Bellator and Spike TV were all geared up for a major night on Wednesday with the first in the promotion’s ‘summer series’ of live events followed by the premiere of the much hyped ‘Fight Master’ reality show, but it’s proven to have been something of a ratings disaster.

Despite featuring a relatively solid line-up with ‘King Mo’ headlining and the likes of Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral and ‘War Machine’ also on the main card Bellator 96 drew an average of just 480,000 viewers between 8-10pm.

That’s by far the lowest audience for a Bellator event on Spike TV so far, with the average up until this point being just above 800,000 viewers.

That made it a terrible lead-in for their new ‘Fight Master’ show which went on to pull just 432,000 viewers from 10-11pm.

‘Fight Master’ was designed to be Bellator’s answer to ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, but despite featuring stars like Randy Couture and Frank Shamrock as coaches it came nowhere near the 1.5 million+ viewers that the UFC routinely enjoyed on Spike TV with TUF.

This is the worst case scenario with ‘Fight Master’ having been designed to attract more MMA fans to the channel and help push up the ratings of the live shows in the process.

So what’s the reason behind this? Spike TV execs are pointing their finger firmly in the direction of hockey’s Stanley Cup playoff finals on NBC Sports which ran into overtime with record ratings on Wednesday night.

They have a point, but but does that really account entirely for suge a huge drop?

A bigger worry is that this was the first time Bellator was airing on Spike TV without TNA’s pro-wrestling show providing the lead-in which usually generates over a million viewers on the channel.

Honestly, I’m surprised by just how bad the ratings were. There’s been a little more buzz than usual surrounding the promotion after the acquisition of fighters like Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, while having the likes of Randy Couture starring on their new reality show seemed like a good move to draw in casual MMA fans.

It’s early days yet, but they need a swift turnaround in their fortunes or the show could quickly turn out to be an expensive flop. That’s going to be easier said than done though, as unlike the regular Bellator season of live shows every week, the ‘summer series’ only features events sporadically, with the next one not due until July 31st.

That means ‘Fight Master’ is going to be flying solo for the next few weeks in it’s Wednesday night slot which could make it even more difficult to draw an audience.

In the longer term if it does prove that a lack of a TNA wrestling lead-in is hurting ratings then that will also signal the alarm bells to start ringing for Bellator’s next full season in September which is moving to Friday nights – widely considered to be the worst night in television for ratings.

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