The number two name in mixed martial arts is finally beginning its international expansion as it was announced Tuesday it had signed a 'multi-year partnership agreement' to make FOX Sports 'the exclusive carrier of Bellator throughout the entirety of Latin America'.
According to a press release, FOX Sports Latin America acquired the exclusive rights to televise Bellator MMA events and content - including Bellator 360, previous live events and other specials - in all of Latin America in approximately 50 million homes. The deal is set to kick off in October of 2013. In addition, beginning in 2015, 25 live Bellator events per year will air throughout the network including 'in-territory live events', which will air on FOX Sports and FOX SportsPlay.com.
FOX Sports Latin America will first air Bellator's November 2nd pay-per-view event for free. The card is headlined by a light heavyweight bout between Tito Ortiz and Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson. That event will air on pay-per-view in North America. "We wanted to carve that out and introduce Bellator on the largest sports network in Latin America," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney told MMA Fighting.
Until 2015, no other live events will be broadcast throughout FOX Sports Latin America due to existing pan-regional and Brazil-specific rights deals that extend through the end of 2014. Once the 2015 threshold is crossed, however, Bellator is allowed to do everything from live events in Latin American territories to exclusive reality and shoulder programming as well.
As for how a Viacom-owned organization could end up in business with a television broadcast outfit who, in the United States, is in partnership with the UFC, Rebney says it's no mystery.
"My mom used to say to me, 'try to not be the smartest guy in the room'. Surround yourself with the best of the best. My focus and my drive from day one in the U.S. was in any conceptual way I can form a partnership with Spike, that became my singular focus and drive," Rebney stated. "When you look at the international landscape, the largest and most successful international sports network in the world is FOX."
Rebney is quick to note, though, the decision was made easier because FOX made the first overture. "As odd as it sounds, FOX pursued us." As the Bellator executive recalls, his organization aired on FOX Sports regional networks after a short-lived run on ESPN Deportes, but before a move to MTV 2. Rebney says he made, developed and kept those contacts, which later ended up proving valuable as some of those same executives came back to seek out a meeting about potentially airing Bellator content on their international FOX Sports platforms.
There are no contractual limits that prevented the Viacom-owned entity from entering an agreement with FOX for international expansion into Latin American territories.
Rebney declined to specify how long the deal was set to be, but told MMA Fighting through 2018 Bellator "will still be live events on a consistent basis on FOX Sports Latin America." He also wouldn't commit to naming where the first Bellator show in Latin America would be held, but indicated Brazil is the clear front runner as the host country.
As for the deal's significance, Rebney claims it's two-fold. First, it expands the brand's existing reach in what is believed to be a region with a burgeoning MMA scene.
"It's extremely significant because it's a partnership with the largest sports network in the word. It's about reach and brand development. A lot of content is spectacular, but they key to spectacular content is getting it in front of the largest number of eyeballs that have access that you can," Rebney said. "Other than the United States, Latin America is the single most important region in the world as it relates to MMA fans and MMA content distribution."
Rebney also calls this "the tip of the iceberg" as he notes FOX Sports has existing inroads built into the Middle East, Africa, Asia and other potential growth markets.
"We've now taken a monumental next step forward in the evolution of the global brand that is Bellator," said Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney via release. "To have partnered with FOX Sports, Latin America's largest and most powerful sports network is the perfect fit for Bellator in this incredibly vital region. This is just the beginning of what Bellator and FOX Sports International will build into the largest worldwide alliance in combat sports history. The possibilities that surround this alliance are nearly endless, including live events in key Latin American markets and the distribution of unique Bellator content exclusively for FOX Sports."
"FOX Sports Latin America has been looking for the premier mixed martial arts organization to partner with, and Bellator is the perfect fit. We are thrilled to make Bellator the widest distributed MMA promotion in Latin America and Brazil, reaching more than 50 million homes from day one" said Carlos Martinez, President of FOX International Channels Latin America, through a release. "We are also very excited to be able to work as partners with Bellator to produce large scale Bellator events throughout Latin America and to produce reality shows in key territories. This partnership is a long term relationship that has virtually unlimited potential."
Bellator MMA currently is broadcast in approximately 98 million homes in the U.S. on Spike TV. The MMA organization also airs in 26 million households in the U.K. on the VIVA channel as well as a series of others channels wordlwide. Both Spike and VIVA are Viacom-owned properties.