Viacom has acquired a majority stake in Bellator Fighting Championships, and Spike TV will begin airing the promotion’s events in 2013.
That’s the according to company executives who spoke to “USA Today.”
Spike TV president Kevin Kay told the outlet that the acquisition allows Spike TV to “become owners as opposed to renters” of MMA content. This is the final year the cable station will air live UFC events after a seven-year run.
Bjorn Rebney will stay aboard as the head of Bellator. Terms of the deal, which has been in the works for the past year, were not disclosed.
As MMAjunkie.com recently reported, Viacom officials said Bellator‘s move from MTV2, a smaller Viacom-owned channel, to Spike TV wasn’t a “matter of if, but when.” However, as long as Spike TV owns the UFC library rights – and that’s through 2012 – it can’t air live MMA events from another organization, such as Bellator. The UFC could have bought back those rights (and moved them to new UFC partner FOX), but UFC president Dana White recently said that’s not going to happen.
So for now, the newly owned Bellator will remain on MTV2, which began airing events earlier this year after the organization’s previous runs on ESPN Deportes and FOX Sports Net affiliates. But the eventual move from MTV2, which is available in approximately 80 million households, to Spike TV will add 20 million households and put the organization on a much higher-profile cable platform. The move also will put Bellator in high-definition, which currently is available only on EPIX (which many cable platforms don’t carry).
Bellator has scored between 103,000 and 325,000 viewers per event on MTV2. UFC events – including UFC Fight Night, The Ultimate Fighter Finale, and overseas shows – have averaged approximately two million viewers in recent years.
Currently, Bellator airs its events on Saturday nights, so they often go head-to-head with the UFC, as well as Strikeforce (which the UFC acquired earlier this year). However, Rebney recently told MMAjunkie.com that officials are open to moving the shows to a different night of the week beginning with the sixth season, which kicks off during the first quarter of 2012.
With Bellator’s move to Spike TV, additional specialty programming (such as highlights shows) also is expected to be developed.
Bellator and Viacom’s first sign of a larger partnership came this past month when Bellator‘s preliminary cards began streaming live on Spike.com.
Spike TV first began airing MMA events in 2005 following the first season of the UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. However, with the UFC’s recent landmark deal with FOX (which will air four annual events in 2012), the reality show, non-PPV events and specialty programming are moving to FOX-owned FX and FUEL TV.