By Zach Arnold | April 12, 2011
Jason Probst & Loretta Hunt did a series of online segments on Monday discussing the political and business fallout from last Saturday’s Strikeforce show in San Diego which featured Zuffa’s presence in terms of managing/running things. One interesting note (which you can watch here) is Loretta claiming that Mr. Kato, the man behind Real Entertainment and one of the top suits during the PRIDE days (a buddy of Nobuyuki Sakakibara), was there at the show in San Diego. Bet that was a fun encounter with the Japanese and Zuffa brass. Zuffa sued Sakakibara after the PRIDE asset sale agreement and we all know about reports suggesting that Sakakibara & Kato are sharing an office in Tokyo (with Kato wanting to become a public face for future Japanese events).
An item from the weekend that generated buzz online was the fact that Zuffa took over the media credentials process for Strikeforce shows. That means the standard UFC operating procedure with contracts and media access now applies to SF events that were once very much open to the press. The restricted media list includes Loretta Hunt, Josh Gross (ESPN), Sherdog, and other media writers that don’t have close business relationships with the organization.
Loretta commented on not getting credentialed for the San Diego event.
“Did it hurt me? Yeah, sure. That was my first assignment for CBS Sports. I worked with one of the editors, producers over there who does the NFL and also had done MMA in the past. His name is Denny Burkholder, he’s a big fan of Mixed Martial Arts and CBS Sports, I’m told, hasn’t really covered MMA for the last year or so for various reasons I’m told because they’ve had some difficulty with getting interviews and things like that in the past, so they kind of cooled off from it and then they were coming back in, this was the first show that they were going to do in quite some time. They brought me in, assigned me, and then we were turned down. So, CBS Sports decided that they just weren’t going to do any coverage at all of the UFC. They don’t want to be told who they can send to their events and who they shouldn’t send to their events representing them.
“Yeah, I mean that I’m sad this door closed. I mean, a door really did close. CBS Sports is not going to look at MMA for at least a little while.”
The premise of CBS Sports not covering MMA extensively because they can’t get credentialed by Zuffa is a fascinating topic in and of itself. It should be noted that I’ve offered in the past to write articles on CBS for nothing and that got turned down, so Loretta is right in saying that the political brass did not want to touch MMA content.
With that said, Sherdog finds plenty of ways to interview fighters without having Zuffa show credentials. Nobody’s stopping them and Crave Online from making a nice bottom line for business.
Interestingly, you could juxtapose this to the kerfuffle that happened at The Masters over the weekend in Augusta when security banned a female reporter from a media room to cover the event. That said, Augusta has always been an easy whipping boy for the press for being a good ‘ol Southern white sexist club dating back to Martha Burk’s protests of Hootie Johnson, so there’s no surprise that the media would have a field day with a controversy like this. However, you rarely hear anything about the way UFC handles the press in the manner in which they do. The only time it blew up in their face was Dana’s infamous video rant against Loretta two years ago (you can read the transcript here). Rampage Jackson also is no fan of hers.
Just like Augusta had to apologize to the reporter in question, Dana White issued his own apology but it was with a lot less slobbering and a lot more mocking.
Back to what Loretta had to say about where CBS Sports stands when it comes to covering MMA and why the topic should matter to everyone.
“Yeah, you know, I don’t want to speak out of turn. I just, I had some conversation with CBS Sports a little bit. They just haven’t really covered Mixed Martial Arts so much because, uh, you know, because like I said I don’t want to speak out of turn but I definitely got the indication that, you know, when they were running the Elite XC events on CBS which was a competitor, you know, I think some of the access that they wanted to get in interviewing certain people and stuff was difficult for them. They felt some kind of restriction, so they kind of backed away from it and this was them kind of dipping their toe back in the water again and, you know, something like this happens again and it just reinforces, you know, the UFC and their take on the Mixed Martial Arts media and them trying to decide, you know, who they want to sent and who they don’t want to send and… you know, there’s no… there’s no secret that, uh… there’s some kind of vendetta against me. You know, I’m not welcome at the UFC shows, I haven’t been for some time. I’ve been in and out of this media ban since October 2005 when I started. You know, I’m obviously not welcome at the events probably for any outlet that I work for. You know, I’m with Sports Illustrated now and still if I apply for a credential with SI I’m not going to be allowed in either.
“But, you know, the bigger picture here is, it’s not just about me, there’s other people involved, too. There’s other media that’s not allowed in. It’s the UFC’s decision that they’re going to do this because, from everything I’ve been told, this doesn’t happen in other sports. Journalists are granted credentials if they work for a reliable media outlet and, you know, are responsible reporters. I don’t think it’s been proven that any of us on this banned/restricted list were ever irresponsible in our reporting, we haven’t been. So, you know, that’s the bigger picture with the media ban for people are kind of stepping into this and seeing this for the first time.”
After this comment, she and Jason fretted over a recent online post by Mark Cuban in which he talked about how useless the online media is for sports and that they don’t carry themselves like the print media did in the past. He talked about how broken the financial model is for sports media and that he could buy out most writers if he wanted to do so and draw as much business on his platforms than the ones currently being used. He also heaped praise on UFC’s way of handling media and this upset Loretta, but I think Mark was more or less praising UFC for their media strategy on the social networking sites (especially Facebook) and with Dana’s vision for where content is heading for online/on-demand distribution.
In this last video clip, listen to what Jason had to say about how ‘ambivalent’ he is in regards to MMA because of the kinds of fans that go to the shows. He puts it in context of trying to do his job and how hard it is without getting media credentials to do things like live PBP, shoot interviews, so on and so forth. For four minutes, it’s a burial of MMA fans and a regret that he didn’t go into covering a sport like curling. If I’m a casual MMA fan who goes on Twitter or FB and I stumble in seeing two MMA media writers talking about how they are banned from getting credentials for Zuffa shows, the last thing that would persuade me as a fan to believe they deserve any credentials is getting buried (as a fan) for how I look, what I wear, and how I behave at the fights.
Anyways, here was the final comment Loretta had to say on the matter.
“(Zuffa) wants to move into being a mainstream sport and a mainstream league at this point, like I don’t think that’s there any argument that UFC is now the our league of our sport, right? The thing that we didn’t think would happen but it happened and, you know, I gladly I can admit that and say that about this sport. If they want to be like all the other leagues, you know, the NBA like you know barring whatever Mark Cuban is considering, the NFL, all these other guys they don’t restrict the media and I bet you they don’t like the media that comes through because they are probably a lot more critical in other sports than the hardest critics are in Mixed Martial Arts. So, what’s happening is extraordinary and makes us seem kind of hokey, you know, Mixed Martial Arts compared to all the other sports. What other big promotion do you know that doesn’t let the media in? It’s the WWE, it’s the professional wrestling. They don’t let certainly media in that they don’t like, who they don’t want covering certain things. Dave Meltzer’s been banned from the WWE for years. So the UFC’s following a model of a fake sport!”