A partnership between Bellator MMA and Showtime, which was officially announced yesterday during a ‘Special Announcement’ press conference, could turn out to be a perfect fit for Bellator at this stage of the promotion’s life.
Since signing on as President in 2014, Scott Coker has seemingly worked endlessly at improving Bellator’s roster. In 2021, it could be argued that the promotion is presenting its best roster to date. And that includes both homegrown talent and high profile free agent acquisitions.
One issue that Coker and company have dealt with over the years, however, involves its broadcast platform in the United States. While it hasn’t necessarily had an issue securing a broadcast partner, it has had a consistency issue. In other words, the promotion has bounced around different platforms in recent memory.
Before Coker arrived in 2014, Bellator could be found on Spike, later rebranded as Paramount Network. Then in 2018, the promotion inked a deal with streaming platform DAZN. During this partnership, events were broadcast on both DAZN and Paramount. Most recently, Bellator events were shown on CBS Sports Network following Viacom and CBS’ merger.
This is an issue because it’s hard to develop a dedicated fan base when it’s either difficult to find the events or difficult to access them. With Bellator jumping from platform to platform, fans may get lost in the process in terms of where they can view fights. In the case of DAZN, putting fights behind a paywall obviously deters some fans.
With this new partnership with Showtime, however, that confusion no longer exists. Coker and Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza made it clear during the press conference that Showtime will now be the exclusive home of Bellator MMA and that events will take place on Fridays. So although Showtime, in a similar fashion to DAZN, is a subscription-based network, which will undoubtedly drive some fans away, this partnership provides a clear and easy to understand method of viewing Bellator. This can only benefit the promotion.
However, what’s perhaps more important is that Showtime isn’t just any ordinary network providing a home to Bellator. In fact, Showtime is a network that has a rich history in combat sports, including both mixed martial arts and boxing.
In terms of MMA specifically, Showtime broadcast the infamous EliteXC promotion a decade and a half ago and, more notably, broadcast Strikeforce during the promotion’s heyday as one of the premier league’s in the world. With Strikeforce, Showtime played a role in working with, building, and developing some of the biggest names in the history of MMA, including Fedor Emelianenko, Ronda Rousey, Daniel Cormier, Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem, Gilbert Melendez, and Luke Rockhold, to name a few.
And on the boxing side, where Showtime has been more prominent in recent years, the network has done the same thing, putting on marquee events and working with some of the biggest names in the sport.
Showtime has also demonstrated its creative storytelling abilities and its ability to build stars and world champions in boxing. For instance, its ‘All Access’ series, which is just one example of the type of content produced, has famously served as the lead in to many major boxing fights over the years, going behind the scenes and into the lives of fighters to increase interest in events.
Going forward, there’s no reason to believe that Showtime wouldn’t be able to contribute similarly on the MMA side. So, in addition to having a permanent home, Bellator MMA now has a partner who not only knows what it takes to work in combat sports but knows what it takes to build and sell events and fighters.
That can only be seen as a perfect fit for a promotion consistently on the rise.