SBJ/Oct. 21-27, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Bellator wades into PPV with familiar names

When the CEO of Viacom-owned MMA promotion Bellator heard that Quentin “Rampage” Jackson was looking for a place to jump-start a career that was fading in the UFC, he ran the idea past Kevin Kay, the Spike Network president who had seen firsthand the role Jackson played in the UFC’s rise.

Known by the broader audience for his role in “The A-Team” and the requisite run across the late-night talk circuit, Jackson could instantly bring the sort of star power yet unseen in Bellator, which is in its first year on Spike. But the only way to land him would be to offer the upside from a pay-per-view, something Kay and Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney had discussed as part of a long-term plan, but neither expected to contemplate this soon.

Bellator has former UFC stars Quentin “Rampage” Jackson and Tito Ortiz fighting Nov. 2.
Kay knew what he wanted to do as soon as he heard the name. Bellator makes its pay-per-view debut Nov. 2, with a card headlined by Jackson against another resurrected UFC star, Tito Ortiz, at 13,500-seat Long Beach Arena.

“Who says no to Rampage Jackson?” Kay said, flashing back to a span when Jackson drove PPV sales for the UFC and ratings for Spike. “He’s not just a great fighter. He has crossed over into the mainstream. … Rampage is on TMZ, for better or worse. You’ve got a name who is worthy of pay-per-view. Now, who is he going to fight?”

For that, Bellator turned to another familiar face from the UFC, Ortiz, who retired last year and underwent ACL surgery in May.

Both fighters were attracted to Bellator for similar reasons. They got pay-per-view upside that they wouldn’t see in the UFC anymore. But Kay and Rebney said both also were attracted by what Viacom could do for them as they segue out of MMA.

Spike will promote the PPV with a three-episode reality show “Rampage4Real,” which debuted Thursday night. It will consider a second, 10-episode run of the show next year, outside of any fight promotion. Kay also got Jackson a meeting with Paramount Film Group President Adam Goodman and connected him with a writer to help with the development of a script.

Both Jackson and Ortiz signed to perform on TNA Impact Wrestling, which also airs on Spike. Ortiz’s deal also includes promotion of his apparel company, Punishment Athletics, which will get logo placement on the cage mat and 30-second spots during Bellator airings on Spike.

“There are pieces to this pie that are bigger for these guys than the stand-alone issue of pay-per-view,” Rebney said. “They get all these benefits they were never able to leverage previously. We help them build the Tito and Rampage brands up, and they’ll help me build up Bellator.”

This will be Spike’s first full-on entry in marketing pay-per-views. It is diving in with a push that includes the blanketing you’d expect on Spike and from distributors such as DirecTV, but also promotion across Viacom channels MTV, Comedy Central, BET and VH1, as well as ads in sports programming that fits the young, male MMA demo, including ESPN’s Nov. 1 NBA doubleheader featuring Heat-Nets and Lakers-Spurs, along with “Monday Night Football.”

“It’s on our dime at this point, and that makes a little difference,” Kay said. “We helped the UFC promote their pay-per-views. But they owned them and they made all the money, so this is a very different opportunity for Bellator and Viacom to get some of the proceeds. That [UFC deal] was fine. But it’s part of the reason we’re trying to change the equation here.”

Along with the TV buys, Bellator will run radio spots in NFL and college football, digital ads on CBS Sports and Bleacher Report and a print integration that will put the faces of Jackson, Ortiz and co-feature opponents Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler on the front of the USA Today sports page the day before the fight.

Handicapping the audience Bellator can expect for the pay-per-view, which costs $35 to $45, is difficult. Jackson headlined three UFC pay-per-views that reportedly generated upward of 500,000 buys in 2010 and 2011, but he has lost his last three fights. Ortiz has headlined once since 2009. Though up, Bellator’s average audience for its Spike shows hovers between 650,000 and 700,000 viewers.

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