April 3, 2017

Bellator NYC: What Number Is A PPV Success For This Event?

By Adam Martin

Last week, Bellator President Scott Coker made it official: Bellator will be returning to pay-per-view on June 24 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, with a special show called Bellator NYC. The card will cost $49.95 (U.S. dollars) and will be preceded by Bellator 180 on Spike TV. This will be the second time Bellator has gone on PPV, the last being Bellator 120 back in 2014.

The response by MMA fans and media to Bellator's announcement of a PPV has been mixed. Many, including myself, thought Bellator was committed to a Spike TV product and that going back on PPV after the failure that was Bellator 120 (only 100,000 buys) wasn't an option. But with Bellator going out on the free-agent market and signing a number of big-ticket fighters, from a business perspective one can understand why Bellator wants to go on PPV and make some money.

After all, looking at the card, it's clear Bellator is going to spend a lot of money on fighter purses. Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Mitrione, and Bellator's newest free-agent signing Lorenz Larkin aren't cheap, not to mention current Bellator champions Michael Chandler and Douglas Lima are also fighting on the card. It's safe to say Bellator is going to be spending a few million on purses alone, and thus the big wigs at Viacom have decided this card is too good for free TV, and fans that want to watch it will have to pay out of their pocket to do so.

But here's the problem: MMA fans don't want to pay for pay-per-views in 2017. The UFC has already seen its PPV numbers falter badly this year, and even though Bellator has a number of big-name fighters scheduled to fight at Bellator NYC, it likely isn't going to be enough to entice casual MMA fans to make a $50 dollar purchase. At best, Bellator will get hardcore MMA fans watching, but even hardcores don't want to pay for another PPV. MMA is already a really expensive sport to watch with the UFC doing 12 PPVs a year, and adding another PPV from Bellator (and potentially more in the future) shrinks the wallet. The UFC has already seen a huge increase in illegal streams for its PPV events, and that's the UFC, so you'd have to imagine a lot of fans will do the same for Bellator.

Not only that, but will bars even order this event? It's not like this is the UFC or even a big boxing PPV, so it's hard to say whether bars will want to spend the $1000 or so that it costs to order a PPV, as they may not see ordering Bellator NYC as a high enough potential return on investment and may decide to pass. Again, it's understandable that Bellator is putting this card on PPV considering the names and how big their purses are, but at the end of the day, how many PPVs can they realistically expect to sell?

It's probably not fair to compare Bellator 120, which as I remind you did a mere 100,000 buys, with Bellator NYC, as this card is much better and features more well-known names, but then again, these are the only two cards Bellator has done on PPV, so the comparison is going to be natural. If this card does only 100,000 buys like the first Bellator pay-per-view did, Bellator will likely consider this experiment a failure.

According to Scott Coker, who spoke on The MMA Hour, a realistic success for this Bellator card will be 200,000 buys. But honestly, I'm not even sure if that number is realistic. That's the number UFC 208 just did, and that's a UFC card, even if the names on it weren't as big as this Bellator card. The fact is the UFC knows how to sell PPVs, but Bellator hasn't proven it does yet, and neither has Coker, as the majority of his shows during his promoter career have been on television. This is a new world for Bellator, Viacom, and for Coker, and it will be interesting to see the results of this experiment.

Realistically, I'd peg this PPV at 150,000 buys. I don't think Bellator and Viacom are going to be totally happy with that number, but I'd be surprised if this card did more than that. At the end of the day, I just don't think MMA fans want to pay for more fights on PPV, even if this card features four awesome fights on it. Again, look how poorly UFC cards have been doing the last few years. And historically non-UFC PPVs have done terrible. Even though many of the fighters on this card used to be in the UFC, they aren't in the UFC now, and there's still a negative stigma by many fans against non-UFC events, even though that's wrong.

Bellator has made a lot of great moves since Coker has taken over, and especially this year with all the big free agent signings, but I think going on PPV is the wrong move. It's understandable that Bellator wants to do this considering the purses the fighters on the card will make, but once they realize MMA fans don't want to pay for PPV fights that don't feature Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey, maybe they'll change their mind and reconsider doing PPVs in the future. PPVs seem like a thing of the past, and the UFC is just barely able to cling to them. For Bellator, chances are this experiment is going to be a failure, and it's likely going to make the promotion reconsider putting on a PPV again.

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