Bellator finished off their fourth season last weekend with a bang, an epic high kick knockout that crowned Pat Curran as the featherweight tournament champion. With a few weeks off before the fifth season begins in September, Bellator President Bjorn Rebney had a chance to finally sit down with the MMA Nation crew to discuss an ever changing MMA landscape.
Jonathan Snowden: Every time I interview you the experts suggest it will be the last time. There are huge concerns from the outside about Bellator's fiscal health. Where are things? More than half way through the year are you confident about the future?
Bjorn Rebney: Yeah. Things are going extremely well. We're in a very good place. As is the case whenever you're trying to build company up, whether it is a year and a half or two years or whatever timeframe you are in that building stage, you're trying to work through investment capital and get to the promised land. It always takes time. The build up is never a sprint, it's a marathon. We've finally reached that blessed point of a cash flow break even company. Where every dollar going out is met by a dollar coming in. We're in a really good spot, I spot I predicted we'd be in when I set up the model more than two years ago. We're in that position and we've got an incredible TV partner in MTV Networks and things are going very, very well.
Jonathan Snowden: Speaking of television, I have to ask you about a potential move to SPIKE. Is this something we can expect in 2012?
Bjorn Rebney: From the very start I've been clear that Bellator's partnership on the TV distribution front is with MTV Networks, the larger corporate entity that controls MTV, MTV2, VH1, Comedy Central and Spike amongst a collection of others. We've been very fortunate to have a great alliance with MTV2 that's been growing in terms of numbers, growing in terms of ratings, growing in terms of audience share, and expanding the demographic that watches mixed martial arts. That's been a great relationship. That's who our partnership has been with. That's our broadcast partner and we're going to kick off season number five on September 10th and go every week for three months. You'll be able to see Bellator on MTV2 as part of that alliance we have with MTV Networks.
Jonathan Snowden: What does it mean that people have spotted Spike representatives at your shows?
Bjorn Rebney: A lot of people are asking this question. They've seen different individuals from Spike at our events. That's the magic of having a relationship with MTV Networks. You're able to leverage the expertise and the vision and the experience of the team at Spike that's really responsible for bringing mixed martial arts to the general market. We have this incredible, incredible group of people that we're able to talk to and get their thoughts on everything from inside the truck production elements, to the feature pieces we do on fighters, to our graphics packages, to everything you could possibly conceive of going on in a televised mixed martial arts event. There could not be a better group of people to give suggestions and thoughts. They're as good as it gets.
Jonathan Snowden: You couldn't ask for a better fight to end your summer series than Curran-Sandro. What do you think can be done to give tremendous fighters like that some traction with the audience?
Bjorn Rebney: We can keep doing a lot of what we are doing. We can expose fighters like Pat Curran and Marlon Sandro, or Mike Chandler and the Pitbull brothers, to an 82 million home universe on MTV2. We can keep doing the kinds of things we're doing with the likes of Joe Warren, Eddie Alvarez and some of our other star fighters where we're putting them on other programs under the MTV Networks banner. Joe was on a highly rated episode of Impact Wrestling on the Spike network.
We're doing a lot of things like that to keep the PR machine working to promote spectacularly talented top five in the world caliber guys. Everything we can do to get the names of those fighters bigger, to try to get the audience more engaged, to try to get what we call their "Q" scores to a higher level. To just let people know who they are and what they are about.
We immediately put the Pat Curran highlight up on youTube and it's immediately getting tens of thousands of views. It's a hit. People are watching it over and over and over again. It's a lot of things working in unison to get these guys out there. To build up their stardom and the brand of Bellator.
Jonathan Snowden: Who do you see as a "Bellator" fan? Is it a hardcore MMA fan? A channel surfer? An MTV2 viewer?
Bjorn Rebney: That's a great question. I think it's all of the people you just mentioned. I think when you see, whether it's Mania or Elbow or Junkie or Sherdog or whoever it is, when the boards light up the way they did post fight, when the comments light up the way they did post fight, when the coverage lights up across the endemic market the way it did post fight Saturday night, you recognize that the hardcore fans are paying attention. The hardcore fans are watching.
At the same time, it's incumbent upon me, it's incumbent on the company, and it's incumbent upon you guys running the sites that people are really paying attention to consistently day in and day out to expand the breadth of that audience. Consistently try to bring in more general market consumers. Because the bottom line is, if you gave me a 100 people who had never seen a mixed martial arts event, and they went to a great event and that sat somewhere in that arena, about 98 out of a hundred are going to want to come to another one. About 98 out of that hundred are going to want to watch it on television. And they're going to become hooked because it's a terrific and incredible live event and televised event experience.
Jonathan Snowden: How do you create programming that is attractive to both MMA superfans and the casual fan watching for the first time?
Bjorn Rebney: The key is to focus on providing an event that is at a really high qualitative level. That's real sports competition and tournament based. Where you're telling the great stories behind the athletes. To design that event so hardcore fans of mixed martial arts can really enjoy it and have a great two hour experience, or four hours if they are watching it in the venue, but remain cognizant that our job is to keep expanding that base. To keep expanding those numbers. You have to be welcoming to those people who have not yet embraced what I think is the greatest sport on Earth.
Jonathan Snowden: When you strike that balance, it's definitely something special. Another place where you seem to look for balance is in the tournament selections. It's a good mix of new fighters and Bellator veterans. How do you decide which fighters get to come back?
Bjorn Rebney: It's a measurement that we go through as a team. I sit down with Sam Caplan and our talent development team and we work through who believe are top, top up and coming prospects and stars. The Douglas Lima's of the world at welterweight, the Dantas's of the world at bantamweight, and different guys that we look at and think 'wow, this guy could be a monster.' Vitor Vianna has incredible potential at middleweight but no one has seen him. Luis Santos who has 46 wins and is finally getting his shot on the big stage.
We look at those fighters and we look at the fighters we have under contract that have competed for us in the past. We ask 'which of these guys can compete for us at an elite, world class level?' You look at a guy like a (Brent) Weedman and you look at his technical proficiencies. His striking ability, his ground game. You've got to bring a guy like that back. You've got to give him another shot because he was so close to making it to the finals last time. There's a lot of thought processes that go into it. We start out, literally, before each tournament with a list of over 100 guys and we just keep breaking it down and breaking it down until we've got what we think is a great final eight.
Tomorrow, more from Rebney including how he and Dana White have a different promotional vision, Cole Konrad's place in the heavyweight division, and what it takes to put on a season of Bellator fights.