SI.com reports that Bellator Season 9 will debut on Saturday, September 7 on Spike TV before the promotion begins regular shows on Friday nights. The September 7 show will be a live season finale for the show Fight Master. Bellator will then occupy the 9-11 PM ET slot on September 13. Fight Master debuts on June 19.
Bellator did well on Thursday nights with season eight, which ran through early April. They averaged 862,000 viewers for 11 events on Spike (which is available in 100 million homes). This was the promotions most-watched season so far. Bellator previously aired on Friday nights on MTV2 in 80 million homes without HD, where it averaged 155,000 and 162,000 viewers for its sixth and seventh seasons. Viacom purchased a majority stake of Bellator in 2011.
Spike TV President Kevin Kay said that the NFL’s return in the fall (and the NFL Network airing premium games on Thursday nights) helped prompt the move. TNA iMPACT! Wrestling, Bellator’s previous lead-in, was already moved to its old 8 PM slot, and Kay said that their audience will hold up better against the NFL. He added that WWE’s Monday Night RAW and Spike’s Tuesday night programming eliminated an early week spot, which left Wednesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays were eliminated when Fox Sports 1 announced in May it would feature UFC programming then.
Kay said: “I don’t want to see Bellator going head to head with the UFC. 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.”
The Ultimate Fighter had its lowest ratings on Fridays, but Kay thinks Bellator will gain a following on the new night, similar to boxing’s Friday Night Fights on ESPN.
He added: “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. There’s a lot of young men at home across [the] 18-49 [age demographic]. Gold Rush on Discovery does 4 million viewers on Friday nights. [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.”