away from the niche market they have occupied; they have also gone against their own mantra when it comes to signing ex-UFC fighters. The promotion has also isolated a number of its top fighters, including Ben Askren and Eddie Alvarez, and Bellator's reputation amongst young and up-and-coming fighters is dreadful -- a number of managers won’t even let prospects sign with the company.
Bjorn Rebney and Co. at Bellator must see the predicament they are in and must realise that unless there is a massive turnaround in support, there is going to be a astronomical loss generated by Bellator inaugural venture into the PPV market.
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