A Closer Look At Bellator and ESPN Ties

November 6, 2008

The Bellator Fighting Championship has made news this week with the announcement of their pending deal with ESPN and their moves to acquire fighters. The braintrust for the Bellator fighting group have their roots in both the boxing field as well as the entertainment industry, indicating that the reality portion of the equation will play almost as important a part as the fighting part. All have deep ties to ESPN/Disney, which should lead to a greater than usual commitment to the project. A look at the executive level:

Bjorn Rebney,Founder/Owner/CEO:
Founder and former owner/CEO of Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing.Produced/promoted highest average rated fight programming on ESPN for 4 years. As an attorney and sports marketing agent represented the San Francisco 49ers, Steve Young, Oscar De La Hoya and many others.

Brad Epstein ,
Founder/Owner/Overall Producer:
Top entertainment executive/producer and sports programming visionary. Former Executive Vice President of Production at Disney. Former President of Tribecca Productions. Producer and Studio Executive responsible for films including, Invincible, Ladder 49, About a Boy, Dan in Real Life, Meet the Parents and numerous others.

Rob Beiner , Executive Event Producer: Winner of 12 SportsEmmy awards. Producer/Director of ESPN’s Friday NightFights from 1998 to present. Producer/Director of USA’s Tuesday Night Fights from 1990 to 1997. Producer/Director for numerous Pay Per View Fighting Events.

Teri Wagner , Producer: Former Executive Vice President of Programming and Development ABC Sports. Was responsible for creation, development, acquisition and scheduling of network sports programming. Lead Programming Executive on ABC’s marquee sports properties.

As with any start up, Bellator forecasts a loss in the first year, with start up costs and first year losses being significant. The company looks to quickly leverage their ESPN platform, with profit in the near eight figure range for year two. PPV will be a key component for the group, with 1 PPV planned during the first year, and 3 in the second year, according to documents attained by MMAPayout.com.

The main selling point for the company and what they are banking on is the ESPN platform. The company will start off on ESPN Deportes but hope to move up to either ESPN or ESPN2 by the show’s second season. The company touts the reach of ESPN as key to success, noting “On an average week, more than 100 million persons are reached by ESPN. This number represents the actual number of persons reached by ESPN and not simply their available universe,” and hailing the platform as superior to Spike. The company has had a deal in hand since the Spring and had hoped to be on the air this Fall, but the roll-out has been delayed to most likely the first half of 09.

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