The debut of Rory MacDonald on Friday's Bellator show from London, England, drew an average of 607,000 viewers for a show that aired on a several hour tape delay.
The number is in the ballpark of what a usual Bellator show would do when airing live, but not the boost one would have hoped for under normal circumstances for MacDonald's debut, particularly against Paul Daley, a big-talking fighter of some name value.
Not being live didn't help. The last time Bellator was on tape delay, the April 14 show from Budapest, Hungary, they did 522,000 viewers, so this was an increase from under similar circumstances, but it was also a far stronger main event. Bellator also faced competition from the NBA playoffs and the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, which did 5,096,000 and 1,546,000 viewers respectively, which likely had significant impact..
There really is little alternative for a Friday night show from Europe. The show would have been lucky to get even half that audience had it aired live. For the show to have aired live in prime time in the U.S., the earliest the main card could have started would have been 1 a.m. local time. With Bellator cultivating growth from Europe and running regular live events there, the alternatives are to move them to Saturdays, where a live afternoon show wouldn't be sure death, or go on tape. The last time Bellator did a live Saturday afternoon show, they did 438,000 viewers, which is still significantly lower than its traditional Friday night at 9 p.m., or a Saturday night show, would do on tape.
The MacDonald vs. Daley main event averaged 765,000 viewers and peaked at 813,000 on Friday. Including those who later watched via DVR through Monday, those numbers increased significantly, with the fight itself averaging 877,000 viewers and the peak of the fight hitting 955,000 viewers. The DVR increases, by percentage, is significantly higher than would be expected for most televised sports events.
MacDonald was generally considered the best of the recent free-agent siginings by Bellator, a group that included Benson Henderson, Josh Thomson, Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, Michael McDonald and Lorenz Larkin. MacDonald has wins over both UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, and his top contender, Demian Maia. He was also ahead on the scorecards going into the fifth round, when he was stopped in a title challenge by then-champion Robbie Lawler. MacDonald was also considered the biggest name fighter in Canada until the reemergence of Georges St-Pierre on the scene.