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DAZN and Bellator: Having Trouble in Paradise

DAZN is reported to be parting ways with Bellator MMA. Losing streaming or TV deals usually causes anxiety in the MMA world, and it is largely exacerbated by the media. When the UFC parted ways with FOX, every reporter swore that there was no future for the UFC and that the sport was dying, etc. However, there is no need for hysteria in this situation. This can be a huge blessing for Bellator.  

Price Gouging

There are several major issues with DAZN as a platform overall. Let’s just be upfront here. DAZN’s prices are outrageous. Over a year ago, DAZN raised its monthly subscription fee from $9.99 to $19.99 in a unilateral decision that was a huge turnoff for many users. At the time, the service was not even a year old. While I’m no expert on the streaming business, I am appalled at how out of touch DAZN’s leadership was in making this decision.  

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Maybe the revenue they were generating was not as high as they wanted. Their solution was to double the price while offering Baseball, Boxing and MMA in the U.S. I’m sorry, that’s not going to cut it for that price. The only customers who were actually getting a deal were hardcore boxing fans who would buy every PPV anyway. Despite boxing’s lucrative history, it is not cemented as a top sport in the U.S. This was evident when Canelo vs Kovalev was stalled so that it would not compete with Masvidal vs Diaz in November 2019.

Scarce Marketing

Bellator has been plagued by a negligent lack of marketing for both their athletes and attractions, like the Grand Prix. To be fair, the highlight reels DAZN puts out might be the best in the business. Unfortunately, they did less than the bare minimum to announce upcoming bouts under the Bellator banner. I fully realize that Bellator is not the UFC and that it is a much smaller organization, but DAZN and Viacom are not.  They have the resources to get behind Bellator and choose not to.

Bellator itself does a great job of developing talent and keeping them in a position to retain their value. While the promotion isn’t overflowing with future stars, they have enough to convince the public that Bellator is worth watching. Cris Cyborg went back to Bellator after headlining two UFC PPV cards and challenged Julia Budd for the Bellator Featherweight belt. DAZN put minimal effort to announce the bout.  

Missed Opportunities

Even the Heavyweight, Welterweight and Featherweight Grand Prix tournaments got no love. Just look at this tired post from DAZN promoting the FW Grand Prix.

 Tournaments are MMA’s equivalent to a postseason or playoffs. 50 Cent made a deal with Bellator to help glamorize the Bellator Grand Prix finals winners, DAZN did not even capitalize on that. Let’s be clear, marketing a guy like Michael ‘Venom’ Page adjacent to 50 Cent is low-hanging fruit, and DAZN couldn’t even figure that out.  

If you don’t know, 50 Cent is one of the most ruthless, entertaining and active personalities on social media. He is putting his brand on the line to support Bellator fighters. MVP is known for also being disrespectful and ostentatious to the core. He literally broke “Cyborg” Santos’ face, put a hat on and then threw a Poké Ball at him. This was a metaphor for when you knock out animals and trap them in a ball to be your war slave for the rest of its life. If they can’t market 50 Cent’s personality with a martial artist that taunts guys in the octagon and then dehumanizes them, who can DAZN market.  

The point here is not that unrivalled infamy or adoration is a guarantee for anyone DAZN markets, the point is, they didn’t even try to earn it.  

From DAZN to ESPN

Ultimately, if the stories are true this divorce is what’s best for Bellator. They should want to leave DAZN, and ESPN should pick them up promptly. After that, ESPN should drop the PFL as soon as PFL’s contract is up. It’s clear that Bellator is the second-most popular promotion in the U.S. ESPN is embracing MMA as a whole and already showing their support by covering Bellator events. It would follow that they would air Bellator bouts and market their fighters alongside the UFC’s. Even if Bellator is presented as a minor league, that’s better than its current situation. The marketing would likely be closer to the strength of NCAA Basketball than to the NBA G-League or Triple-A baseball.

Right now, there can never be a crossover between the UFC and Bellator because there is too much promotional distance between them. Sharing streaming space can generate demand for crossover bouts. In the world of MMA, demand is pressure. Conflict is great marketing, and basic economics tells us all that the best way to compete in a market is to open up shop right next to a competitor.  

If Bellator and DAZN are parting ways we should all rejoice. DAZN can’t even impose appropriate pricing and their MMA marketing is terrible. It stinks more than a cow pie under the Alabama heat.  

ESPN, on the other hand, can profit handsomely from acquiring Bellator’s rights. Most of the shows will probably be on ESPN+, but that’s fine. ESPN+ is actually improving rapidly despite its rocky start and, honestly, costs less than what the service is actually worth. ESPN gets it, and ESPN invests in MMA’s success. So, hopefully, DAZN releases Bellator back into the world to live up to its promotional potential.  


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