By Zach Arnold | September 10, 2016
All of the latest political trends represent a real roadblock in amending the Ali Act to cover MMA. If there is to be action on this front, the timing to make it happen needs to happen during the lame duck session of Congress from November 2016 ~ January 2017.
Let’s start from the top and work our way to the bottom.
Trump & Hillary will not be naturally inclined to support amending the Ali Act
If Trump wins the election, the political power of Dana White and Vince McMahon grows. They’re tight with Trump. He speaks their language. They know his language. Not only are they his friends, they’re entertainment bosses in ventures he has great personal interest in.
If Hillary wins the election, it gets more complicated but also more negative for the forces advocating change. The new owner of UFC is Ari Emanuel, brother to forever Clinton-fixer Rahm Emanuel. The Clinton Machine sticks together, especially when there’s a lot of money changing hands. It would not be surprising to see Rahm Emanuel leave Chicago and head back to DC under a Hillary Clinton administration. Additionally, there isn’t a national vocal outcry on a mass scale to amend the Ali Act for MMA. Politicians are not going to spend their political capital on this front.
The UFC will spend money to kill this attempt to amend the Ali Act
UFC has reportedly spent $100,000 in lobbying efforts to stop House Resolution 5365. Given UFC’s brutal lobbying experience in Albany, the company understands that DC lobbyists will play the game and ask for more money in order to stop momentum that may or may not exist.
The threat posed to UFC has nothing to do with giving athletic commissions more power. It has everything to do with giving fighters a private right of action to file a lawsuit in Federal court to get out of an adhesive contract. That alone is worth millions of dollars to UFC. Our initial estimate for UFC lobbying efforts in New York was $7 million dollars.
If UFC is going to spend $7 million dollars lobbying in a state like New York, it means they will spend that kind of money lobbying for business interests involving athletic commissions.
For two major reasons, athletic commissions don’t want an Ali Act for MMA
Without UFC events coming to states like California or Nevada, it means lost revenue. Boxing is still king but Al Haymon’s business model has brought a lot of uncertainty as to what the financial model for boxing will be in the future.
UFC has power because they are a promoter that runs big events. However, standard promoter power is not the reason athletic commissions want to keep in the UFC in their good graces. There are two significant reasons why athletic commissions do not want to see the Ali Act amended for MMA.
First, the major source of UFC’s political power involves their efforts in lobbying state capitals across America. They have top lobbying firms, like Platinum Advisors in Sacramento, on retainer. The minute something needs to get done on behalf of Andy Foster of the California State Athletic Commission or the powers-that-be at the Florida Boxing Commission, UFC writes the check to their lobbyists to get things done.
This is the undercovered story of the new century regarding the rise in UFC’s power. Bob Arum, Oscar De La Hoya, Richard Schaefer, and Al Haymon do not play the lobbying game. Much to their own detriment, they have sacrificed building political power because they are cheap. UFC had to hire powerful lobbyists in order to build political influence and build their business model. That pro-active approach has now put UFC in a political position that boxing stakeholders cannot obtain overnight.
UFC is the power broker for the Andy Fosters and Bob Bennetts of the world. Without UFC, they don’t have job security and stability. Without UFC’s lobbyists, these athletic commission bosses wouldn’t possess the ability to promote and enact their agenda. Self-preservation matters. If UFC doesn’t want the Ali Act amended for MMA, then the commission bosses better get on board if they want gainful employment — especially after they retire from athletic commission work and want a job with UFC.
A terrible but useful analogy: Look at the athletic commission bosses as combat sports versions of Bashar al-Assad and look at UFC as Vladimir Putin.
Russia has every interest in keeping Assad in power for their business interests. The Russian Navy is in Tartus. In return, Assad wants the Russian fleets to help him in military matters in order to keep his political power in Damascus. This kind of symbiotic relationship is exactly the kind of business and political relationship UFC maintains with the major athletic commission bosses.
Second, athletic commission bosses do not want to see the Ali Act amended to cover MMA because they don’t possess the legal backgrounds to make sound decisions when contract & arbitration disputes land on their desk.
The minute there is a contract dispute, athletic commission bosses call the state’s Attorney General’s office. The AG’s office immediately starts racking up the billable hours and what should be a simple task ends up in a costly fight. California recently attempted to shift the costs of arbitration hearings onto the participants involved. Nevada has recently used commissioner Pat Lundvall, a licensed attorney, to help in contractual disputes involving Nevada fighters and promoters.
In short, the bosses appointed to run athletic commissions do not possess the knowledge or confidence to make the right legal decisions. In California, the commission has the right to appoint independent legal counsel separate from the Department of Consumer Affairs or the AG’s office. Andy Foster has chosen not to go down this path.
For politicians in state capitals who grossly interfere in commission matters for little rhyme or reason, having non-state agency attorneys who possess legal knowledge as executive directors on a athletic commission is considered a dangerous thing and immediately makes such individuals a target for getting axed. See: New York.
Conclusion: Without financial assistance from the UFC, athletic commission bosses fear instability and lack of job security because of UFC’s willing to spend money on lobbyists to keep the current political system in place. The same athletic commission bosses fear that expanding the Ali Act would bust their budgets in legal disputes. The UFC fears that an expanded Ali Act would weaken the strength of their contracts. The major politicians have individual reasons as to why they would naturally be inclined to reject amending the Ali Act for MMA. The clock is ticking.