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Bellator drew larger audience as live vs. taped debate played out past weekend

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Because of unfavorable time zones, there has always been the debate regarding how to handle European MMA events on television.

Currently the UFC on ESPN, and before that on FS 1, would air the shows live in time slots that weren’t unusual and the ratings would be much lower than usual.

Bellator on Paramount, and before that with Spike, would air the shows taped in the usual prime time slots. Generally speaking, the taped shows did surprisingly well, often doing better than live shows from the U.S. But for hardcore fans, the idea that a sporting event was being taped never sat well, even though evidence has always been to maximize viewership for Bellator, the right time slot is far more important than airing a show live.

On Saturday, the latest example was played out with both companies, with UFC in Prague, Czech Republic, and Bellator in Dublin, Ireland.

Of course, no comparisons are equal. The UFC is the bigger name brand, the ESPN platforms are bigger for sports fans than Paramount, and the main events aren’t equal either.

Bellator drew the higher audience, with 349,000 viewers for its prime time airing of a show that saw James Gallagher score a first round submission win over Steven Graham. Two weeks earlier, a show from Newcastle, U.K., headlined by Patricky “Pitbull” Freire, did 365,000 viewers.

Those numbers are in line with Bellator live offerings over the past few months from the U.S. that aren’t the major shows featuring the bigger name stars. Even though one would think differently with results instantly available that taped MMA shows shouldn’t do as well as live shows, the actual evidence continues to say otherwise.

Saturday’s show also had 80,000 viewers watching via DVR on average through Monday night. The peak, including those watching over the next three days, was 667,000 for the final moments of the main event.

These numbers would not include any viewership watching on DAZN.

The UFC aired prelims live on ESPN 2, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and drew 271,000 viewers. It was the first live UFC event on ESPN 2 and between that and the unusual time slot, there are really no comparisons regarding how it did.

The main card was on ESPN+. The prelims had no major name fighters, with the top fight being Dwight Grant’s first-round finish of Carlo Pedersoli.