It will come as no surprise to fans that we love giving free advice, and also that I fancy myself one of the finest CEOs the lord has yet cranked out. This week, I’ll do Bellator MMA a favor, and give them a short wrap up of how they could make their promotion a million times better. First a little history. Bellator is a MMA promotion whose fights currently air on the Paramount Network, which used to be called Spike TV. They try to succeed by ripping off the most mundane parts of UFC, while leaving the most important aspects to chance. What are the most important things they could do better?
- Accessibility: All fights on MUST be on regular TV. Starting in September, Bellator plans to move some of it’s fights onto the streaming service called DAZN (pronounced “Da Zone”). This streaming service is set to cost the same as the UFC Fight Pass, but with the upside that it will include the live pay per views. The problem is, if Bellator can’t compete with UFC viewership for free, they can’t compete with UFC while charging the same as UFC. Nobody is going to buy into DAZN, so nobody is going to watch those fights, sapping the enthusiasm for the Bellator fights that do remain on cable television. This is all the more important because UFCs plan is the opposite of Bellators plan. UFC signed a huge deal with ESPN to bring their fight nights to ESPN instead of the higher Fox cable stations, making UFC available to a wider audience for free. Undoubtedly, ESPN will stupidly push some UFC fights onto it’s new streaming service, so that will give Bellator some breathing room for their bad decisions. Long story short: Every single fight should be on cable TV, on the same network.
- Smart Revenue: Since they need to move to a non subscription model, Bellator needs to embrace advertisements and sponsors everywhere. No spot on the floor or walls of the cage should be empty. Even if they insist on doing subscription fights, the fights will be illegally live streamed, but streamers will never be able to remove ads printed onto the cage. If they are smart and do all free fights, old fights will still end up on the internet, also with ads intact. With this in mind these spots should sell for a high dollar value, because there is no way for anyone to watch the fight without seeing the ads. Commercials and subscription fees are easily beaten. Not one single consumer of the fight can beat built in advertising.
- Learn What Matters: Rip off parts of the UFC that matter. Stop combing the United States trying to find every Joe Rogan sound alike. If you’re so desperate to recreate the success of Joe Rogan, instead of trying to hire broadcasters with a similar voice, hire broadcasters who will be liked for the same reason Joe Rogan is liked. To be clear, the reason he is loved is because he’s highly knowledgeable about the sport, and is not afraid to talk down about the promotion. If he thinks the ref made a wrong call he’ll say it, and people find that hilariously refreshing. People aren’t tuning in for the pitch of his voice. If we were to listen in to a Bellator board meeting, we would hear that the most important part of a commentator is that he be bald and have an inflection identical to Joe Rogan’s, whether or not he knew a thing about Mixed Martial Arts.
- Brand Fighters, Who is Who?: It seems like Bellator doesn’t want you to know who is fighting in the match you’re watching. For all of the things they rip off of UFC, the very good overlay is not something they considered. During a Bellator fight, they don’t show the names or colors of either fighter at any time. This is just a terrible mistake. Like the everybody in management at Viacom should be filling soda at a fast food place kind of mistake. How am I supposed to build an affinity for any of the fighters if Bellator won’t tell me who they are? The names of the fighters, along with what color gloves they are wearing, needs to appear on the screen during every second of the fight. Like it does in every other combat sport.
- Brand Fighters, Build a Real Website: The Bellator website is just terrible. Pretty much the only information you can glean off of it is who the current champions are. Even that is laid out poorly. The champions aren’t listed by weight and the women are right in the middle of the men. I built my first website when I was 10-11 years old. It cost $0. It was significantly better than the Bellator website in every way. The biggest problem with the Bellator website is there are no rankings. You read that right. There are no rankings in Bellator. How do you know who is in the division besides the champion? You don’t. How do you know who to watch for? You don’t. How do you know who to get excited about? You don’t. You just don’t end up watching at all.
This is an area where Bellator has two distinct choices:
1) Copy UFC step for step. Enlist handicappers and come up with a rankings system, even if they aren’t perfect. Get them on the website, listed in order under every champion.
2) Go bankrupt. Who cares about an MMA promotion where you only know eight fighters, one from each division? Hopefully no one. Create rankings or close down.
- Spend Where It Counts: At it’s higher end, Bellator often pays more for fighters than UFC. On the lower end, you’ll see fighters at the beginning of a Bellator card fighting for $1,500. Obviously you’ve got to start somewhere, but when you consider that $1,500 isn’t enough to cover a single one of the dozens of expenses incurred for a fight, you have to wonder just how little you’re getting for that money. It’s all the worse when you see how Bellator is spending their money. Let’s see what a fighter can do with $1,500. Flying just a fighter round trip from Brazil to the US for a fight wipes out all of that money. Forget how much their corner travel is costing them. Supplements and training consumables for 3-5 months could easily run that much on their own. Use of a gym for the same amount of time? Also in excess of $1,500. Food and medical for the training camp? Money gone and then some. Break your nose during the fight? That’ll be at least $3,000. Now in Bellator, unlike UFC, fighters are still allowed to rack up their own sponsors, but those values will likely shrink when the Bellator fights move off of cable and onto an anonymous streaming service that no one will watch.
But Dan, this one seems like helpless bitching. Of course everyone could use more money, maybe Bellator just doesn’t have it. That would be great logic, except over the summer they reportedly paid 50 Cent $1 million for a useless catch phrase that will never make them $1 back. That’s right. 50 Cent claims he sold his catch phrase “Get the Strap” to Bellator for $1 million. I have to say “claims” because after being ruthlessly bashed for it, Bellator president Scott Coker denied buying the phrase. It’s overwhelmingly likely he did though, as he was openly in dealings with 50 Cent for over a month and no other deal came to fruition. Bellator’s defense was that the “$1 million sale claim was just to promote our other deal with 50.” What other deal? There isn’t one. They are taking a page right out of Dana White’s playbook here. Make a terrible 0/10 business decision that only you think is brilliant, the entire world laughs at you for it, you claim it never happened. Classic Dana White. Now classic Scott Coker. $1 million dollars for a stupid phrase. Now they are so embarrassed by it, they can’t even print it on shirts to try and get one dollar back from it. For reference the entire payroll cost of Bellator 199 was $852,000. That included three fighters making $150,000 each and 12 fighters that made less than $2,000 each. The last thing I’ll mention is that the staging areas where the fighters first appear from when they walk out are incredibly cheap. When they announce the biggest name in Bellator, and somebody like Chael Sonnen walks out, he’s being pointed to by two $20 rotating lasers while he walks down a ramp that’s maybe eight feet long. There’s no spectacle to it at all. If you hired a $250 wedding DJ, he would put on a better show than the fanciest thing Bellator has ever done. Part of the problem is they put on their fights at smaller venues that UFC typically does, but this could be combated with more lights and pyro. In general, no matter how good a deal the venue is, if the walk from the first appearance to the cage is less than 150 feet, the place shouldn’t have been booked. People want to see the fighters walking out through the crowd, the music playing for more than three seconds, high fives, security holding the crowd back, it’s all part of the fun. For that $1 million they wasted on 50 Cent, Bellator could have put on an entire fight and upgraded their stage setup permanently.
That’s the abridged version of what Bellator could do to shore up their biggest weaknesses. Listen to Life’s a Gamble every week, where we tell people what the hell they’re doing wrong in their personal and professional lives and win bets along the way.
-The Best CEO,