By Zach Arnold | September 10, 2014
Dana White spent the week of UFC 177 in Sacramento telling the press that he wasn’t upset about GQ Magazine naming him a sleazebag for not paying his fighters enough money. The mask came off during the Fox Sports 1 prelims broadcast when he went after GQ & Dave Meltzer. I’m sure Dave Meltzer & Wade Keller had visions of Vince McMahon media relations circa 1991 in their heads all over again.
When it comes to handling any sort of media challenge or criticism, UFC melts down. Whether it’s issues relating to fighter pay, anabolic steroid usage, or domestic violence, the UFC never has a consistent or coherent message. I’m sure they have access to some fine public relation specialists but it’s hard to craft a message for individuals like Dana White who are impulsive and lack the kind of discipline & responsibility required to be taken seriously on a big stage.
Does Dana still think media was too rough on him during Macau ref/UFC 177 pre-fight WK? Also which media person will Goodell bash in 3 days?
— Steve Cofield (@stevecofield) September 9, 2014
Roger Goodell may survive the firestorm right now over the way the NFL has handled the Ray Rice domestic violence situation, but the damage has been done long-term. When you are paid $44 million USD a year to make billions of dollars for owners like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, you are a target. You’re an even bigger target when you view yourself as judge, jury, and executioner for determining punishment against athletes for various transgressions.
For as much money as Roger Goodell makes each year as NFL Commissioner, he’s not making Floyd Mayweather money. ESPN Radio host Mike Greenberg on Tuesday morning asked why the public at large is not upset with all of Mayweather’s alleged incidents of domestic violence against multiple women and yet everyone is up in arms over Ray Rice because they saw an actual video tape of the knockout punch.
Considering the current climate, it’s interesting to see an ESPN press release promoting their coverage of Floyd Mayweather’s next fight.
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) September 9, 2014
When Mayweather was asked to comment on the new punishment levied against Ray Rice over the latest TMZ video tape release, the boxer stated that the new punishment was too harsh because the evidence in the case hadn’t really have changed. When he was asked to elaborate about the accusations made against him in the past & present regarding domestic violence, Mayweather’s defense essentially can be summed up by the following: hey, there’s no video tape, no bumps, no bruises, so where’s the evidence?
Floyd’s a lucky man that ESPN has given him such favorable media coverage. The same thing can be said about Dana White. ESPN has bent over backwards to be pro-UFC in order to try to gravy train off that 18-to-34 year old male demographic.
In the TMZ world that we live in, you can cooperate with Harvey Levin’s outlet or you can be the target. Ask Justin Bieber. The UFC has been relatively smart in how they’ve dealt with outlets like TMZ, using TMZ to promote the upcoming all-female season of The Ultimate Fighter by having the fighters say they will only date men who are tougher than them. It’s exactly the kind of thing you would expect to hear from the UFC marketing playbook when it comes to marketing female fighters and female fights. It is always the UFC’s mantra to try to market female fighters, starting with the Ronda Rousey experiment, based on what UFC management thinks will appeal to the tastes of their 80% male bro-dude demographic rather than promoting the women based on who they are and what they really represent. Call it the stereotypical “WNBA phobia” if you will: a fear that if they market female fights as-is that they will only attract young girls, lesbians, and trench coat perverts.
The end result is the kind of advertising we’ve seen on Fox Sports 1 for the all-female edition of The Ultimate Fighter which will start airing tonight at 10 PM EST. The marketing mentality behind everything the UFC does in terms of in-your-face testosterone, tattooed, overly-tanned fighters has its limits. The UFC should be counting their lucky stars that they are able to make the money they are able to do right now without having to endure the kind of scrutiny that someone like Roger Goodell is currently facing.
Splashy press outlets like TMZ Sports and those who are anti-MMA are waiting to pounce on the UFC if a current, big-name fighter gets arrested and convicted for domestic violence. When that happens, that is when we really find out just how loyal all of the UFC’s current business partners are. If modern history is any sort of indicator as to how UFC will be able to handle such a crisis, then UFC is in a lot of trouble. This is a company that cannot even admit to canceling a show (Staples Center in Los Angeles) and instead spent television time framing it as a “postponement”… to Brazil.
This is the downside of playing hardball with the press and picking your favorites. You may get the press coverage you want, but you’re artificially capping yourself in terms of how much mainstream press you can attract when you really need the media’s help in promoting a super fight. And when a real scandal hits and you have very few defenders in the press? Look out. The UFC has a terrible track record of trying to control & manage a narrative when it comes to hyping a fight. Imagine how much trouble they will have managing a real crisis involving a top name that is currently active & making them money.
I was interviewed by a major media outlet that is writing an article about the UFC, the all-female Ultimate Fighter, and issues relating to domestic violence involving fighters in the Mixed Martial Arts scene. Of all the issues that can cause serious damage to UFC’s growth, it’s domestic violence. They need to increase their female viewership significantly. The NFL touts that 50% of their current audience is female. The UFC would be fortunate to get 40% of their audience as female.
The NFL is as popular as ever and the UFC will remain as it currently stands for marketing appeal given their heavily male demographic. However, things can change over time when a narrative builds and becomes ingrained with the masses. The UFC has several issues on the table that, when packaged into one long story, can cause real public relations harm. Everyone is watching their moves now that they are partnered with Fox Sports. Their television ratings may be declining but the media spotlight is not.
If Roger Goodell can get exposed the way he has this past week, Lorenzo Fertitta & Dana White better start taking notes on what lessons they need to learn in how to manage a crisis situation involving domestic violence. If there’s any sport that is tailor made for mainstream sports media outlets to link to violence, it’s Mixed Martial Arts.