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« | Home | »

Zuffa’s Twitter policy is a matter of playing with fire

By Zach Arnold | May 12, 2011

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When the news broke yesterday that Zuffa (UFC/Strikeforce) would start giving out bonuses to fighters if they increase their social media footprint, my initial reaction was a mixed one. Then I thought about ESPN’s infamous Twitter policy and how derided it was by various sports writers/bloggers.

After further review, I think Zuffa’s encouragement of fighters increasing their social media footprint has more negatives than positives.

I realize what the realpolitik is as far as Zuffa’s business calculation goes. Have a bunch of fighters go from being nobodies to somebodies and from somebodies to stars by using the tools at their disposal. And, should a fighter pull a Rashad Mendenhall or a Reggie Bush and say something stupid, you can cut them.

However, in order for that justification to work, you have to rely on the following. You have to admit to yourself that fighters, in a business full of testosterone, are willing & able to filter themselves before pushing the ’send’ button on a Tweet. You are relying on fighters to use their best judgment. In a business full of horrific examples of really bad judgment, that is a gamble. Second, let’s say a fighter says something really stupid and reprehensible. What if it costs UFC a sponsor or some sort of business deal? UFC can’t turn around and cut a guy while saying they have no responsibility in the matter because the fighter isn’t an employee. Well, by implementing this new social media policy, Zuffa is encouraging their fighters to use the power of the UFC/Strikeforce brands to build an online footprint. Lorenzo Fertitta always talks about how it’s most important to focus on brand-building as opposed to building certain individuals because fighters come and go quickly.

In order for Zuffa’s social media policy not to back fire, they have to hope that the status quo remains. That MMA remains a niche sport that’s popular but well enough below the mainstream media’s radar that, should a fighter say something that’s a slur or worse, anything negative flies under the radar. Remember what Marcus Davis said about Dan Hardy and HIV/AIDS? Fighters have a proclivity of saying really dumb things at times.

Predictions: A lot more fighters are going to say dumb things on Twitter that will cost them money as opposed to saying things that will make them money. (In other words, I expect more fighters to get cut because of the dumb remarks they say than those who get bonuses for increasing the amount of followers they have.)

Do I think Zuffa is dumb in the calculation they’ve made here? No, but it is a risk and you cannot deny it. I understand that Dana White says outrageous things all the time online and gets away with it. Furthermore, because he says the things he says, it’s almost as if people just get so immune to it that they tune it out as white noise whereas if another major sports figure had said the same remarks that he has in the past, they’d be in hot water. If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on the ‘immunization logic’ as sound logic for the long haul.

People want MMA to get mainstream media coverage. There are others who love to get mainstream-level type of coverage without having to endure any sort of scrutiny. You have to be careful what you wish for. Look at some of the headlines lately being generated: UFC’s Chael Sonnen suspended in CA for perjury & money laundering , Matt Lindland getting sued over marijuana claims and now another lawsuit involving a fight over the Team Quest name with Dan Henderson, Matt Hughes allegedly getting into an altercation at a bar, and TMZ running with the headline of “you JACKED my brother’s remains!’

Don’t get me wrong — I think Zuffa’s intentions with this new social media policy are well-meaning. However, history and human nature in this industry suggest that the company is asking for trouble here.

Topics: MMA, Media, StrikeForce, UFC, Zach Arnold | 44 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

44 Responses to “Zuffa’s Twitter policy is a matter of playing with fire”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    1) Zuffa gets new media. These other sports leagues don’t.

    2) Some would say that there is no bad publicity. For a lot of no name fighters this is probably true.

    3) Zuffa’s entire selling point is that they represent everything that the major sports leagues do not. Their athletes are more accessible. Their president speaks his mind. The athletes don’t have a muzzle on them. Are their downsides? Sure. But there is so much more up side.

    • Steve4192 says:

      “2) Some would say that there is no bad publicity. For a lot of no name fighters this is probably true. “

      Tell that to War Machine.

      Running his mouth in the wake of Evan Tanner’s death cost him his job.

      • Jason Harris says:

        Running his mouth was the icing on the cake of being:
        1) A fighter with little-to-no recognition outside of being a TUF-guy
        2) Coming off a loss to a mid-level fighter
        3) Refusing to fight who the UFC wanted him to fight
        4) Generally being an ass and a thorn in the side to the UFC

        Comments were just an easy catalyst, he had Duffee’d himself already.

        • Mark says:

          War Machine was actually fired for threatening President Obama, not for the “Tanner killed himself because the UFC didn’t pay him enough” MySpace blog or refusing the fight.

  2. Ergface says:

    Interesting commentary Zach. You’re right it is risky but I think it will pay off. I think the UFC will be able to stretch the employee/ contractor distinction very far and successfully avoid any heat some meat heads generate. At the same time, as 45 mentioned, they further their selling points around approachable athletes.

