Bellator, Reality Check Systems Hook MMA Fans With Social on Spike TV

By Jarrel Harris

It is no secret that the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is growing rapidly. Bellator, one of the most popular MMA leagues, has taken the initiative to make social media a part of its growth.

Bellator MMA teamed up with technology partner Reality Check Systems (RCS) this season to integrate live MMA fan tweets into Spike TV’s Fight Night match broadcasts.

Reality Check Systems’ technology helps Bellator feed social-media content in real time to MMA broadcasts.

Reality Check Systems’ technology helps Bellator feed social-media content in real time to MMA broadcasts.

With RCS hardware and software powering each broadcast, MMA audiences can watch their tweets unfold live on-air during the match and can react to comments from other fans in real time and see those comments in on-screen graphics. At the same time, Bellator is able to directly interact with its fans during matches and drive in-match Twitter conversations based on real-time Fight Night highlights. The custom setup has already been tested in three live fights and is slated for use in eight more this year as well as in the culminating event of the season, Bellator 131.

“Many of our fans are already engaging with the brand across our various social channels, so we wanted to provide them with even more connectivity to Fight Night on Spike TV,” says Eric Burak, VP, digital, Bellator. “Our partnership with RCS has enabled us to do just that. By elevating the social conversation to the broadcast, we’ve further expanded our offering beyond the television screen, resulting in a more immersive, interactive experience that encourages social engagement and connects audiences more closely to the sport.”

Bellator has a solid following on its social-media channels, with more than 900,000 fans on Facebook — and growing each week — and 131,000 followers on Twitter. MMA fans are social, given the demographic, which Burak calls its sweet spot: men 18-34.

Working to find a partner to build the social-media structure was not a hard task. RCS was already a current partner, having recently rebuilt Bellator’s real-time insert graphics for its Spike TV broadcast to boost the 3D appeal and infuse more energy into the production. Along with the upgrade in animation, RCS delivered a new design for the Brackets graphic with a custom application for advancing fighters, navigating to specific matchups, and automating the ability to switch bracket formats and weight classes. Frontends, or Curtain Raisers, were also adapted into real-time templates for building on-the-fly during the production.

“We were already working with them, so, of course, my first question was, What do you have for social media?” says Burak. “They said, We have a fully ‘baked’ integrated deal called ‘Twitter on TV’ we can absolutely put in there. We mocked up a look and launched it in only a matter of months.”

To keep audiences engaged, Bellator uses a specific hashtag per event. For example, #Bellator126 will be the hashtag used for fans to interact within the broadcast.  With the new social-media integrated system, Bellator is able to put anything designated by the specific hashtag on the TV screen. With the help of a social-media manager in the truck, the team pulls every single social-media feed that relates to Bellator and selects the ones most pertinent to the fight.

With the rise of social media, Burak considers a second screen necessary to make the experience lively.

“Absolutely, sports is a social media. I don’t even watch sports without a second screen,” he says. “You want to see other people’s reactions, you can just get on Twitter and have a conversation with someone you don’t even know. Without a doubt, I started to see it in a lot of different sports broadcasts, which is the reason I pushed for this aggressively.”

For the future, Bellator is trying to push boundaries of social media and sports. The next thing is that they will be revamping their mobile application to make it a better second-screen experience for fans at home, which Burak says is going to be a real priority “coming 2015.”