By Zach Arnold | May 12, 2011
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.