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The cold, hard truth about passing NY MMA legislation

By Zach Arnold | May 8, 2012

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This won’t win over me with many fans, but sometimes you have to call it like you see it. I remained amazed at the reaction of online MMA fans in regards to why New York Assembly boss Sheldon Silver won’t pass MMA legislation.

Every year, we get the same circus online from fans who one minute love NY politicians and the next minute are cursing them out for being grizzled senior citizens who have no perspective on what their constituents want because they spend their lives in smoke-filled rooms (or something to that effect).

Yesterday proved to be a perfect example when Sheldon Silver tabled MMA legislation in 2012. Maybe it’ll happen in another year, junior.

Or maybe not. But you know why this year wasn’t the time to bank on MMA legislation passing in New York?

2012 is a terrible year to try to get Democratic politicians to go against the wishes on the unions. Wrong year 2 try.

You don’t say. And, of course, UFC reacted with the kind of natural political tone-deafness that has utterly defined their clueless approach to winning over hearts & minds in New York.

#UFC VP Marc Ratner on NYS Assembly decision not to take up MMA bil this year: ‘Not to get a vote is un-American.”

A part of you almost feels for the boys in Las Vegas. On second thought… not really.

What’s happening in New York is a pretty simple matter. However, it requires fans to strip out the emotion and look at the political logic involved for Sheldon Silver. This is not the year to go against unions.

(It’s why the battle over AB2100 in California with pro-AB2100 proponents vs. the UFC & CSAC is so fascinating due to the internecine nature of the Democratic Party battle.)

In future years, maybe MMA legislation gets passed. Maybe. But what if it doesn’t? There’s no reason to believe that if Sheldon Silver continued killing off potential MMA legislation that he would somehow get hurt politically for it. Why? Because the approval numbers are in his favor.

Last month, we nicely warned you about the importance of the latest Siena Poll results about how much support there is for MMA legislation amongst the general New York state populace. And, once again, NY MMA legislation boosters continued burying their heads in the sand by ignoring the polling data that Sheldon Silver is looking at.

Outside of a specific demographic with a profile of a male between the ages of 18-to-34 with questionable employment status, there is no other demographic that exists in New York that backs MMA legislation. The numbers are especially staggering when you consider that women consistently oppose MMA legislation on a 26/60 split. The overall support level of 38% for both men & women has remained consistent for several years now. In fact, the polling data suggests that the more undecided voters hear about MMA legislation in New York, they less they want it.

I don’t care who you are, a consistent year-in, year-out 38% approval rate for any piece of legislation spells doom and rightfully so. However, when this inconvenient truth is mentioned to boosters, look out. All of a sudden, the constituents that the backers want to win over so bad suddenly become evil people who are ignorant, stupid, and don’t deserve MMA shows.

“Fine, screw off!”

This attitude has permeated in the press throughout the yearly attempts of MMA legislation in New York. MMA is a sport I truly love, but I also recognize that it’s not for everyone and you can’t force people to eat the proverbial dog food if they don’t want to eat it. It doesn’t make them bad human beings.

Instead of looking at trying to win over constituency groups who are not into passing MMA legislation, Zuffa has chosen the traditional top-down, pro-lobbyist, politician-only approach to getting business done in the State Capitol. It has been a costly mistake for the organization, both in wasting their time and especially their money. Instead of building up support the right way by funding grassroots organizations & creating a real, on-the-ground voter demand, Zuffa basically went for a traditional lobbying model that only works when you have voters who support you in the first place and are willing to be active in a big way in contacting their local politicians.

It also hasn’t helped that Zuffa has vastly overrated its charm offensive strategy. Their quasi PR circuit tour in both New York & California based around pushing Ronda Rousey resulted in zero political success. It may have played well with local newspaper writers who were happy to have someone to do an easy profile article on but it meant nothing in actually moving the ball forward in regards to MMA legislation or in terms of getting an Assembly committee to vote against AB2100 amendments, despite the fact that said committee members admitted they hadn’t even read the new amendments before voting yea or nay.

