Bjorn Rebney Part 2: The Great Taste Test

RELATED: Bjorn Rebney Part 1, Ballad of those Young Enough

Since 1975 America has been forced to face a universal choice: are you a Coke or a Pepsi person?  The famed challenge where Pepsi blindfolded people in random malls across America and with two blank cups, each consisting of Coke or Pepsi, found that more people preferred Pepsi over Coke by “blind” taste test.  This began to chip at the market share of number 1, which obviously was Coca Cola.  As time progressed, being a Coke or a Pepsi person can signify everything from your choice of adjoining libation or your political viewpoint.  Bjorn sees Bellator and the UFC as members of the same category but delivered differently like the rendering of a secret formula for a soft drink.  This year he legitimized his company’s presence on the main television stage and just like Pepsi, the “taste test” proved positive.

“I think it’s analogous to the maturation of a Pepsi in the space.  There was a time when you used to say, ‘give me a Coke’ and then that slowly based on brand development began to be ‘give me a Coke’ or ‘give me a Pepsi’ and there became this sort of conflict that existed in the space.  What we’ve done is we’ve formed this alliance with Spike (TV).”

On November 2nd 2013, Bellator 106: Chandler vs. Alvarez 2 according to various sources was the most watched event in Bellator's history with 1.1 million viewers on Spike TV and also the most watched mixed martial arts (MMA) shows this Fall between 9 p.m.-12:45 a.m. The viewership peaked at 1.4 million viewers at 11:17pm with the ratings reaching the high mark of a 1.1 rating comprised of the coveted demographic of men aged 18-34.  The telecast also ranked #2 in cable in its timeslot with Men 18-49.

Bellator 107, which featured the debut of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Joey Beltran, had a reported 793,000 viewers and peaked at 1.2 million viewers, which is the second highest ratings mark that Bellator has hit this season with a main event. It is these accomplishments that Rebney revels in as a staunch harbinger of his company’s future growth.

“What I wanted to do was create real sports competition. I wanted to be the first legitimate, large scale distributed, internationally and domestically distributed, combat sports organization, to use that term and format and that objectivity; a playoff system, MMA analogous to March Madness.  That’s what we did and it stuck with consumers and we are not going to get away from it.  You earn a title shot at Bellator; you don’t talk your way into it.  We’ve been on Spike for less than a year and our ratings this Fall are higher than the UFC’s ratings so it has been exponential; it is the realization of what I hoped would happen when we transitioned to Spike so its very exciting.”

As Rebney speaks I can’t help but see a clear-cut case of Rocky vs. Drago.  The Philadelphia slugger versus the well-oiled machine that was Drago looks very much like Bellator versus the UFC.  I can’t help but ask Rebney what does he think of this comparison and his response is revealing.

“I think that there’s truth in that story and there’s viability in looking at it that way; at the same time, the ownership group at the UFC, and of course these are private numbers but they’ve become somewhat public in terms of the understanding that people have and they haven’t refuted them, were willing to go $40 plus million in debt to fund that potential dream.  So while I may not agree with the UFC and we may go punch, counter punch on a lot of different issues, at this point now that we’ve evolved to the point of being viable competition for them on the TV front, etc., I do have a lot of respect for anybody that’s willing to take that type of risk.  Look, very wealthy people don’t become wealthy by throwing away their money.”

Despite the competitive nature between the two business rivals, Rebney’s love for the sport actually prevents him from taking a business rivalry any further.  His respect for his competitor is true and his unofficial candidacy as the optimistic underdog seems assured.  But like Rocky Balboa can we also claim Bellator as the People’s Champ? With the UFC already very advanced on an international level, Bellator MMA’s future might rest upon its ability to keep up with the hypothetical Jones’.

“I never walked into my initial group or the subsequent group or Viacom when I first started working with them, which was the third group in and said we’re going to do this and that then six months from now we are going to do a pay per view and do a million buys,” Rebney says sternly. “That was never the pitch the pitch was always: this is going to take a long time. So we have a relationship with Russia 2, which is the ESPN of Russia, which we’ve had on board for a number of years.  It does huge ratings for us in Russia. We’ve had a relationship for many years in Brazil and now we’ve transitioned to FOX which is the largest sports network in all of Latin America. In 2015 not even in 2014 but a year from now we will do events in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and probably Russia. But the groundwork is being laid now and has been aid over the last 24-36 months it’s the only way that it works without spending millions of dollars to make it work to your detriment.”

Comfortable in the number 2 spot, Bjorn Rebney is a year deep into his ideal Viacom partnership with the Spike TV brand. What is clear is that Rebney is not chasing any numerical positioning either real or imagined. He is just happy that yet another educated sports bet is finally meeting its maturation date.

“Here’s the cornerstone, here’s the thing that I think makes us substantially different than the UFC: we are hyper focused on building the athlete into the superstar. You track the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL all of them grew on the backs of superstar athletes.  It wasn’t the brand pulling the athletes along, it was the athletes pulling the league along, so that’s where you have got to put the focus; but I think there is unlimited growth potential.”

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