Bellator's Saturday ratings on surface look good, but don't tell whole story

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Since Saturday was Bellator's first pay-per-view show, it's a little early to know what this really means, but the prelim fights on Spike leading up to the main card did 712,000 viewers.

The number is not that far off from the 750,000 viewers who watched the prelims leading up to UFC 172 on Apr. 26 in a similar time slot on FS 1. But that fact alone tells you right away that it's not about the viewership of the prelims, but the conversion rate of those viewers to paying customers. UFC 172 was estimated at doing 350,000 buys, while Bellator was unlikely to do more than a small fraction of that.

There are two flaws with direct comparisons. The first is that Spike is a more established station than FS 1, and has a significant higher base audience. The second is that Spike is in about nine million more U.S. households than FS 1.

There is a correlation between television viewers leading up to the show and pay-per-view numbers, as there should be, since it is measuring people already in front of their television sets watching. But there have been hugely successful pay-per-view shows where the ratings of the prelims would not have indicated anything special, and the opposite has also at times been the case.

Spike's Bellator programming began at 7 p.m. Eastern time, with a Michael Chandler special, that had aired several times previously, and did 607,000 viewers. The special by that time was somewhat dated since it was focused around his previous matches with original opponent Eddie Alvarez. A special building up King Mo Lawal vs. Rampage Jackson, the new pay-per-view main event, did 511,000 viewers. That show had also had multiple airings over the previous week.

The prelims peaked just before the pay-per-view started, with the Check Kongo vs. Eric Smith fight reaching 962,000 viewers.

But the prelims did slightly above the usual Bellator average. Bellator is averaging 667,000 viewers on Friday nights this season.

UFC's biggest television show of the past week, the May 14 episode of The Ultimate Fighter, did 417,000 viewers watching that night, and another 243,000 viewers watching the episode taped on Wednesday via DVR viewership before Saturday night. Those numbers were down from 438,000 same day viewers and 335,000 watching via DVR of the May 7 episode.

Ratings are courtesy of Neilsen.  

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