There is time for UFC to alter its political strategy and start making some grassroots in-roads that can match their traditional lobbying efforts. The question is not whether they have the resources to pull it off but rather if they have the will & desire to do so. Right now, Sheldon Silver has the will & desire to keep MMA legislation from passing in New York because his constituents don’t have the will nor the desire to see such legislation get implemented in the first place.

Don’t put the cart before the horse.

Speaking of putting the cart before the horse, here’s Dana White proclaiming to The Wall Street Journal that the UFC is bigger than the NFL globally and ‘neck-and-neck with soccer.’

There’s a fine line between grandiosity and delusion, a line which can be easily crossed.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 21 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

21 Responses to “The cold, hard truth about passing NY MMA legislation”

  1. Jonathan Snowden says:

    How do you recommend the UFC go about building a “grass roots” movement?

    Also, this article is a logical minefield of inconsistencies and dart throwing. Did this bill fail because of “the unions,” lack of popular support, or the evil Ronda Rousey?

    • Chortles says:

      I thought that the answer was meant to be the lack of popular support, in that that’s why Zuffa lobbying is ineffective:

      1. There’s no negative consequences within NYS for Silver to oppose the legislation “because his constituents don’t have the will nor the desire to see such legislation get implemented in the first place” and as importantly,
      2. because the “male between the ages of 18-to-34 with questionable employment status” demographic is deemed unlikely to vote in the first place, much less for MMA legislation to be what decides a vote for or against Silver.

      The main critique I’d have with the article is that it doesn’t explain the unions’ role in this (specifically the accusations involving Station Casinos) to explain why the push AGAINST legalization is coming from; the lack of popular support merely explains the lack of local pushback. I suppose this one was written more for long-time readers who would already have been aware of Arnold’s past writing on the subject.

      Ronda Rousey’s just in the article as an example of the ineffectiveness of Zuffa’s attempted political use of her, so I don’t think that’s a fair criticism of the article.

    • Chortles says:

      Welp, to amend what I posted, Stephen Koepfer’s post linking to his article “NY MMA = Collateral Damage in UFC/Union War” DOES draw the connection re: unions, I thought that it was a good read.

      (Tangential, but: “I think if boxing came up today, we’d vote against that, too.” – one of the more interesting quotes I’ve seen from this, courtesy of NYS Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari, since Bob O’Reilly last I heard was against combat sports in general… and then when news about CTE keeps coming on out…)

    • edub says:

      His opinion is clearly represented that Union ties, and lack of popular support is the reason.

    • The Gaijin says:

      What’s wrong Trollden? No one paying attention to you at your slideshow site or something?

    • Brian says:

      Ok, I have to ask, just to find out once and for all. Are you, or are you not, the man behind the MMACurmudgeon Twitter account that basically spends its entire time trolling MMA media members? I bring it up because, if you are the real Snowden, it kind of calls into question these types of posts. It makes it seem like you just enjoy challenging other media members, just for the sake of irritating them and insulting them (which is done often on the above Twitter account). This isn’t accountability, or constructive criticism, but rather just insults and bile.

      Now, it might not be you who runs that Twitter account, but other MMA media members have heavily suggested it is you, and you HAVE written under the name of “MMA Curmudgeon” before (as seen here: http://is.gd/fVMwzz).

      Again, if you are the real Snowden, that is.

  2. Getting Zuffa (their top brass and PR wing, at least) to support the grass roots movement in NY will be a near impossible task. Not only have they resisted working with us, but they have attempted to sabotage us more than once. In the end, Zuffa is not helping us and as you say need to change their approach. But, I have come to believe that is a pipe dream.

    http://nymmanow.blogspot.com/2012/05/ny-mma-collateral-damage-in-ufcunion.html

    As an aside, the legal team they chose to spearhead their lawsuit was completely open and willing to work with us…and it showed in the final complain. Zuffa’s top brass should learn a lesson from this.

    • Steve4192 says:

      I’m confused.

      Last year at this time, you kept on telling us that UniteHere and the unions had nothing to do with the MMA bill not getting passed.

      http://nymmanow.blogspot.com/2011/05/zuffas-union-blues-and-new-york-mma.html

      Now you are telling us that the bill is collateral damage of the Fertitta-Union feud.

