While the UFC is taking next weekend off and Bellator switches to Friday night, there is another promotion putting on a card in Atlantic City on Saturday night, and it will be shown live on free television.
The card features a former UFC heavyweight champion as well as the opening stages of a middleweight title tournament, and some up-and-coming fighters hoping to make their way to the main card of a televised show in the future.
Now MMA on television can be a notoriously tough nut to crack, but it's made even harder when the network the show is airing on doesn't even seem to know there is a fight card taking place on Saturday night.
World Series of Fighting signed a multi-fight deal with the NBC Sports Network recently to broadcast their shows on the fledgling broadcast station. The station that has been rebranded twice since its inception is no stranger to MMA after broadcasting both the WEC and UFC in the past while named the Versus network.
Versus eventually got folded into the NBC Sports family after the station's owner, Comcast, bought a majority stake in that company, and so in 2011 the network was officially rebranded the NBC Sports Network.
The station had already lost the WEC after it merged with the UFC, and then the UFC bolted after signing a multi-year deal with Fox. It appeared the NBC Sports Network was out of the MMA business for good until they struck a deal with World Series of Fighting.
Now to back track a little bit, when the UFC and WEC were on the Versus network they were generally promoted and broadcast in key times and with the full support and advertising with the network. WEC shows averaged solid numbers peaking above 500,000 viewers on several occasions.
When the UFC went to Versus they received even higher ratings peaking at more than 1.2 million viewers for their first show, and the lowest still receiving 681,000 viewers on average.
The new NBC Sports Network without the UFC and other sports staples struggled in initial ratings. Studio shows routinely pulled well less than 100,000 viewers, and even live events such as college basketball were drawing only just over 50,000 viewers.
While the network did get a major boost last summer with the ratings for the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, the NBC Sports Network only had two shows that topped 200,000 viewers in the final quarter of 2012.
World Series of Fighting debuted on the NBC Sports Network in November of 2012 and pulled in a respectable 198,000 viewers, but this was before their multi-fight deal was signed. Since that time, World Series of Fighting has increased viewership, pulling in 210,000 viewers for their second show, 201,000 viewers for the third show and most recently 264,000 viewers for their fourth show in August.
This is without virtually any notable support from the network itself, at least visibly on their website or through social media.
After a quick look at the NBC Sports Twitter, the last mention of World Series of Fighting was on August 10, the night of the promotion's fourth show. There were two Twitter messages that night—one was a retweet from fighter Nick Newell, and the second was another retweet, this time from the official World Series of Fighting Twitter account talking about Newell's first-round victory.
Prior to that night, the NBC Sports Network Twitter sent out one message on August 9—again promoting Newell's fight. Before that there was one other mention on August 7 with a brief note of the fight card from one of the promotion's ring card girls.
Now, take a look at the NBC Sports Network page currently set up for World Series of Fighting. With a fight card less than a week away, the page currently reflects the World Series of Fighting 4 card from August and videos from that night of fights. (note the NFL scores overhead to denote the day this picture was taken).
Having a television partner in MMA has been crucial to the sport's overall success in the last eight years. The UFC signing a multi-million dollar deal with Fox Sports was considered a game changer in the industry, and since signing that deal the network has placed the sport prominently on all of their stations in terms of advertising as well as appearances during key NFL games and other sporting events.
Bellator was recently purchased by Viacom—the broadcast company that owns several major television networks including Spike TV, where the promotion is currently shown. It's hard to find a day or time where Spike TV isn't promoting Bellator or doing a cross-promotion advertisement with the company or its athletes.
Meanwhile, the NBC Sports Network can't seem to be bothered to even note that there is a fight card taking place on Saturday night.
Ratings have become big business talk in the MMA world ever since shows began appearing on free television. UFC numbers are routinely scrutinized by every expert in the industry. The same can be said for Bellator and World Series of Fighting as well.
But when the ratings come back for the next World Series of Fighting card on Saturday night from the NBC Sports Network, whatever they happened to be, realize they got there with seemingly no push, no advertisement and apparently not much interest from the broadcast partner that put them there.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report
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