  3. Interesting points. Thing is, though, most fighters already are on Twitter and fairly active about it.

    Do I think this will increase the number of fighters who actively engage their Twitter accounts? Absolutely. However, I don’t think that fighters are going to put in that much more effort for a bonus where they now run a greater risk than before of exposing themselves to media scrutiny.

    It also pre-supposes that a fighter himself is going to be doing the actual tweeting.

    If a fighter – or any athlete for that matter – has a proclivity for saying stupid and/or offensive things, a bonus from Zuffa isn’t going to be the agent for it. Chael Sonnen, after all, never needed the prospect of a bonus to make racial slurs.

    Also, as a counterpoint, I’d argue that this new policy actually puts fighter on guard and makes them less likely to pull a Chael, in that they now know that their employer is watching. Before it was just the guy(s) running the UFC twitter account and, occasionally, Dana White himself. Now it’s part of a company policy. Yes, fighters are being encouraged to be original, but they also know they’re being watched. What’s more dangerous: a fighter who is under the mistaken impression people aren’t reading/watching (very common) or one that knows eyes are on him?

  4. Mark says:

    They might as well go and hire someone whose full-time job is apologizing to GLAD, because you know several times a month, some fighter is going to call an opponent or a Twitter Troll a “faggot” and TMZ will jump on them.

    It’s a good idea in theory, but as Zach pointed out Twitter allows a bunch of people to get drunk or just be stupid and write the wrong things. And even though most of the time they realize it and delete it, there’s somebody who is there for the immediate screen capture it seems.

    I say they should hire out Twitter writers for whoever is having an upcoming match and have them write for them to prevent controversy. It’s worked for Charlie Sheen. Maybe get some Hollywood action movie writers or ex-pro wrestlers to come up with some cool trash talking lines instead of “HAY DUDE U R A FAGG AND I POWNDED UR GF LAST NITE JUST LIEK IM GUNNNA POWND U @ #UFC139 U BYTCH!”

  5. Jason Harris says:

    All of these “concerns” seem to have little to no grounding in reality. A huge number of fighters are already on twitter and posting all the time, and now that UFC is giving them incentives to post more, they’re suddenly going to go full retard and offend everybody?

    Are you people just that unaware of fighters being on twitter? It’s not like it’s new. UFC has a list with over 200 of them you can follow. They’ve been posting for a while. In fact, they were posting on twitter about the fighter summit all day. Where is anyone getting the idea that all of the sudden overnight there will be a rash of inappropriate outbursts?

    • Mark says:

      It’s different in that now they’re being offered bonuses to use it to work up interest in their fights. So organic Twitter feuds have a good chance of ending in a slur getting used, or even just somebody saying something controversial to get attention, what will forced ones do. These guys aren’t professional writers, most are not even particularly witty, so I don’t think anybody is out of line in assuming somebody is going to write something UFC regrets if they’re desperate for attention and bonus money.

      WWE and the NFL have both had problems with their stars getting drunk and/or just being stupid and saying something offensive. Hell, the UFC President does that, so I don’t see how they’re above that just because they may have been on Twitter a few years already.

      • Jason Harris says:

        So your logic is that since UFC is offering bonuses for people who do well on twitter, people who currently do well will deliberately start doing bad on twitter in effort to get bonus money?

        Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

        • Mark says:

          Heh, nice to see nothing has changed since I left…..

          #1 I never said everybody was going to do it. I am saying if just a handful do it over the years it could cause UFC some needless headaches. We’ve had Marcus Davis wish AIDS on a fighter he called gay, we’ve had Tito Ortiz use Don Imus’ line to a black fighter, we’ve had Frank Mir threaten to kill, we had War Machine threaten the President, and I’m sure other Twitter issues I’ve forgotten. All I am saying is offering these guys a new carrot to get attention or even just let it be known that you’re encouraging them to Tweet is going to make UFC unable to separate themselves from controversy like they’ve been able to in the past. That’s all. It won’t be anything they’ve never dealt with before, or anything to turn the fans against them, but one day it will be an issue.

          #2 Of course it will only be to guys who are already known for going over the line, that’s obvious. But now as I’ve said they’re associating themselves with encouraging Tweets, which is going to make it harder to brush off GLAD or the NAACP or some other minority rights group when they start complaining in the press. I never said Jon Fitch is going to start calling everybody a fag and GSP is going to threaten to rape opponent’s wives or something crazy. Geez…

      • 45 Huddle says:

        So now Jon Fitch is going to turn into a trash talker online just to make a couple of dollars? I doubt it.

        Some guys have it in them. Others don’t. That won’t change.

