BellatorBellator MMA has been the talk of the mixed martial arts community over the past week, with a majority of the press being negative. From the legal dispute with Eddie Alvarez to accusations of poor treatment with Cosmo Alexandre and Zach Makovsky, all the way to a fake representative known only as the “Bellator Phantom”, the company simply can’t seem to avoid controversy. And while some prominent fighters like Pat Curran and Brian Rogers have stepped up to defend the promotion, it’s hard to argue that the negative publicity isn’t affecting their brand perception.

Bjorn Rebney has always stated that he treats his company like a business. As a businessman he looks at the value of fighters and match ups from a “dollars first” perspective, much like a traditional accountant or finance professional. One symptom of this approach is that while the finances of the company are given a priority, they tend to ignore the way their brand is perceived in the eyes of the public. This is due to the fact that you cannot place an actual dollar figure on the “value” of your brand; even though it is vital to the success of any company, especially for a combat sports promotion. The message that your company sends to the consumer is much more than the actual product that the consumer is using (in Bellator’s case, viewing). The thoughts, feelings, and emotions associated with the brand affect not only TV viewership, but also how consumers influence their friends and family. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, whether it is person or through social media.

In the case of Bellator, they are losing the PR battle on all fronts. The situation with Eddie Alvarez continues to deteriorate. Even if Alvarez’s statements are false or misguided, they are still damaging Bellator’s reputation, so much so that recent fighters cut from the UFC have gone on record saying that would rather not sign with Bellator. The perception for these fighters is that if they sign with Bellator they will be locked into a long-term agreement and unable to sign with the UFC in the future. The general attitude is to sign with a regional promotion and establish a good winning streak to make their way back to the UFC.

What we’re learning from the recent stories regarding Alexandre and Makovsky is that there are other fighters who have issues with the company. A few months back, fighters Tyson Nam and Roger Hollett were involved in contract disputes with Bellator as well. While these stories seem to have been largely forgotten, the picture being painted by former and current fighters is not a bright one. Makovsky was the Bantamweight champion and has stated that he had no prior issues with Bellator. After his fight with Anthony Leone he felt the promotion forced him into accepting a fight for less money, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.

And then we have the “Bellator Phantom”. This fictional employee apparently has contacted several fighters over an unknown period of time posing as a matchmaker offering contracts. At first this seems like a desperate act to save face in light of Lenard Garcia revealing he turned down a contract. However Ben Fowlkes from USA Today recently revealed that Bellator did indeed contact some media members to inform them of the situation about a month ago. So while there is some truth to this phantom, there is no way to determine how much of the story is true and how much is false. Which fighters were contacted by the phantom? Which ones were contacted by real Bellator employees? The fact that this conversation even exists furthers the notion that Bellator MMA has a brand perception issue they need to address.

The house brand is starting to smoke, and the company needs to prevent the fire from spreading.

About The Author

Nate Velazquez
Senior Columnist

Nate Velazquez’s passion for MMA comes from his youth. He started with traditional Kung Fu at the age of 5, and trained over the summers at local gyms while in undergrad. After graduating from Temple University he began training with American Top Team in Bethlehem, PA. He has since moved to Tampa, FL for graduate school and currently works as a MMA instructor for fitness. As a business student in graduate school, the operations and management aspects of MMA has always been an interest for him. As the sport continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how the various promotions across the globe change and adopt their business models to meet the demands of the public viewers.