For the past seven years, Bellator MMA has aired its televised events, both live and tape-delayed, on Paramount Network (formerly known as Spike), this after having aired its cards on MTV2 in 2011 and 2012.
In total, between MTV2 and Paramount Network, ViacomCBS-owned cable channels have aired Bellator MMA events for the past nine years, with Paramount Network splitting and/or simulcasting Bellator shows with DAZN since the fall of 2018.
This could all soon change, as on Wednesday, Variety reported that although Scott Coker will continue as Bellator MMA president, he will now be overseen by Stephen Espinoza.
Espinoza currently serves as an executive of the sports programming division for the Showtime premium cable network—concentrating on the channel’s boxing coverage.
Sports programming on Showtime primarily consists of the long-standing NFL recap show Inside the NFL, itself formerly a longtime staple on rival premium cable network HBO, as well as fights from Premier Boxing Champions.
Showtime Sports was instrumental in the 2017 boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, which aired as a pay-per-view under the Showtime Sports banner.
This comes in the aftermath of a shake-up inside Bellator MMA and Paramount Network’s parent company, ViacomCBS, the end result of a merger between Viacom and the CBS Corporation which became official in December.
In addition to Paramount Network, ViacomCBS oversees MTV, Nickelodeon, PopTV, and CMT, just to name a few—along with Paramount Pictures.
For the time being, at least, Paramount Network will remain the TV home to Bellator MMA events.
Coker, who previously was the president of the late Strikeforce MMA promotion (which itself ran most of its events on Showtime), said “Nothing’s been decided yet” when he was asked by MMAFighting.com about the future of Bellator MMA’s television partner.
This got me to thinking about what might be next for Bellator MMA on television.
I see three possible scenarios for Bellator at this point:
1.) Bellator MMA remains on Paramount Network: One of the most appealing aspects of Bellator MMA, in my worldview, is the fact that some of its annual events air live and free on Paramount Network.
In fact, the phrase “live and free on Paramount Network” has been used in promotions for Bellator MMA events on-air throughout the years.
Thus, it’s entirely possible that there’s no move for Bellator MMA at all in the aftermath of the shakeup.
2.) Bellator MMA relocates its televised catalog of events to Showtime: As previously mentioned, Showtime has not televised a live mixed martial arts card since the days of the late Strikeforce promotion.
However, a potential move to Showtime could mean that cable or satellite subscribers would then have to upgrade to their provider’s movie package solely to get Showtime—all just to keep watching Bellator MMA events.
Compared to staying with Paramount Network, this would be a sub optimal move for Bellator MMA.
Why upgrade to a movie package on cable when you’re not upgrading to watch movies?
3.) Bellator MMA remains on Paramount Network and moves some televised events to CBS: MMA has not been aired on CBS proper since 2010, when the network ran Strikeforce events under the title CBS Strikeforce Saturday Night with Gus Johnson as play-by-play commentator.
Side note: This event was the first MMA show that I ever watched on TV.
The card originating from Nashville drew 2.63 million viewers (down from 3.79 million viewers for a Strikeforce telecast in November of 2009), according to preliminary figures after the Apr. 17, 2010 event headlined by Jake Shields vs. Dan Henderson—marred by a fracas between Shields, Jason Miller, and Nate Diaz.
Due to the brawl and the telecast’s overall low ratings, CBS declined to air any further Strikeforce events—and it would be nearly 19 months before the next MMA show would air on broadcast television—the Nov. 12, 2011 UFC on FOX 1 main event between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos for the promotion’s Heavyweight belt.
The CBS Strikeforce finale in April of 2010 was beaten out in its Saturday 9 p.m. EDT time slot by a Law and Order encore presentation on rival NBC.
In recent years, CBS has aired Premier Boxing Championships events under the Showtime Sports banner. Past rights deals aside, remaining on Paramount Network and moving some events to CBS would be the most optimal move for Bellator MMA.
A move to CBS for some events would keep Bellator’s cards on free TV, which, as previously stated, has been a hallmark for the promotion. It’ll be a while before Bellator’s future television plans are made definitive.
In the immediate future for Bellator MMA is a Jan. 25 card from Los Angeles at The Forum with a main event between Julia Budd (13-2) and Cris Cyborg (21-2) for the promotion’s Women’s Featherweight title in Cyborg’s promotional debut.
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