In what is, for a lack of a better term, a shocking bit of news today out of Buenos Aires, Brazil, FOX Sports Latin America has announced a multi-year deal, which will see the network become the exclusive provider of Bellator MMA content, in all of Latin America.
In an agreement that takes effect at the beginning of next month and encompasses 50 million households, Bellator MMA has made a quantum leap in terms of its importance as an MMA promotion and it’s something that might be cause for both concern and consternation, over at the UFC’s headquarters.
With the stroke of a pen, Bellator now has a huge foothold in Latin America and more importantly, Brazil and bizarrely enough, they’ve done it with the Latin branch of the UFC’s North American partners, FOX; odd to be sure.
With this deal (25 shows per year by 2015), it would be hard to argue that Bellator wouldn’t now be / going to be the senior promotion in the region and that the UFC, uncomfortably so, will be finding itself scrambling to catch up. If nothing else, having a presence this heavy in Brazil will bode well for the promotions rosters, long term.
In considering it, it’s hard to see how this doesn’t leave the UFC with some egg on their faces. It certainly begs the question of whether or not the UFC brass had been kept in the loop, or if they’d been told in advance of “FLA’s” impending deal, with Bellator.
The questions become even more interesting in terms of timing, given that the deal is set to go into effect prior to Bellator’s inaugural pay-per-view, which is coming up on November 2nd. Surely, it’s no coincidence that the two (the deal and the PPV) go hand in glove and will be a tremendous boost to Bellator for the event.
Regardless of either case, in the loop or out of it, the UFC can’t be greeting this news with either glee or dispassion. If they didn’t know they look stupid, if they did know they were told to be quiet about it and under either scenario, their partners are working with their competitors, and that can’t be pleasing the UFC brass.
The deal also suggests that the UFC’s relationship with FOX might not be as cozy or secure, as Dana White and the Fertitta brothers purport or think it, to be. In analyzing it, one would have to think that the UFC would have prevented this deal had they been able to and would have gladly taken Bellator’s spot at the FOX Latin American table, had the opportunity been presented. However, they either failed to stop it or the fortuity was never prevented to them, but either way and in both cases, the UFC looks weak here and caught out in the dark, if not the cold.
It will be interesting to see Dana White’s reaction to the announcement and how he fields the questions on the subject. For years White has laughed at Bellator and written them off as a wannabe, Johnny come-lately promotion. However, with the advent of this news and all of the manna that will flow from it, White will (now) have a tougher time laughing at Bellator.
Out of all of this, the most critical question that needs to be asked is this, was the UFC informed of the deal prior to its negotiation or signing? If the answer is no, then the UFC might be looking to find a new home when their FOX contract is up. To have this deal pop up and in a region where the UFC has been working hard to break market, and where Bellator hasn’t spent a nickel or a minute, surely will be seen as a major slight and probably a stab in the back to the UFC, by their FOX partners.
From FOX’s point-of-view, one would assume that they’re simply hedging their bets by working with both promotions. However, for the UFC, it should be viewed as being indicative of a lack of faith and real commitment from FOX. For if they can do this deal with Bellator today, what deals might they do in the future?
In conclusion, this should be a very interesting story to watch unfold this week in terms of its details and what the UFC did and didn’t know, regarding the deal.
The released statements are as follows:
Bellator MMA Chairman & CEO Bjorn Rebney:
"We've now taken a monumental next step forward in the evolution of the global brand that is Bellator. To have partnered with FOX Sports, Latin America's largest and most powerful sports network is the perfect fit for Bellator, in this incredibly vital region. This is just the beginning of what Bellator and FOX Sports International, will build into the largest worldwide alliance in combat sports history. The possibilities that surround this alliance are nearly endless, including live events in key Latin American markets and the distribution of unique Bellator content exclusively, for FOX Sports."
Carlos Martinez, President of FOX International Channels Latin America:
"FOX Sports Latin America has been looking for the premier mixed martial arts organization to partner with and Bellator is the perfect fit. We are thrilled to make Bellator the widest distributed MMA promotion in Latin America and Brazil, reaching more than 50 million homes from day one. We are also very excited to be able to work as partners with Bellator to produce large scale Bellator events throughout Latin America, and to produce reality shows in key territories. This partnership is a long term relationship that has virtually unlimited potential."