Bellator debuted its summer series of fights on Wednesday night, capped off by "King" Mo Lawal's knockout over Seth Petruzelli before the new reality show Fight Master: Bellator MMA also kicked off on Spike TV.
This was the first night Bellator moved from Thursdays to Wednesdays since debuting on the cable network earlier this year.
On Thursday, the ratings for the live show and the reality show were released, and the numbers dipped dramatically from previous airings during the first half of 2013.
According to the ratings released by the Nielsen ratings system and confirmed by Spike TV officials when speaking to Bleacher Report on Thursday, Bellator 96 averaged 480,000 viewers over the two-hour-long broadcast.
Meanwhile, Fight Master: Bellator MMA, which featured prominent coaches such as Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock and Greg Jackson on the show, debuted with 432,000 average viewers over the 60-minute broadcast.
To put this into perspective, the last Bellator show that aired on Spike TV back in April pulled in an average of 901,000 viewers when Pat Curran defended his featherweight title in the main event. The show peaked with over one million viewers during the broadcast as well.
The entire season for Bellator, which stretched from January to April, averaged just around 800,000 viewers per episode.
Bellator did have some tough competition on Wednesday night as the NHL Stanley Cup game between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks drew 6.64 million viewers when it aired starting at 8 p.m. EDT. Bellator 96 kicked off at the same time, and the new reality show was still airing while the game was ongoing.
Spike TV officials noted when speaking to Bleacher Report that the viewer demographics for hockey and MMA are virtually the same, so they expected a dropoff with the highly anticipated NHL game airing the same night. It wouldn't have gotten any easier on Thursday, with Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs airing on ABC.
"We feel that a few hundred thousand people went over to watch one of the best hockey games you'd ever seen," David Schwarz, senior vice president of communications for Spike TV told Bleacher Report on Thursday. "We are disappointed, but we feel like people will find the show and like all reality shows it might take a few nights."
The change in nights for Bellator also saw the promotion lose its lead-in feature with TNA wrestling. The pro wrestling show was showcased prior to Bellator broadcasts on Thursday nights, but now by airing the fights on Wednesdays, Bellator is going at it alone for the first time.
Schwarz said that while the numbers were definitely down, Spike TV is also aware that it takes time to grow a product and allow viewers time to find it on a new night. The reality show is in the same boat and they expect growth as more and more people discover the program.
The key, according to Schwarz, is putting the best quality programming on the network possible and he believes the viewers will follow.
"The product is good," Schwarz said. "That's what's most important."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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