    • Kelvin Hunt says:

      Jason…I agree.

  6. Jonathan says:

    I am convinced that the UFC can do no wrong when it comes to the sport of MMA. I know people will call this being a fan boy, but they literally are the sport. They can set down any guide lines, make any rules that they want, and promote anything that they want to and nothing bad will come of it.

    It took me a while to come to this conclusion, but now that I have, I don’t any scenario for the next, seven to ten years where the UFC falters or fails.

    I guess, in short, anything they do or touch is golden.

    • BJ says:

      I always wondered if Zuffa’s brainwashing techniques work on the average layman and you’re proof positive that it does.
      Congrats on losing your ability to think rationally.

      • Jonathan says:

        I don’t expect anyone to flock to my defense, but let me assure you that I have been a very vocal critic of the UFC in the past, and still am to some extent. I have been following the sport of MMA since 2002, and I still remember how big of a deal it was to see Robbie Lawler vs Steve Berger on the “Best Damn Sports Show Period”. I’m not a TUF new comer or a TUF-fan, and if you look at my Facebook profile it says “Pride Never Dies”. I tell you all of this because I don’t consider myself the “average layman” as you put it, regarding MMA.

        However, I will ask you to let me know of a way that UFC can falter when everything that they have touched thus far has succeeded, whether in regards to The Ultimate Fighter, overseas expansion, or competition organizations? There can be disagreement that the UFC is the “sport” of MMA, much like “basketball” and the “NBA” are synonymous with each other.

        I may not like the UFC, but I am smart enough to realize that they “won” whatever war there WAS (past tense) in this whole shindig. You are either with or against the UFC, both in the mind of Dana White and the populace at large. And when you literally “are” the sport of MMA, at this stage in the game, you can do what you want. And with the track record that the UFC has had up to this point, I have no reason to believe that they will not be successful in the future.

        Please tell me where I am wrong.

        • edub says:

          I was actually thinking about posting something very similar, but I figured you’d be here soon enough to set him straight…

  7. 45 Huddle says:

    Mike Fagan has an article up about this same topic at BE. At the beginning of the article, he briefly mentions how Ozzie Guillen was fined for Twittering after being ejected from a baseball game.

    I watched that game live and the announcers mentioned his twitter comments during the game. And then they made a comment about how he was likely to pay for the comments.

    The funny thing is that I have never met one sports fan who thought it was fair that athletes are fined for doing this. Perhaps if they do it while they are in a game. But if they are not active in the game, there is no reason for them to be fined.

    Let the athletes be themselves….. For better or worse…. And if fans are turned off by that, then fine. Others will thrive with that same type of exposure.

    • Steve4192 says:

      What is so wrong with the ‘fan phone’ concept?

      I’ll admit it seems kind of cheesy, but I don’t see one-on-one conversations with fans having the kind of ‘backfire’ potential that a ‘tweet’ to the masses has.

    • Jason Harris says:

      Way back when the sport was small enough to get away with this shit, Rampage posted a cell number for fans to call on the Sherdog forum. I called and BS’ed with him about video games and shit for 5-10 minutes. He was really cool, and it definitely felt cool as a fan.

  8. The Gaijin says:

    ***Scramble UFC press conference for 5 p.m. EST***]

    Apparently a major announcement…interesting…

    • edub says:

      If you got a little time keep us updated (if possible). I got no way of seeing it!

      • The Gaijin says:

        Brock out. Guts r effed again.

        JDS vs. Carwin.

        • edub says:

          Damn, that’s probably the end for him. Sad. Carwin vs. JDS will be great though.

      • The Gaijin says:

        Said he’s going to opt for surgery this time rather than deal with it. Consulted with the Mayo clinic yesterday.

        • RossenSearchTeam says:

          Thats too bad about the Brock.

          But his health is the most important thing.

          He made his money, his priority should be being able to enjoy the benifits of his labors in good health.

          I’d retire if I was him.

  9. EJ says:

    And I thought that last years rash of injuries was bad, this years seems to top with Bones, Edgar, and Brock now all out.

    Looks like the only thing that can stop the Zuffa machine is guys getting hurt, sucks on multiple accounts but JDS vs. Carwin is a good replacement.

    I just wonder how fully healed is Shane because I thought giving him a newbie was a sign that he wasn’t 100% yet and wanted a guy he could handle. JDS is in his prime and healthy and if Carwin isn’t in the best shape than he might outlast him like Brock did and finish him. If he is all the way back then it’s going to be a war, I think Shane knows that cardio will playa big part and of course if he lands something solid it’ll be lights out for JDS.

    • Mark says:

      I don’t think he’s going to want to stand with him period. He has power, but JDS will kill him with speed. So since he has the wrestling advantage, I say he goes for takedowns ASAP.

