Bellator, after putting on another Thursday event, seems to have hit their stride in terms of fight quality, but how many people were watching? They have solid talent, with their 2-14-13 card featuring two of their best combatants in Eduardo Dantas and Marcos Galvao, a great TV contract, fierce financial backing, and a charismatic CEO who is as charming as he is polarizing. They would seem to be in a great position given that their most recent card was arguably, in terms of the high level MMA action on display, their best showing featuring two great KO’s and an absolute war between Dan Cramer and Brian Rodgers. As a hardcore MMA fan, I can’t say enough good things about last night, but therein lies the problem. As in, who am I going to say it to?
The problem with Bellator, while a good problem to have I suppose, is, in my estimation, their business model. I can’t argue against its ability to generate revenue and I will not pretend to know what their internal revenue projections look like, what margin they have deemed acceptable and what their ultimate organizational goal is. However, their “all-in” bet on weekly shows and the “toughest tournament in sports” persona seem to, in terms of sustainability, represent a similar fallacy to that of a perpetual motion machine. Certainly, the parallel isn’t perfect as a perpetual motion machine is described as a “machine that has a continuous motion without any energy inputs”. Spike and Viacom have done nothing less than promote Bellator in every medium possible. Additionally, the amount of energy that must go into each event is nearly incomprehensible.
However, one could argue that Bellator’s business plan is attempting to find loopholes in the laws of MMA promotion – consistent weekly shows, tournaments to add matchmaking transparency, and nearly flawless talent scouting. But at what point does an arguably saturated market push back with the type of friction or gravitational torque that either slows their ascent down considerably or bring it to a screeching halt altogether? There seems to be a bit of that "habitual lotto player" mentality at play with Bellator where they believe the odds of winning are much greater than they actually are.
I enjoy Bellator and I want them to succeed, but something about their modus operandi makes me think that doing so is less of a possibility then they would like us to believe. My sense is that, eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, something will have to give. However, instead of hurtling themselves directly into that sort of situation, here are three things that I think they could do instead:
- Bi-Weekly Cards. MMA fans aren't meat-heads anymore and many need to take a mental break from this stuff from time to time to process it and to regenerate some excitement for it.
- Smaller Tournament Fields. 4 combatants instead of 8 makes the most sense to me. Use that extra time to build up the entrants with the type of high quality fighter features you do during the shows.
- Decrease the number of fights on each card. MMA is stuck in a way of thinking with regards to what a fight card should look like. Prelims for prelims sake is a mistake in my book. I’m not interested in a 14-11 fighter taking on a guy who is 7-4 in a “feature fight”. Use that time for a legitimate pre-show.