Bellator’s Slow Burn

By Jake Rossen Jan 19, 2010
D. Mandel/

My standing policy is to rarely invoke the name of Jordan Breen, a colleague at who harbors such deep and intricate knowledge of the sport that he could write a 1,200 page deconstruction of the subject and happily label it “Volume 1.” Because I can only wind up suffering at the comparison, I avoid it, in much the same way Clint Howard probably tries his best never to stand next to George Clooney at awards shows.

My insecurity aside, Breen recently authored a sharp examination of Bellator’s current marketing strategy as they kill time before the launch of their second season in April. By rationing signings and news breaks, Breen reasons, they’re able to maintain a brand presence through the winter draught. It’s not unlike throwing a coat over a theater seat, albeit four months before the movie starts.

The open question: just how good that seat is. Bellator’s first season was a tremendous success in terms of production quality and talent, and their ability to manipulate viral content is second to none. (If you didn’t see the Masvidal/Imada finish, you’re either Amish or dead.) But affection online does not necessarily translate into monetization offline. Audiences used to the hyper, energy-drink broadcasts of the UFC -- and to a lesser extent, Strikeforce -- may be put off by Bellator’s polish, which has more in common with HBO Boxing than MTV. Worse, the inevitable time-slot hiccupping of their new home at Fox Sports Net promotes as much goodwill as blowing your nose at dinner. These are problems.

None of this is intended to harass Bellator, which is one of the few promotions to present itself without the membrane of scabby, pus-leaking infection that typifies prizefight promotion. Talking with CEO Bjorn Rebney, you get the feeling you’re communicating with a human and not a lounge act. But this is not a market where nice guys necessarily finish first. Their arrival in April will go a long way in determining how much time and attention a fan of this sport is willing to invest in following its many athletes. Especially when they’re being pre-empted by volleyball.
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