A seemingly all-but-official deal with the FOX Entertainment Group wasn't in the cards for Bellator Fighting Championships, after all.
Officials today announced the mixed-martial-arts promotion has signed a three-year broadcasting deal with MTV2, which will air two annual 12-week seasons live in the cable station's 80 million homes in 2011. Additionally, "offseason" events will air live between seasons.
In an exclusive interview with MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
), Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney confirmed the organization was in "advanced negotiations" with three TV groups but that the MTV option was, by far, the most attractive.
"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 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."
MTV2 begins airing Bellator's fourth season, which again will travel to cities across the U.S. each week, in March.
Bellator gets year-round presence
Earlier this month, MMAjunkie.com reported that Bellator was close to finalizing a deal with the FOX Entertainment Group that would put live shows on FX and highlights shows on FOX Sports Net, the organization's season-two and season-three home, and Fuel TV. Rebney declined to comment on any of the deals that failed to materialize. He confirmed there were options, but he said MTV2 was the best fit.
"There were options, but far and away, the top option and best alliance was with the MTV family and MTV2," he said. "When you're building out something like this, it's about growth and progression. ... If you hope to have success and be in business in the long term, you need to take steps to get this type of alliance."
Rebney divulged some additional deal points with MMAjunkie.com. In 2011, the organization hosts two 12-week seasons, which include 11 live events and a highlights-geared "Road to the Championship" special. Additionally, MTV2 will air three live events between seasons in 2011, which assures the fight promotion has a year-round presence (and that top fighters don't experience extended layoffs).
Each season in 2012 will get a few additional events, which means they'll run longer than three months each.
Additionally, the organization could move from its usual Thursday-night timeslots to a new day of the week. Weekend slots are a possibility.
Rebney said addition information about the deal, including replay times and other specialty programming, will be announced in the coming days.
Bellator focuses heavily on eight-slot tournaments in various weight classes. The combination of tourney and non-tourney bouts proved effective on FSN, but the organization continually dealt with headaches from preempted programming and shifting time slots. In fact, a few events didn't air live on a single FSN affiliate.
That's won't be the case with MTV2, and Rebney said the consistency was a major reason they went with the station.
MTV2 is a spin-off of MTV that launched in 1996. Once home strictly to music videos, the channel underwent a shift in 2003 with more specialty programming. Then in 2005, another relaunch saw the channel geared more toward the young-male demo with a smaller amount of music-related content. Today, MTV2 primarily features few music videos and focuses more on original programming and second-run content geared toward the young-male demo.
Rebney calls the Bellator-MTV2 alliance a "dream marriage" and a "perfect fit" (among other superlatives).
"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."