Bellator MMA has yet another new television home, a little more than two years after signing a five-year deal with DAZN. On Friday, the ViacomCBS-owned promotion announced that their live events would now be airing on CBS Sports Network, moving over from Paramount Network. Previously, DAZN aired all of the company’s events (including those that aired on Paramount), but amidst confusion earlier this year about the DAZN deal, the company’s financial woes, and pandemic-related live event cancellations, Paramount became Bellator’s primary home.
If you’re confused about that description of Bellator over the last year or so, you’re not alone.
Bellator has had a somewhat migratory television existence over the years, with previous seasons (back when Bellator was more tournament-centric) airing on ESPN Deportes, the Fox Sports RSNs, MTV2, and Spike (which was later rebranded to Paramount Network) before the DAZN deal. But it took until the Viacom/CBS merger for Bellator, which Viacom has held a majority stake in for nearly a decade, to land on a true national sports network.
But alas, that true national sports network is CBS Sports Network, which is not Nielsen-rated and is in fewer households than not only Paramount Network, but also sports networks like ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, and NBCSN. So in one sense, it’s a step forward for Bellator, and in another, it’s a step backwards. While the overall fit on CBS Sports Network is better than on Paramount (which airs a hodgepodge of reality shows and sitcom reruns), it does seem like Bellator will be in front of fewer eyeballs, at least until it begins to build up an audience.
The announcement of two Thursday cards in October is also noteworthy, as many Bellator events had aired on Friday nights, and the UFC typically holds events on Saturday nights. By airing on Thursday nights, Bellator is opening itself up for competition with the NFL and Thursday night football, but also avoiding the typical down viewing night on Fridays.
The company also announced some fights for the first three cards, airing on October 1st, 8th, and 15th.
- Paul Daley vs Derek Anderson
- Michael Page vs Ross Houston
- Cheick Kongo vs Tim Johnson
- Cris Cyborg vs Arlene Blencowe
I have no idea how the rest of the cards will shake out, but Bellator could have done a lot worse with the announced fighters. Daley and Page are knockout artists who are typically involved in exciting fights. Kongo’s a familiar name to MMA fans, and his placement as a Frenchman on a card in France makes all the sense in the world. As for Cyborg, she’s an absolute monster, one of the greatest female MMA fighters of all-time, and could headline a card for any MMA promotion in the world.
The move to CBS Sports Network really seems to solidify Bellator’s place in the MMA landscape, for better and worse. If this eventually leads to major cards in primetime on the CBS broadcast network, it’s a definite positive development for Bellator. But if the company simply remains on CBS Sports Network for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to see the move as a piece of forward progress for Bellator.