Is Bellator the next IFL?

Almost seven years ago Kurt Otto and Gareb Shamus started the world’s first MMA team-based league called the International Fight league.Bellator New Logo #2

The IFL was the first MMA promotion of its kind to establish a team format that pitted fight camp vs fight camp. The fight camps were built around the likes of MMA icons Renzo Gracie, Pat Miletich, Ken Shamrock and even the late Shawn Tompkins.

The IFL was arguably a very innovate concept at a time, especially when MMA fans were craving as much MMA as possible. One could also argue that the IFL was just a flash-in-the-pan but when you look back its debut on broadcast television there are some very interesting similarities to Bellator.

In 2007, IFL became the first MMA promotion ever to be given a regular time-slot on broadcast networks Fox Sports Net and MyNetworkTV. IFL debuted its two-hour show Battleground on MyNetworkTV to solid ratings. Ratings that are basically identical to Bellator’s ratings this past Thursday on Spike TV. IFL’s debut show (which was on a Monday) drew roughly 800,000 total viewers, with 1.2 million viewers at its peak and a 0.7 in its primary 18-49 male demographic. Bellator this past Thursday drew roughly 940,000 total viewers, with 1.2 million viewers at its peak and a 0.7 in the 18-48 male demographic.

Obviously, the total viewership average is not the same, but the key ratings numbers should be the peak audience and the male demographic (advertising revenue drivers.) Both shows peaked at 1.2 million and both drew the same 0.7 in its primary 18-49 male demographic. Not to mention, both shows debuted on weeknights.

Think about that, two debut shows in MMA that are almost seven years apart drew basically the same ratings and on weeknights. To take it a step further, both companies debut numbers were well over 250% above anything they ever did on a their older distribution channels.

Over the course of the next two years on MyNetworkTV, IFL failed to find its mark and increase its ratings, two things that network executives can only live so long dealing with. Eventually, the IFL fizzled out out with numbers that had a very difficult time reaching between 300,00-500,000 total viewers and massive drops in the primary 18-49 male demographic. In early 2008, MyNetworkTV made the decision to cancel the Battleground series leaving IFL with only a partnership with HDNet that also fizzled out.

Now, looking back at the IFL and these debuted ratings numbers, the question becomes is Bellator the next IFL? Well, that question remains to be seen and time will only tell. If Bellator can learn anything from the past its that if they cannot work to improve on its great debut number the time clock will be ticking on what is next. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying SpikeTV would look to cancel Bellator right away if ratings started plummeting, but if anything can be taken away from the IFL two years might be too long.

Another interesting question that goes beyond both the IFL and Bellator is that in seven years why are these ratings numbers the same? Shouldn’t we have seen a sizable increase with the UFC’s growth? Honestly, these numbers to me indicate that second-tier MMA promotions have not grown at all. Sure, you can continue to argue that the UFC keeps growing, but when you look at its numbers on Fuel TV, FX and even back when they were on Spike, they really haven’t shown any dramatic increases year-over-year.  If anything you could argue that the UFC is fairly flat and has enough trouble just beating the WWE in ratings.

The point here is, ask yourself these questions. Is Bellator the next IFL or has MMA as a whole on broadcast TV reached its high-mark? I for one, hope that Bellator can buck the system and keep this ride going for years to come.