      Now the question is, is he a better wrestler than Nelson?

      • edub says:

        I agree with your assesment, and I think it could be how he fought Mir. Pressure either on the ground or against the cage.

        I think we’ll see in a couple weeks that Nelson’s wrestling, or at least his strength, doesn’t compare to Carwins. Because I don’t think he’ll out wrestle Mir.

      • EJ says:

        JDS might have speed on him but he isn’t exactly hard to hit and all it takes is one to send him to lala land. Carwin is also a bull I could easily see him bullying JDS in the clinch and working his dirty boxing. Either way it should be a very good fight and whoever wins is going to give Cain a big test when he returns.

  10. david m says:

    JDS is gonna murk Carwin, just like he would have done to Brock an just like he will do to Cain. Best hw alive.

  11. Mark says:

    Brock’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time when UFC is a little low on starpower right now. It wouldn’t surprise me if this makes them pull the trigger on GSP/Silva by the end of the year so they can claim a blockbuster show since they’re without Jones/Evans, Lesnar/JDS, Silva/Sonnen II, that would have been their million-sellers for the 2nd half of the year.

    • edub says:

      You don’t think they would just throwing their promotional muscle behind Sonnen in his CSAC fight? I think that they just start to campaign “he deserves to be back” and “he’s paid his dues”. Or something like that.

      The superfight is good, but the two as seperate draws are better for the UFC. I can see them throwing more money Nicks way now, because it seems there is a little hype online for that fight. Not to mention it would probably be a dominant GSP performance.

      • Mark says:

        Maybe. But I don’t think Dana is going to go all out and challenge the authority of an AC of a state he makes a good chunk of his money in just for one fight. I’m sure he’ll put in a good word for him, but nothing past what he did for Sean Sherk that really didn’t help him anymore than Sherk did himself.

  12. RossenSearchTeam says:

    All this twitter and facebook and all the soap opera drama between dana and tito and rashad and jones and all of them is just to ProRasslin for me.

    I know making yourself the center of attention can open up opportunities (vote Trump 2012!), but I could swear that I’ve seen that approach snowball into an end to its own means before.

    ProRasslin started out as actual wrestling.

    If somebody had something important to say, like announcing an injury or some event they’re attending then I suppose facebook or twitter would be a good way to get the word out.

    But all the chattiness and catfighting and self important huffing and puffing makes dana and tito and others who do it look like a bunch of 12 year old girls.

    If you’re good at it like some of the more talented bloggers (3 or 4 out of a hundred?!) then you can get away with waxing philosophical everyday without sounding like an idiot.

    But most people just sound like idiots, and I doubt most of our favorite fighters would fare much better.

    Probably much worse.

    Although if its prorasslin that we’re aiming for, then I guess “much worse” might be the goal of it.

    Trump/Palin 2012!

  13. Mark says:

    The pro wrestling marks are going insane on message boards right now with “BROCK IS GOING TO GO BACK AND BEAT UNDERTAKER AND BE THE BIGGEST STAR WWE HAS SEEN IN YEARS NOW!” crap.

    IMHO, if Brock is done fighting, then he’s done doing anything. He’ll retire at 33 and just hunt all day and live off of his millions of dollars since he leads a simple life. And good for him if he does.

  14. edub says:

    Numbers are in for Pacman-Mosely. No matter how much everyone likes pacquiao, or how exciting he is: PBF is still the PPV king. He outsold him against De Le Hoya, Hatton, Marquez, and now Mosely.

    Oh, and supposedly Mosely tweeted something about his sparring partner shooting up Pacquiao a while ago wit steroids, and now is trying to go back on it kinda. Hey, that relates to what we’re talking about!

    • Mark says:

      1.2 mil isn’t a bad number for such a lopsided fight by any means. Probably almost double what it deserved to be. But yeah, the casual fan public will always be more transfixed by hearing a fighter talk up a fight than seeing clips of fights in a commercial. Combat sports purists hate to admit that, but it’s true.

      • edub says:

        Yea I wasn’t saying it was bad, just reiforcing the point you made at the end.

        Pacman is a great person (to the public anyway), a congressman, exciting, doesn’t talk trash, takes on all comers, interacts well with fans, and wins. These traits should make him the ultimate PPV seller. But PBF still beats him everytime.

    • MK says:

      The story Mosley quoted was a troll job blog. It’s real sad that it’s getting any traction. Shane is embarrassing himself.

      • cutch says:

        That’s a good number but I heard that HBO’s last PPV Maidana-Morales did around 50,000 buys that is god awful when Affliction can outdraw you.

    • The Gaijin says:

      Doesn’t seem very gentlemanly for the fighter who wanted to tap gloves 41 times in his last fight. I think he landed more of those than actual punches.

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