Following a successful debut season on Spike TV on Thursday nights, Bellator MMA is moving to Friday nights for Season 9 this fall.
Spike TV president Kevin Kay revealed the move this week to SI.com.
Bellator will kick off Season 9 with a special Saturday live event on Sept. 7, which will also serve as the season finale to its own reality series, Fight Master, but on Sept. 13 will shift to Friday nights for the season.
Bellator had its first run on Spike TV from January to April of this year with Season 8, which averaged 862,000 viewers per episode, which includes the industry standard live event plus three days of DVR viewership. The live events alone average slightly less than 793,000 viewers per episode, which was nearly five times better than what Bellator was drawing on its previous network, MTV2.
The Thursday night slot for its initial run on Spike included a strong lead-in audience courtesy of Impact Wrestling. The reshuffle for this fall puts Impact Wrestling back in its previous 9 p.m. ET slot, while Bellator will hold the same time slot on Friday nights.
Part of the move to Friday nights was influenced by the upcoming launch of Fox Sports 1, Fox’s new nationwide, 24/7 sports network, which will feature UFC programming and occasional live events on Wednesday nights beginning with its Aug. 17 launch.
“I don’t want to see Bellator going head to head with the UFC,” Kay told SI.com. “I don’t think that makes any sense for fans. No matter who would win in that scenario, you don’t want to not give the fans the choice to watch both.”
Spike was the former home of the UFC reality series The Ultimate Fighter, and also featured other UFC programming and live events. When TUF moved to FX, it did so in a Friday night time slot, and suffered somewhat in the TV ratings department compared to other nights. That doesn’t faze Kay.
“The Ultimate Fighter on Fridays was doing over a million viewers a week. I’ll take that, and with live fights, I think we’ll do even better,” said Kay, adding, “(The viewers) are there. You just have to give them the right thing and I think live fights on Friday, without competition, is going to be the best place for Bellator.”
Aside from shifting to Friday nights, Bellator should also receive a boost from the marquee signing of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, in addition to the influx of several other notable fighters like Vladimir Matyushenko, John Alessio, Matt Riddle, Paul Sass, Diego Nunes, and others.