Several years ago, when Bellator MMA signed its first deal for an English-speaking broadcast partner in the United States, it was with the regional Fox Sports channels that aired all over America.
The promotion had originally been partnered with ESPN Deportes, a Spanish-language station and, as the brand grew bigger and bigger, they eventually outgrew both partnerships. They now air on Spike TV, which is available in almost 100 million homes in the United States.
Bellator is continuing its expansion into new international markets, however, and they signed a major deal this week with Fox Sports Latin America that will bring the MMA promotion into more than 50 million homes starting this October.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney led the negotiations with Fox Sports Latin America after the dialogue was opened up by some old friends of his at the broadcast network from several years ago when the promotion was still airing on the Fox Sports local stations.
"The good news is over the years I was able to keep really good relationships with the people that I worked with at Fox many years ago. Remember many years ago when we came out of the ESPN Deportes deal, the first English language deal we ever did was with Fox Sports network. So I've always kept in touch with some of those guys, they were great guys," Rebney told Bleacher Report on Tuesday.
"About four months ago they reached out to me and they were guys I worked with before at Fox, and they said 'Hey, I would love to put you in a room with all the guys at Fox Sports International, they're really interested in Bellator and they would like to talk to you about the potential of putting a deal together.' That's where it all started."
Several months later, and now Bellator has inked a multi-year deal with the network to broadcast live shows as well as other programming on the Latin American station. While live fight cards are part of the deal, Rebney says this new partnership with Fox Sports Latin America goes beyond just sending a satellite signal and having the fights aired in the new markets.
He explains that Bellator programming as a whole will find a new home on Fox Sports Latin America with "best of" shows, pre-fight and preview shows, as well as the expansion of the brand into areas of Mexico, Brazil and Argentina where they will put on live fight cards as well.
"It includes every single piece of the puzzle," Rebney said. "It's the largest distribution platform in that part of the world, it's going to have live events, it's going to have live events take place in that area with Mexico, Brazil, Argentina. It's going to have shoulder programming, it's going to have independently produced Bellator shows that will air all throughout Latin America.
"There's going to be huge cross platform support that Fox is going to give to us with all over their soccer programming and all of the other shows that they have on the largest sports network in the region. It's got all the pieces. It's the right fit."
One of the first questions that came up when Bellator and Fox Sports Latin America announced the framework of their new deal on Monday was the fact that Fox Sports and the Fox brand, as a whole, have a seven-year, multi-million dollar deal with the UFC to broadcast their shows in the United States.
Even UFC president Dana White was taken aback by the news when he heard about the deal firsthand at a media event on Tuesday while promoting UFC 168. For his part, Rebney was as confused as anybody when Fox Sports Latin America came calling, but he wasn't about to turn them away just because they were also partnered with the UFC.
If anything, he believes it's an act of recognition that Fox Sports Latin America chose them for their network, and he's happy to have a new television partner for that part of the world locked down now.
"Don't think it wasn't a question I had when they first made the overture to me and I was invited into the Fox corporate offices where there were UFC banners and UFC posters and UFC programming promotions all over the walls," Rebney said. "It was a question I asked as well. As a fan of the space and as somebody that works in the space, I'd have to assume given the size of Fox's U.S. deal with the UFC if Fox had wanted an alliance with the UFC in Latin America, I assume they would have made one happen.
"So you think about those things, and you wonder about those things, but the overriding consideration that I had was look they're the biggest, they reach the most consumers, they have the largest reach, they've got the biggest promotional vehicle on the biggest sports, and that's where we'd want to be.
"The UFC may be partnered here with Fox, but boy I'm thrilled to be partnered with the biggest player in the space down in Latin America."
Rebney says that live programming will pick up next month on Fox Sports Latin America, and the residents in those areas will also be able to watch the live Bellator pay-per-view airing from the United States, pitting Quinton "Rampage" Jackson against Tito Ortiz.
The promotion won't waste any time moving into the Latin America market either, and Bellator MMA will be expanding with plans for shows in Mexico and Brazil very soon as well.
It appears even though Fox Sports Latin America is a different branch of the Fox Sports brand, Bellator and the UFC will be bumping into each other more often than one may have first expected.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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