By Zach Arnold | July 17, 2011
On Friday, we posted a link to this open letter on The Fight Nerd about how things are regressing/progressing for UFC in New York in regards to MMA legislation getting passed. Here was a quote from that letter we focused on:
You once told me, on the record, after a press conference that you don’t follow New York politics too closely but that the UFC has hired all the right people and that they know what they are doing. While delegating work to specialists makes perfect sense, it means that you have been answering questions from the media about New York based on information provided by Global Strategy Group. This information ranges from misleading to outright lies and is costing New York MMA valuable potential allies for next year.
Before this open letter was written, an acquaintance of mine from our site (Tim) mentioned to me that I should check out an interview that UFC posted on their web site with Joe Rogan talking to Lorenzo Fertitta about the company’s political battles in New York.
Picture of Lorenzo Fertitta from Joe Rogan interview. Copyright — Zuffa LLC. Click on the picture to watch the Ultimate Insider show on UFC.com.
The interview was interesting on a few levels. In addition to reading the transcript, I would encourage you to listen to the actual audio/video to get a real sense of the tone of the interview. It sounded like there were some audio jump cuts, but I’m not positive/certain about it.
JOE ROGAN: “One of the biggest aspects of this sport of what you guys have done for this sport isn’t just promoting it and getting it more popular but it’s also sanctioning it. That has to be one of the most difficult aspects of this sport and, still, a daunting task still unsuccessful in New York.”
LORENZO FERTITTA: “I can’t tell you the countless hours and time and trips and travel that it takes to go sit down with legislators and it’s not just that you’re trying to get them to create a set of rules, you’re trying to get them to reverse a law that’s on the book that in a lot of states had banned ‘Ultimate Fighting’ and you got to sit down and say, wait a second, Ultimate Fighting is not even a sport, that’s a brand that this company owns. Mixed Martial Arts is the sport and what you thought you were banning 15 years ago isn’t what we do. It’s a totally different deal and it’s an educational process and you go through it and, you know what, there’s 48 of the 50 states have regulatory bodies or athletic commissions. We are now sanctioned in 45 of the 48 states.
“There’s 3 states that are left — Vermont, Connecticut, and New York. Vermont we just haven’t focused on, that’ll get done. There’s already fights in Vermont, they’re just not regulated by the state body, so that will happen. Connecticut, the legislature moving forward, we’re not really seeing any push back there. The biggest issue is New York, right? New York is basically the epicenter of America, how can you not have what’s the fastest growing sport in the world present in New York? Because a) you can watch it there on TV, right? You can go to a bar and watch it on closed circuit. You can buy it in your own home. Why you can’t go there and opt in and buy a ticket and say, I want to go see it live?
“Well, a lot of times the things that are reality you don’t necessarily really realize that what’s on the surface of what’s going on. We really don’t have any opposition in New York. We just passed out of the New York state senate for the third time, three straight sessions. This time, we won the vote 48-18. I don’t know how much people know about politics, but that’s basically a landslide, you don’t see a lot of votes 48-18.”
JOE ROGAN: “And this is in the senate?”
LORENZO FERTITTA: “In the senate.”
JOE ROGAN: “And so then after the senate then it moves to..”
LORENZO FERTITTA: “It’s got to move the house, which is the state assembly, right? They got to pass the same piece of legislation and then after that if it’s passed, the Governor signs the bill and it becomes law. We have not so far, to this date, been able to even get a vote in the house. They won’t send it to the floor. And, so..”
JOE ROGAN: “How do they do that?”
LORENZO FERTITTA: “You know, the Assembly Speaker sets the agenda so they can determine what they vote on and what they don’t vote on, you know, whoever’s in the majority of power and we scratched our head and scratched our head for a number of years, gosh, this doesn’t make any sense. There’s nobody speaking out really against us. There’s one congressman, senator Reilly from New York who’s coming out, but you know at the end of the day his arguments… they’re not really (making) a lot of sense, they’re not valid, we have an impeccable track record, and you know what, it’s the democratic way. You don’t like it, don’t vote it. Let’s see what the other Assembly members want to do and if it passes, it passes.
“So, what we come to find out is that there are two members, when you lobby in any state legislature you have to file with the state and say, this is the entity, okay, and this is the subject that I’m lobbying on. Well, of course, there’s two people that have filed in the state of New York to lobby on the issue of Mixed Martial Arts. One is us, of course, we’re lobbying in favor of it. The other is the New York state culinary union. And you scratch your head and go, what, that doesn’t make, say that again? Yeah, the culinary union, the culinary workers, the hotel restaurant union workers. Well, how does that make sense because the UFC, as we know, is a massive economic engine. The economic impact when we went to Toronto was over $45 million dollars for that weekend. Who did we benefit? The people working the hotels because we filled the hotels. The people working the restaurants because we fill the restaurants, right? So, why, why on earth would they be against us?
“It’s a simple reason — it comes down to politics. The casino company me and my brother own is one of the largest non-union casino companies in Las Vegas, right? They have wanted to have our team members be unionized for the last 30 years and our position is, you know what? That’s not really up to us, that’s up to our team members and they can have a vote if they choose to decide to want a union and that’s up to them but so far for the last 30 years when we started with the family business, 90 employees, to now where we have about 13,000 employees, they’ve chosen that they don’t feel like they need a third party intermediary to negotiate for them. It’s their decision. And what’s happened is the culinary union in Vegas has obviously talked with culinary union in New York and said, you know, we think we got a point of leverage, we want to see if we can bother these guys so much by keeping them out of the state of New York, maybe they’ll cave and hand over the employees to us or something like that.”
JOE ROGAN: “Wow.”
LORENZO FERTITTA: “Crazy.”
JOE ROGAN: “That’s amazing that they have that kind of power!”
