Showtime’s Below the Belt Keeps It Fresh for Fight Fans

New online show is designed to broaden the audience for combat sports

Below the Belt, the newest offering from Showtime Sports, isn’t just an online original that gives fight fans an insider look at their boxing and MMA favorites. And it isn’t just a podcast or a cable series. It’s all that and more: a platform rather than a program. By offering Below the Belt over several channels, Showtime hopes to reach fans no matter how they watch or listen.

Showtime has debuted a new MMA property, Below the Belt, starring former MMA fighter Brendan Schaub.

To back up, Below the Belt is a new online show that airs twice a month on Showtime Sports’ Facebook Live and YouTube accounts, delivering a fresh take on combat-sports news through interviews, comic sketches, and even animation. It debuted Feb. 28, hosted by comedian and retired mixed-martial-artist Brendan Schaub. But Below the Belt is also available as an audio and video podcast: Schaub’s The Big Brown Breakdown podcast has been rebranded as Below the Belt, with new episodes appearing weekly. And this digital-first effort will even show up on cable: once every month, Showtime will create a roundup show of the best elements from the other platforms, that production airing on the Showtime Extreme channel.

The element tying all these parts together is host Schaub, who’s tasked with helping Showtime give Below the Belt an authentic, current feel.

“Brendan is a bit of a unicorn,” says Brian Dailey, VP, digital, Showtime Sports. “He’s a stand-up comic, obviously has established himself in the podcast space, and has a very large fan base in that lane. Also, most recently, he’s working with E! Now as a red-carpet correspondent for their awards shows. He crosses over into a lot of different segments, and we’re certainly going to leverage his personality and who he is to make this show special and unique.”

Schaub is eager to work on a show that breaks the mold. Showtime is creating something new, and he’s thrilled to be part of it.

“Fans should be excited because there is nothing in combat sports that exists like this,” he says. “This is a first-of-its-kind show, and what we are trying to pull off combines a lot of different elements: comedy, great discussions, and a deep passion for combat sports. Whether you are a fan of boxing, MMA, or both, fans deserve a platform like this, where they will have a new, refreshing way to hear from the biggest names in combat sports.”

Showtime Sports’ Brian Dailey: “Our strategy has been to transform from a premium network that has a sports offering to becoming a sports brand across digital.”

In a way, this move is similar to Showtime Sports’ recent experiment putting undercard matches on Facebook Live. Both efforts target a wider fighting-enthusiast audience, building a fan base while supporting Showtime’s premiere-fight broadcasts. But, whereas that experiment focused on championship boxing, Below the Belt will appeal to a wider audience, and do it with humor.

One strength of Below the Belt is that it has no agenda, Dailey explains. It dumps the traditional boxing-show feel for one that should appeal to a new, younger audience. It’s able to respond immediately to fight-related news — like Ronda Rousey’s WWE debut trending on Twitter or a massive heavyweight fight about to take place — and give it an entertaining take. Schaub will visit boxers in their hometowns, seeing what they’re like when they’re out of the ring. Dailey believes that viewers often don’t root during a boxing match because they don’t know anything about the two fighters involved. Showing who the fighters are will get viewers invested in a match.

Below the Belt will also get lighthearted, offering skits and sketches — something not usually seen in fighting coverage. Several big names are already booked: Deontay Wilder, Frankie Edgar, Mikey Garcia, Joe Rogan, and Steve Austin. Dailey plans to broaden the show by bringing on actors, comedians, and musicians.

“We filmed with my good friend Paulie Malignaggi for the first episode, and I am really excited about how that turned out,” Schaub says. “I think it’s good for MMA fans to see Paulie in this light, because a lot of fans don’t have the best attitude towards him because of his role in the Mayweather-McGregor saga. I would love to have Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler as a guest, because those were my heroes as a kid growing up dreaming of doing stand-up comedy. Other than that, I think the best guests are people that I know personally and have a good vibe with. It’s much easier that way, and I think the end product is always better.”

Creating online properties to support a broadcast offering isn’t a new strategy for Showtime Sports. Last year, the network tested the idea by creating online content around the documentary Legacy: Bob Hurley about the legendary high school basketball coach. Because that went well, Showtime is broadening the idea with Below the Belt. The project also reinforces Showtime’s name in the combat space.

Showtime will monetize the project in multiple ways, including preroll ads and integrated sponsored content. Monetization is a primary goal, and Dailey and his team will look for partners that want to support new type of program available through online channels. They’ll also monitor fan reactions, seeing how viewers respond to a show blending boxing and MMA.

“I want to bring a new, refreshing way to cover combat sports,” Schaub says. “Fans don’t want the coverage of the sport to be as stuck-up and stuffy as it has in the past, and that’s what I’m here to change. Fans can expect Below the Belt to cover the fight game in its true form, which is raw and candid.”

The project is an important one for Showtime’s digital efforts. The network doesn’t want to use online platforms merely to support its cable channels but to grow online projects that are additive, creating something that’s bigger and more satisfying to the viewer. Driving subscriptions is important, and Dailey knows that putting complementary premium content online will encourage viewers to subscribe over time by showing them what more they could experience with a subscription.

“Our strategy has been to transform from a premium network that has a sports offering to becoming a sports brand across digital, and I think we’ve done that,” he says. “It’s evolving into a sports brand that’s serving our fans on a daily basis with relevant content to those particular lanes.”

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