Spike TV: Bellator MMA Live Launch


Business situation

From 2005 to 2011, Spike TV had enjoyed considerable success broadcasting competitions of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts (MMA) league. Prior to – and to a lesser degree, during -the sport's run on Spike, MMA had developed a reputation as being unforgivably violent and too primitive to be regarded by the masses or advertisers as a true professional sport.

In 2011, the right to those UFC broadcasts moved to the Fox TV, FX, and Fuel networks. Not willing to walk away entirely from the sport of MMA, in 2012 Spike entered into an agreement to begin broadcasting competitions from the little-known but up-and-coming Bellator league starting early 2013. The introduction of the league to Spike TV would be in the form of a weekly series of live competitions titled Bellator MMA Live.

Bellator's approach to the sport differs from that of the UFC in that Bellator employs an NCAA basketball-type "brackef-style structure to arrange the match-ups in its tournaments, while the UFC relies on the short-term desires of the league and its promoters to arrange matches (Bellator's motto: "where title shots are earned, not given"). The league's programming had been airing for a year on the MTV2 network, but to very small audiences (the latest season there had averaged just 177,000 viewers per week). For this new agreement to be profitable for Spike TV, ratings would need to increase substantially from where they were with MTV2 right off the bat. For that to happen, Spike would need to prepare and execute a thorough launch marketing campaign, as if Bellator were a brand new brand.