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Bellator's Bjorn Rebney: On Losing Money, His New MTV2 Deal, and the Superfight

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Today Bellator signed a new television deal with MTV2. Jonathan Snowden sat down with CEO Bjorn Rebney to discuss an exciting new partnership and find out whether this partnership finally puts the young MMA upstart in the black.

Jonathan Snowden: Congratulations of the deal with MTV2 and Viacom. This flies in the face of an earlier deal reported by MMA Junkie that you had signed with F/X and Fox. Is this new deal in conjunction with that, or is this "the" deal?

Bjorn Rebney: This is a totally exclusive domestic relationship. The only place you will be able to see Bellator will be on MTV2.

Jonathan Snowden: So no more Spanish language or other highlight packages and the kind of things you've done on other networks in the past?

Bjorn Rebney: Over the last two years we've been in a building process. We were building up in our first deal with ESPN Deportes and we were building up in the combination of deals we cut last year with FSN and NBC and Telemundo but it was all building towards this moment. To building a real partnership with a network that reached our demographic than any network on television. This is our exclusive home. It's a three year deal and we couldn't be more happy about it.

Jonathan Snowden: I'm interested in some of the details you may not know yet. Obviously, the strength of a deal like this depends a lot on the timeslot. If it's at 3 AM it's less ideal than 9 or 10 pm. Do you have an inkling yet of when the show will be on?

Bjorn Rebney: I do. I can't speak to that yet, we're going to be making that announcement shortly in terms of the day and time. I can tell you this Jonathan, it is a spectacular timeslot. A timeslot that is optimal for our brand. During a period that everybody will be able to watch it - it's a perfect, perfect fit. It just mirrors the rest of this spectacular alliance with MTV2.

Jonathan Snowden: To connect better with all these young male viewers that are the perfect MMA demographic - are you guys planning any of the reality TV style programming MTV is so famous for?

Bjorn Rebney: You hit right on it. The reality is, we've been working on this deal for months and months and months. Trying to get it together and trying to get it finalized. Part of the reason MTV2 made such perfect sense for us and was the top, top, target was because they reach the highest concentration of males 12-34 in all of television. Numbers don't lie. They reach a higher concentration of the MMA market than ESPN, than TNT, than USA, than Fox Network, than ABC. They reach the core demographic that follows mixed martial arts better than anyone.

Our programming format, our two hour shows, will remain as it was. It's going to be fight action, spectacular tournaments with fighters controlling their own destiny. The show is going to be live sports programming. And it's going to be complimented by all the things our team has started to do so well. The feature pieces, the 60-70 second looks inside the fighter's lives, the bumps and the teases. It's going to be highly exciting live sports programming. We aren't changing the way Bellator programs or the way the tournament works. We aren't changing the way the program looks and feels. It's just going to keep getting better and stronger, and as I like to say, stickier.

More from Rebney in the full entry.

Jonathan Snowden: Of course, the response online is immediate. There is some concern that the show will be dumbed down for an MTV audience that may not be made up of hardcore fans at first. But it sounds like Bellator is going to remain Bellator.

Bjorn Rebney: Bellator is absolutely going to remain Bellator. One of the things fans need to realize is that this demo is a spectacular demo. But the Bellator format will remain the same. We're going to pack in as much fight action as we possibly can. We are going to shoot for, like we did last year, four live fights on every show. In between those fights you're going to see those 60-70 second's going to remain Bellator programming. It's just going to be reaching a demographic with a partner that's perfect for what we are about.

Jonathan Snowden: When you guys were considering these various offers, did it bother you that MTV2 is not offered in HD on some major providers like DirecTV and Comcast?

Bjorn Rebney: It wasn't a concern at all. It wasn't a concern because of who they reach and when you look at MTV2 and you look at the growth and expansion, really the exponential growth and expansion of this network you forget that it came into being in 1996. It's still a relatively new network. But it's the reach and it's unbelievable ability to capture 12-34 year old males- that expansion is going to continue. It's going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. Eighty million homes is virtually every home in the country as far as cable television availability. It's a huge reach - man I cannot tell you how thrilled we are right now!

