(Taffer my good man, you finally have some competition.)
In its seven-season history, Bellator’s events have bounced from Friday nights to Thursdays, to Saturdays, and back to Fridays again. That, coupled with the promotion’s changes in cable partners (anybody remember the ESPN Deportes days?) and its traveling-circus approach to event scheduling, may have worked against the organization gaining a foothold in the market over the years.
Luckily, Bellator’s impending Spike TV deal will give its events a sharp boost in exposure — and they’ll no longer be shown on a night that translates into guaranteed death for viewership numbers. MMAJunkie is reporting that Bellator’s first event of the Spike era is slated for Thursday, January 10th, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As Junkie wrote, the event will serve as Bellator 85, and will air on Spike TV following TNA Impact Wrestling.
Switching to Thursday nights can only be a good thing for Bellator, which has averaged just 168,700 viewers per broadcast this season on MTV2. Coincidentally, the UFC may be moving their own Friday-night cable show — The Ultimate Fighter — to a different night as well. Although Jon Jones’s manager Malki Kawa and UFC president Dana White both claimed recently that TUF was moving back to Wednesdays, FX’s Vice President of Media Relations told MMAFighting that such a move was “highly unlikely,” adding: “FX has not announced the official date or night that the next installment of TUF will air…The official announcement will be coming in the next two or three weeks.”
Bellator 85 will feature the winners of Spike TV’s “Vote for the Fight” fan poll — we already submitted a write-in vote for War Machine vs. Mika Tan’s Ex-Boyfriend II — but no matchups have been formally announced yet.
Update: The story just took a weird turn — now an unnamed Spike TV exec is saying that Bellator’s Thursday-night move isn’t official yet: “We are still deciding a few options, still looking at staying on Fridays or moving to the old TUF slot on Wednesdays.” Basically, the cable networks are playing a game of scheduling chicken. MMAFighting’s Dave Meltzer explains after the jump…
The game going on is that neither FX nor Spike want to be the one to officially announce what night their MMA programming will be airing starting in January. Both figure it is more effective to be the counter puncher. Most likely, Spike wants to air Bellator on a night without UFC competition programming. FX hasn’t directly said so, but there have been indications they are looking at airing MMA programming head-to-head with Spike. It’s a retribution game since Spike put on old UFC programming head-to-head with key FX and FOX events this past year when Spike had the rights to air UFC footage from its MMA library. The feeling from the FX side is that Spike confused the marketplace and somewhat hurt the debut of the new The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season earlier this year…
Professional wrestling is one of the Spike’s highest-rated shows and theoretically would be the strongest potential lead-in programming for MMA. Spike put UFC on the map in 2005 by airing the show immediately after WWE’s Monday Night Raw, a popular pro wrestling show. Impact is not in the same ballpark as Raw when it comes to ratings, though, averaging 1.24 million viewers on average over the past four weeks…
If one wants to avoid the NFL juggernaut in the fall, the strongest options are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. However, FX has its hottest show, “Sons of Anarchy,” on Tuesdays. Both companies are currently running on Fridays, doing lower ratings than either has done in the past.
There is no NFL on Saturdays in fall most weeks, although there is college football. Bellator was previously having to compete against both UFC pay-per-views and major live events most Saturdays last fall as well as HBO Boxing. However, ratings declined with the move to Friday.