      What changed your mind?

      • Rob Maysey says:

        Agree with Steve–union or no union opposition, that does not explain that lack of support in the polling numbers.

        MMA’s failure in NY is not union caused.

      • If you go back an loot at my editorials over the past 2 years, yes, you will see a shift in opinion about the union role here. 2 years ago, the unions were barely mentioned by anyone, not a significant problem. If you were to ask anyone in Ablany about the union issue, they would have said it was a non-issue. Those same people are now quietly saying, yes it is a problem…but it is really a problem with a handfull of pols, not the majority of legislators as we have seen.

        Sadly, Zuffa (largely through their prior PR group, Global Strategy Group) decided to push the Fertitta/Union war as an issue in the “fight for NY MMA”, though it obviously has nothing to do with MMA in NY. In essence, Zuffa built it up as “the” issue with their large pulpit, a self fulfilling prophesy of sorts. Eventually, the unions did get more public and vicious in their attacks on the Fertittas via MMA and fired back hard.

        BUT, this is not to say that Unions have always been the significant problem (their resistance in NY was at one time token resistance). They have however become a problem for us. And that problems lies in the misconception in NY that UFC = MMA.

        Zuffa has worked very hard to market that image. That, in tandem with the Fertitta’s union issues, a few union friendly pols up in Albany (who were also in office and in favor of the ban 15 years ago when the union was not an issue), both parties willingness to use NY as a battleground, and a populace largely ignorant about what MMA is and is not has become a serious problem for us. It is a combination of problems.

        I will say this though, If the UFC did not have such baggage for the union to attack, we would not be having this debate. It takes two to tango and the mainstream media like to drop the blame on the Union and corrupt politicians. Of course they are in part to blame. But, they forget, don’t bother to research, or willfully ignore that The UFC brought this BS to NY, and when people think that the UFC is everything, that is a problem.

        This is why it is critical to educate not only the voters, but the mainstream media about what MMA is and is not. It is they who inform the non-fans after all. It is they who keep calling MMA “No-Holds-Barred” or “Bloodsport”, etc. It is they (and the MMA media) who trumpet the union problem and make NY MMA all about the UFC when it is not. Let’s face it, if the UFC’s lobby and marketing plan were a good one, we would also not be having this discussion.

        So, yes, the union is a problem, but the fact that it has become such a problem is symbolic of voter and legislator ignorance about the true nature of the sport of MMA.

  3. [...] at Fight Opinion, Zach Arnold brings up an important point about the latest Siena Poll on MMA and the seeming lack of support from New Yorkers …. I don’t care who you are, a consistent year-in, year-out 38% approval rate for any piece of [...]

  4. Zippy says:

    Blame the Democrats and unions all you want, this mess wouldn’t exist if a Republican governor didn’t sign the ban into law to begin with.

  5. sammy says:

    If you acknowledge its virtually impossible to convince the anti-MMA populace to support MMA, then what is the answer?

    I mean if we made a poll to see who supported other combat sports, I think we would see the same results. However, you should need support to do something that is perfectly legal. Thats like seeing if there is support for a porn industry.. No, of course there isnt widespread support among women, but does that mean it should be banned? The hurtle created by Pataki seems insurmountable.

    • The Gaijin says:

      I believe Zach is saying that the current “top down approach” of trying to attack this thing by going directly at the polls isn’t working, not that it will never work.

      Again, not to put words in Zach’s mouth – but I think he is proposing that they aren’t giving any impetus for the polls to pass it because they aren’t at the grassroots/constituent level getting them on their side based on the approval numbers. If, for instance, they went bottom-up, they may create traction and support from the fans/voters that will find its way up to the polls who would then support it if they saw that’s what their constituents wanted.

  6. Vadim says:

    Thanks for spitting real Zach, people really need to hear this kind of stuff. 10/10

  7. [...] how you try to present the poll data differently each time, the same two points I made up above are the points I’ve been hammering home about why Sheldon Silver has no political reason whatsoever to cave to pro-NY MMA legislation [...]

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