Jonathan Snowden: I was confused because the press release mentions two tournaments on MTV2 but I've heard from sources close to fighters in four different weight classes that have been contacted to compete. How is it going to work?

Bjorn Rebney: As part of the 2011 schedule we'll do two full tournaments. We'll do 12 events per tournament, per season. Really that's 22, because we do 11 live events with one "Road to the Championship" show. Plus we'll do three special events. Literally 25 weeks of the year you'll see us with 2 hour live, prime time events.

We'll continue to do what we did in seasons one and two: we'll run four tournaments per season. So coming up in the March, April, May season you'll see four tournaments running simultaneously and coming up in season number five you'll see four tournaments running simultaneously. We're going to be very busy. We're going to be running a lot of shows. The great thing about being a fighter at Bellator is that you get to stay very busy.

Jonathan Snowden: You have an interesting challenge that you've never had to this extent before. You have so many fighters and tournament champions under contract that you are going to have to figure out something to do with them all. Will we see a bunch of super fights in the future between these Bellator stars who aren't in a tournament?

Bjorn Rebney: We'll do what we did in the first two seasons. I'm going to lose what's left of the small amount of hair I have on my head and try to make some super fights. And we're going to keep putting on great fights for the fans. Whether it's Josh "The Dentist" Neer or Roger Huerta, whoever it is, in a super fight. We'll fill some of the gaps with championship fights. We still have Pat Curran-Eddie Alvarez for our title. We're working on a ton of options for Hector Lombard in a super fight while he waits for the next number one challenger to be established at middleweight.

I've been a believer since I first started watching this game that great fighters win and great fighters lose. So I've got no fear of the superfight. No fear of putting champions in non-title superfights against real talented fighter like you saw with Eddie againt Roger. We're going to keep running it the same way.

Jonathan Snowden: This may be an unfair question, but has to be asked. There were a lot of reports on some other MMA websites that you were close to going under. Is this a deal that sustains Bellator? Can you turn a profit with this deal? Fans are curious, I think, mostly because we've invested in other companies in the past that weren't in it for the long haul. Is this going to keep Bellator around?

Bjorn Rebney: Absolutely, without question, the answer is yes. It turns the corner for Bellator and puts us in a cash flow break even or positive position, and assures our life expectancy for many, many years. It's a fair question, it's not an unfair question. Because we've seen so many failures in the space. The reason for those failures is faulty business models. The reason the IFLs and the Elite XCs and the BoDogs and the Afflictions have gone out of business and into bankruptcy is because their business models were faulty. They were inherently flawed.

Whether you are opening up a bakery or you're opening up a collection of movie theatres, or you're opening up a running shoe store, or you're opening a mixed martial arts promotion, you have to have a business plan. And no business walks into whatever environment or space they are in, and makes money from day one. It doesn't happen. You have to have people behind you who believe in your business model and who are willing to invest. Fortunately, I had spectacular investors behind me, who believed in the model, believed what I was saying and what I projected would happen, and provided me the necessary capital to build the company up to this point.

Now this company is self sustaining. Now this company is in a position, based on this magical alliance with MTV2, where we no longer need any investment capital. We're in a terrific place. But for people who haven't ever built up a business, for people who haven't ever had to search for investment capital, it's a confusing part of our industry to understand. But we sat back years ago and built a comprehensive business model working with highly skilled people in this industry, put in every conceivable expense and every conceivable revenue line item and said 'We need this amount of money to build this, and once we get to this point, we will be able to structure deals that bring in this amount of revenue. And once we have this amount of revenue we'll be completely self sustainable, we won't need any more capital, and we'll be making money. And that's where we are. Bellator Fighting Championship will be around for many years to come. This first three year, spectacular deal with MTV2 is just the beginning.