When Bellator lost its middleweight champion Hector Lombard to the UFC last week, it was at least partially because in the UFC's offer, they monetized the deal through pay-per-view. That avenue isn't available to Bellator right now, but within two years, it might be.
As Bellator grows internationally through its major deal with distribution giant Fremantle Enterprises, and makes its move domestically to Spike, new opportunities will arise. And that could mean that at some point, Bellator will try out the pay-per-view format.
Organization CEO Bjorn Rebney told MMA Fighting that the promotion is considering all of its options when it comes to producing live content, but that Bellator would only make the move to pay-per-view under the right circumstances.
"I think what you’ll see is as this is monetized and that sector plays out, it’ll play out with the big fights on that platform," he said in a recent interview. "You need that kind of platform for what they’re doing. We may get there. I never wanted to make a firm commitment to it as far as when and if we’ll get there, though. It’s really something that we might do, but it needs the right fights and the right talent to get you there."
To date, it's been a slow and steady rise for Bellator, which was founded in 2008. Its first season aired nationally only on Spanish-language ESPN Deportes. The next season, they moved to FOX Sports Net, in a deal that saw its events air at different times around the country. A lack of consistency in scheduling from one week to the next often made it hard to follow for viewers. By season four, they moved to MTV2 after inking a deal with media giant Viacom. At the start of 2013, Bellator will move to Spike, where they will essentially be replacing the UFC on the cable channel.
That means that the next eight months will be pivotal as the promotion builds momentum towards its new home. As the timing worked out, two of its best fighters, Lombard and Eddie Alvarez, moved or will move into free agency during that transition.
Given the UFC's business model, their offer to Lombard was unmatchable for Bellator. With Alvarez soon to take his talents on the free agent market, that not always be the case.
"Would this have been a potentially different decision two years from now, or one-and-a-half years from now? Conceivably," Rebney said.
The difference then could be pay-per-view. If Bellator can offer its stars the same incentive that the UFC's top stars receive, the promotion will find itself in a much stronger negotiating position. But that's all in due time, and with due analysis. Rebney noted that the company's strong growth has not come by accident; Bellator's leadership team has always worked to examine all available data and make business moves based on logic rather than emotion. Even with new partner Viacom behind them, that won't change. So if that means pay-per-view projects are a profitable venture, they'll try it out; and if it doesn't, they won't.
"Even as we reach different plateaus and become a billion-dollar enterprise, we’ll still be based on sound business decisions," Rebney said.