The poker game regarding MMA television going on between FX and Spike TV continued Thursday as Bellator booked its first live event for 2013 on a Thursday night.
In a story first reported by MMAjunkie.com, Bellator has reserved a Jan. 10, 2013, date in Atlantic City, N.J., a Thursday night, for what would be the first Bellator event on Spike.
Nick Lembo, the Counsel for the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, confirmed the date to MMAfighting.com, noting the show will take place at the 4,500-seat Adrian Phillips Ballroom as part of Boardwalk Hall. It's an arena HBO has used for boxing events, but it is not the larger Boardwalk Hall that UFC used years ago.
Officials at Spike TV, however, said no final decision has been made.
"We are still deciding a few options, still looking at staying on Fridays or moving to the old TUF slot on Wednesdays," said an official with Spike TV, who noted Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is scouting venues for the new season.
Officials from Bellator have not commented on the story.
The game going on is that neither FX nor Spike want to be the one to officially announce what night their MMA programming will be airing starting in January. Both figure it is more effective to be the counter puncher. Most likely, Spike wants to air Bellator on a night without UFC competition programming. FX hasn't directly said so, but there have been indications they are looking at airing MMA programming head-to-head with Spike. It's a retribution game since Spike put on old UFC programming head-to-head with key FX and FOX events this past year when Spike had the rights to air UFC footage from its MMA library. The feeling from the FX side is that Spike confused the marketplace and somewhat hurt the debut of the new The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season earlier this year.
If Bellator moves to Thursday, it would likely air from 10 p.m. ET to after midnight, since Spike airs TNA Impact Wrestling from 8-10 p.m. ET live on Thursdays. However, the Atlantic City show is scheduled at this point for the first fight to go into the cage at 6:30 p.m., which would be awfully early for a television shoot that would start at 10 p.m. ET. Start time could easily change, however.
Professional wrestling is one of the Spike's highest-rated shows and theoretically would be the strongest potential lead-in programming for MMA. Spike put UFC on the map in 2005 by airing the show immediately after WWE's Monday Night Raw, a popular pro wrestling show. Impact is not in the same ballpark as Raw when it comes to ratings, though, averaging 1.24 million viewers on average over the past four weeks.
During the spring, there are a lot of viable options for the shows, but the key is both sides would want to establish a regular night going forward. The game changes in the fall due to NFL programming, which has proven to take a large bite out of MMA audiences head-to-head.
If one wants to avoid the NFL juggernaut in the fall, the strongest options are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. However, FX has its hottest show, "Sons of Anarchy," on Tuesdays. Both companies are currently running on Fridays, doing lower ratings than either has done in the past.
There is no NFL on Saturdays in fall most weeks, although there is college football. Bellator was previously having to compete against both UFC pay-per-views and major live events most Saturdays last fall as well as HBO Boxing. However, ratings declined with the move to Friday.