LORENZO FERTITTA: “We’ll see. I mean, we’re continuing to push. We’re not the kind of people to give up, we’re not going to give up, and you know the thing’s that even worse about is, fine… you have a situation with us, but they’re not just hurting us, they’re hurting a lot of people that are innocent bystanders. You’re talking about people that work in industry in New York, the economic impact. I mean, New York City is going to be fine with or without us, but you know what? How about Syracuse? How about Buffalo, where hotel occupancy is below 50%? They’re dying there. How about bringing a big UFC there? What’s the economic impact on how many jobs we provide? The direct union labor, paid to union workers in Toronto to set that arena up was over $1.5 million dollars.”
JOE ROGAN: “Wow!”
LORENZO FERTITTA: “That’s not economic impact? That’s dollars in their pocket, okay? So, they’re leaving in their wake of what they’re doing, they’re hurting fighters, other promoters. We’re just one entity. We might do one show every other year in Ohio, yet there’s over 100 shows there. There are other promoters and fighters and a whole industry that rely on making a living on this, on having a regulated sport and that’s being denied in New York because of some disagreement that we have in Nevada here.”
It was interesting to see how carefully meticulous, scripted, disciplined, whatever you want to call it, this interview performance came off to be. I figured it was an interview aimed for casual UFC fans and that was that.
However, Lorenzo Fertitta made an appearance with Kevin Iole & Steve Cofield (of Yahoo Sports & Cagewriter.com last Friday night (6-7 PM PST on ESPN 1100 in Las Vegas) to talk about… you guessed it, New York and culinary unions.
The tone, the wording, the phrasing sounded remarkably similar to the interview done on the UFC web site. I would encourage you to listen to both interviews to better understand what I’m talking about.
Here’s a quick transcription of the second half of that audio clip from the Friday radio interview:
KEVIN IOLE: “Lorenzo, I guess the other thing about New York that I just don’t understand is why the public has not created more of a ruckus with their representatives and what you guys have spent millions of dollars, tens of millions dollars lobbying in New York, have you had any campaign to effect the ballot box and to go after guys, you know, that aren’t supporting it and Sheldon Silver and target them and say, hey, you know what, we’re going to bring out because we have a young, you know, eager fan base, just the same people that got Barack Obama elected in ‘08 and got all jazzed up and really started that grassroots campaign. Why couldn’t you do a similar thing in MMA as opposed to, you know, the traditional sort of lobbying?”
LORENZO FERTITTA: “You know what? I definitely think that’s possible. You know, we’ve been working about, I think we’ve been up there for three different legislative sessions, three or four, and the fact of the matter is that we knew that culinary was working against us but it was always behind the scenes, so it was kind of hard to come out but this session they actually started, they’re on record, they were sending letters out to all the members putting themselves on record saying we oppose the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts and you shouldn’t allow, you know, people like that own the UFC to be able to do business in New York for all these crazy variety of reasons. So now we know what we’re kind of dealing with and, you know, I think whenever I talk to or get in front of people who are residents of the state of New York and you tell them what’s going on, they’re just, they’re appalled, they’re flabbergasted. It’s crazy that, you know, the culinary union would have enough political power to basically keep the democratic process from playing out, you know? Fine, if we don’t have the votes, then it’s not legal in New York, but at least let the democratic process play out. Let the vote go to the floor and see what happens.”
What’s interesting in watching how this plays out is that clearly, in my opinion, UFC is now refocusing their media strategy on their New York political situation by going all-out in pointing the blame on the culinary unions by saying that the union leaders are essentially cutting off their noses to spite their face by lobbying to keep MMA (UFC) out of New York. It’s an interesting twist to UFC’s PR campaign.
Eddie Goldman said last month that the reason MMA legislation has not passed in New York is because of who’s involved (the casinos). That’s one strike. Justin Klein, The Fight Lawyer, was on Josh Gross’s ESPN radio show last month to say that UFC’s financial argument is a laughably bad political strategy to use to try to persuade power brokers like Sheldon Silver to put the legislation on the Assembly floor for a vote.
But wait, there’s more…
UFC also finds itself in another unique and interesting political situation, this time on a national scale in the U.S. Senate. The Senate bill is S.978 and I would recommend that you read it. It relates to streaming video online and copyright infringement. It’s another step to increase the authority of Big Hollywood & the RIAA & the politically connected to use the legal & criminal system to lay the hammer down.
A who’s who of big lobbyists are behind it, such as the Teamsters (what?), National Association of Broadcasters, the Motion Picture Association of America (Chris Dodd), AT & T, NBC Universal, RIAA, Screen Actors Guild, Viacom, Sony Pictures, CBS, the NBA, Time Warner, Walt Disney, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and… the UFC.
See, the UFC does get along with unions after all!
We know about UFC’s attempts to sue bar owners or gym owners for what they allege are violations of copyright infringement by illegally showing PPVs (as opposed to going to bars/restaurants that pay Joe Hand Promotions the fee to air the PPVs in public). Dana White has been on record saying that Zuffa would be extremely aggressive in going after those pirating UFC feeds online.
The company took a pro-active and positive step by streaming the undercard fights on Facebook. That deserves a thumbs up. Aligning yourself with legislation backed by the RIAA & MPAA? That will not win you fans or support online in a lot of corners of the Internet. To illustrate this point, I would highly recommend that you check out these two articles by intellectual property & contract attorney David Graham (here and here) in regards to what S. 978 means for you and for sites like Youtube.
It should be worth pointing out that only one major organization opposes S. 978 and it happens to be a group with a lot of integrity, the Electronic Frontier Foundation based in San Francisco. EFF has been involved in helping individuals & organizations named as defendants in the voluminous amount of lawsuits that the infamous Righthaven outfit has filed in Nevada (over 275 cases in a couple of years).