Bellator FC emerges as MMA's success story of year

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In this era of viral video, Bellator Fighting Championships has emerged as the success story of the year.

Few American promoters focus on viral marketing, despite its relatively low cost and ease of use. Industry leader UFC has gotten into the game in recent years, using their ample resources to promote upcoming cards on the net. And they've recently succumbed to the Twitter bug, enlisting president Dana White and others to bypass traditional media channels and feed information directly to the public.

Bellator FC was yet another MMA startup looking to capitalize on the recent popularity of the sport. It had a unique focus for an American company, targeting Latino fight fans, and a good partner to deliver the content in ESPN Deportes.

It was committed to using the power of user-generated video sites like YouTube to promote its product. But it wasn't until the promotion's fourth show that the idea took off, and Bellator had Toby Imada and Yahir Reyes to thank for that.

"There are companies that do nothing but try to create those kind of moments for brands and product," said Rebney. "I knew, and our Internet specialists that work for our company knew, that you can't create those. It's nothing that you can edit. They're going to happen or they aren't going to happen. So, until Toby pulled off his miracle, and Yahir had that moment, you couldn't create them."

In the two years before Bellator launched, Rebney studied demographic information on the MMA market and arrived at a conclusion known to all serious fans: this sport thrives on the Internet.

"They're not doing an enormous amount of reading and they're not doing an enormous amount of television watching, but man, are they online," said Rebney about the MMA faithful. "So we knew that was a really key part of our marketing strategy.

"From the moment we had our first events, and the moment we had our first big highlights, we sat in the truck all night, editing those, putting our brand on them, and getting them out there. And not getting them out there for pay; just feeding the content out there week in and week out, so people could go, 'whoa, that's really cool, I've never seen Bellator before, I should tune in and watch that show or buy a ticket to that event.' It was a strategy that we had long before the season occurred.

"And if somebody from above was smiling on us, Toby pulled off the submission of the year; the next week, Yahir pulls off what I believe is the knockout of the year; then it just keeps going. It just kept snowballing."

Viral video, as it turned out, was the best bang for the buck. Bellator gathered buzz that might have taken years to create otherwise.

"The bottom line is, if I had had an additional 10 million dollars to spend, I couldn't have gotten nearly the traction that I got by sending those clips out and putting them on YouTube," said Rebney.

He says the tournament format sets the environment for the spectacular finishes that have given his promotion "legs."

"People were like, 'oh, you're so lucky,'" said Rebney. "First, I was like, yeah, we are pretty lucky. And then when it happened the next week, and the next week, and the next week. To a certain extent, there's luck involved, and then, you've got athletes competing in a tournament format, where if you lose, you go home. Where if you win, you position yourself to make substantially more money than if you lose. And if you're an undercard feature fighter, this is basically you're audition to see if we'll invite you to the tournament the next season. Guys were trying things, willing to take risks and try things they weren't willing to try otherwise."

When Bellator's next season starts, likely in October, the promotion will continue to use the medium to promote its product.

"This is not like, we've launched the brand and now you're going to see a different dynamic from us," he said. "You're going to see the same kind of dynamic as we continue to build it and establish more fighters under the umbrella of what we're doing."

And if the highlights from the second season match the first, they should do just fine.