MEDIA & BUSINESS: A risk/reward analysis for Bellator’s venture into New York City at MSG for PPV

By Robert Vallejos, MMATorch contributor

Bellator MMA announcing that they are returning to pay-per-view for their New York debut with Bellator NYC has all the makings of a boom or bust event for the MMA’s UFC alternative. Bellator’s only other pay-per-view endeavor, Bellator 120, was not exactly the seminal event that propelled the promotion to become players in the pay-per-view market.

Nonetheless, June of 2017 is very different time than May of 2014 (Bellator 120). Bellator is reaping the benefits of the WME-IMG influenced changing of the UFC’s regular promotional practices. Both iconic fighters and current top 10 fighters are making their way to Bellator, giving the promotion enough ammunition to go back on pay-per-view.

Bellator NYC has already facilitated serval talking points by MMA pundits. Here is an analysis of some of those taking points and the risk/reward outcomes for each point of contention.

Spike’s PPV lead-in Bellator 180 before Bellator NYC PPV

Bellator is theoretically promoting two different cards in the same arena on the same night. Bellator 180 will be available on “free” television on their normal network Spike, while Bellator NYC will only be available via pay-per-view. This is essentially Bellator’s version of UFC’s prelims being on FS1.

The Risk: With many of the marquee fights for this event being presented on the pay-per-view portion, Bellator 180 might come across as uninspiring. If the Saturday night channel surfer stumbles upon Bellator 180 and recognizes none of the fighters, and the fights themselves are not exciting, what is the incentive to purchase Bellator NYC?

The Reward: If Bellator 180 delivers in the cage, the pay-per-view could benefit from the excitement generated on free television. The logic goes that if the free portion of the show is good, how good will it be when the viewer pays for this product? Additionally, if Bellator 180 does a good amount of promotion for Bellator NYC, the video package hype could persuade the casual viewer to plop down some more money for more MMA.

Prediction: This dual promotion may prove to be very beneficial to Bellator. Specifically, the impulse buy may be what saves this pay-per-view. Looking at a card on paper during the weeks prior is a different experience than making a decision in the moment on a Saturday night. In addition to the possible monetary benefit that Bellator 180 can provide, the promotion should be applauded for attempting something different from the usual UFC formula.

Veteran Headliners

Bellator NYC is co-headlined by four recognizable fighters. Chael Sonnen will take on longtime rival Wanderlei Silva, while Bellator will once again attempt to debut Fedor Emelianenko against Matt Mitrione. These fighters have a composite age of 157 years. This is peak Bellator “old man” fighting.

The Risk: Both fights have been attempted in the past. However, drug tests and kidney stones have prevented them from taking place. Those issues aside, relying on “older” fighters to build a card is always risky due to potential injuries. It should also be considered that the New York State Athletic Commission has shown little tolerance for licensing fighters with ailments. If either one of these fights falls apart, the potential buys for Bellator NYC  would be greatly diminished.

The Reward: Anyone who has followed MMA over the last decade has an awareness of at least one of these four fighters. Bellator has a decent roster of young fighters, but many of those fighters are unrecognizable to the casual MMA fan. In contrast, having a professional carnival barker like Chael Sonnen or the greatest heavyweight of all time (Fedor Emelianenko) is much more appealing to the pay-per-view purchaser. While their bodies might not be reliable, the names of these four fighters can do consistent business.

Prediction: While it is hard to predict if either of these fights will actually happen. Having two legitimate main events minimizes the impact of one of these fights falling through. The key here will be on the two undercard title matches delivering. It is a tall task for the two headlining fights to be epic, but if they bring eyeballs to Bellator’s champions, the gamble will have payed off.

The “UFC 205 Effect”

Both the UFC and Bellator will share the practice of loading up their respective Madison Square Garden debuts with an array of main event caliber fights. While this can help with pay-per-view sales, it could also hinder the stock of available fights in the wake of these seminal events.

The Risk: Using UFC as a template, UFC 205 has been very detrimental to the UFC in the short term. It has taken the UFC months to replenish their fight inventory after presenting a card with three title fights. Bellator does not have nearly as many intriguing bouts to hold over their fans in the ensuing months. In the course of assembling their biggest event ever, Bellator could cripple their future.

The Reward: In some respects, Bellator NYC is a nice sampling of everything Bellator has to offer. The main events present nostalgia, exciting champion Michael Chandler will be showcased, and new acquisition Lorenz Larkin will be unveiled. Anyone with any interest in Bellator has no choice but to purchase this card. This as close to “cant miss” that Bellator could possibly produce.

Prediction: It is hard to fault Bellator for putting all their resources into the Bellator NYC; but it is also difficult to see how this strategy does not backfire on the promotion. No matter how successful the pay-per-view turns out to be, Bellator cannot replicate this level of stardom for a very long time. Outside of Paul Daley or Michael Page, Bellator will have little to offer for the rest of 2017.

Poor timing

Taking place on June 24, Bellator NYC will take place two weeks before International Fight Week and UFC 213. In recent years, the UFC has used their early July pay-per-view as a suppercard of their own. This is could result in a UFC vs Bellator pay-per-view decision for the MMA fan with a limited pay-per-view budget.

The Risk: If the UFC pulls out a major attraction for UFC 213, it will be nearly impossible for Bellator to compete. The very best of Bellator cannot hold up to the very good of the UFC. Despite the high-profile names attached to Bellator NYC, the UFC brand has proven to be stronger when competing on cable television.

The Reward: If the UFC continues their current string of lackluster pay-per-view lineups, Bellator may be the beneficiary. The UFC has suddenly created an environment that an event where a pay-per-view not featuring Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor, or a supper fight lacks the appropriate sizzle. Bellator NYC has the potential to offer something intriguing in the face of a mundane UFC card.

Prediction: Slowly but surely, the UFC is righting their ship. UFC 211 currently has a very strong lineup that could once again deplete the roster; but the UFC is now more focused on “moneyfights” over title fights. Simply put, the UFC does not need to work as hard as Bellator to have a successful card. The specter of UFC 213 could hang all over Bellator NYC. If Bellator experiences embarrassment on pay-per-view so close to a marquee UFC event, the consequences could be dire.

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: Five Ways UFC could Improve UFC Fight Pass including how it relates to YouTube and promotes non-UFC fights, plus off-line options






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