On three straight Fridays in April, primetime Bellator matches originating from Mohegan Sun Arena in southeastern Connecticut will inaugurate the relationship. The arena is part of a casino complex that has gradually reopened parts of its footprint with safety restrictions. It recently staged “bubble”-style NCAA college basketball games, a concept considered by many sports stakeholders during the coronavirus pandemic. Together, Bellator MMA and Showtime have held more than 20 live events at Mohegan Sun since July 2020.
Viacom, which merged with CBS in December 2019, originally bought a majority stake in Bellator in 2011 after years of licensing rights to air its matches. In recent years, Bellator aired on various cable networks, including Spike (which then rebranded as the Paramount Network) and CBS Sports Network.
Showtime has recently increased its investment in boxing, a sport it has aired since 1986, at a time when longtime rival HBO stepped out of the ring. Mixed martial arts has demonstrated appeal among younger viewers. While Bellator does not quite have the same profile as the UFC, its matches have maintained a steady following. The new agreement will make Showtime the “preeminent home of premier combat sports in America,” Stephen Espinoza, the network’s president of sports and event programming, said in a press release. “We are excited to build on what Bellator MMA has created and to amplify the momentum they’ve gained over the last several years.”
Fighters and executives took part in an announcement of the partnership this afternoon, outlining schedules and cards for upcoming tournaments through the next few months. Plans call for Showtime to air up to two Bellator events per month for the rest of 2021. Preliminary undercard matchups will stream for free on YouTube and Showtime is offering new subscribers a promotional rate for Showtime’s OTT streaming service for $5 a month (more than half off) for the next six months.
Bellator MMA President Scott Coker pointed to past collaborations with Showtime. “We have done things together that have shaped the sport of mixed martial arts that you see today,” he said. “But what’s really exciting about this news is that everything we have already accomplished is just the beginning.”
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