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If UFC lobbying for NY MMA legislation on economic & safety grounds is futile, what’s left to lobby?

By Zach Arnold | June 22, 2011

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Update: NY lawmakers OK Niagara Falls tightrope walk

A tale of two markets, with Toronto media discussing the financial impact of UFC 129 at the Sky Dome (Rogers Centre) for the Ontario region while legislation for MMA in the state of New York stalls like a flooded car engine.

(New York isn’t only the trouble-making market right now for the UFC. We’ll discuss Vancouver’s issues at the end of this post.)

Justin Klein, who has his ear to the ground in regards to what is happening in New York politics for Mixed Martial Arts, reported yesterday that efforts for MMA legislation in 2011 were finished. Read his article for the quote that Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s deputy, Herman Farrell, had to say about MMA. When the #1 and #2 power brokers in the New York state Assembly are against legalizing MMA, you can see how troublesome this is for the UFC in their lobbying efforts.

Justin made an appearance on Josh Gross’ ESPN radio show to discuss the fallout from the MMA bill stalling in the New York state Assembly. There are other major political bills stalling in New York as well, including a bill regarding legalizing same-sex marriage. As Justin put it, the MMA bill in terms of importance compared to gay marriage & rent control bills, is “really a pimple on an elephant’s ass.”

Despite the bill stalling in the Assembly, have UFC’s lobbyists made a positive impact on advancing the chances of the legislation getting passed in the future?

“I think that this year additional media attention, you know, some mainstream outlets were covering it a little bit more. You also had this Coalition (to Legalize MMA in NY) and you also, again, had some people up in Albany pushing a little harder that raises the awareness about the issue. But the unfortunate thing about New York politics is that unless you can get the leaders of the majority conference and, you know, in this case it’s as high as it goes, the Assembly Speaker Silver & his #2 basically Herman Farrell, unless you can get them to sort of let it go, we have a real problem here. I do think increased media exposure helps but at the same time I think it was last week that Siena put out another poll where, you know, 55% of New Yorkers were opposed to legalizing Mixed Martial Arts and I get into a number of reasons why I think the poll was skewed, but I don’t think that helps. So, you know, I think that you just have to make this issue bigger and bigger and keep pushing it. But, ultimately, I think education is key. The fact that Herman Farrell made that, you know, unfortunate statement about sticks and metal balls with spikes, I think it’s naive but I think there’s a positive there if you look at it at 10,000 feet because it shows he probably really doesn’t understand how much safety, you know, the safety aspects of the sport have changed and how highly and heavily regulated the sport would be. Certainly, as it became legal, the New York State Athletic Commission would be in charge with the regulatory process. So, in leaves at least some room in my mind for a chance to educate these people more and there it turns to the lobbyists and lobbying effort. Hopefully they can get in front of these influential people because I do think the votes are there to pass this thing, I just think it’s a matter of getting it to the floor and educating them more about the sport and everything that’s involved on the medical testing side and things of that nature.”

So far, the efforts to get MMA passed on the grounds of creating a positive social & cultural impact for the state have failed miserably. Now, what about the economic argument that Dana White and the lobbyists for the UFC have been trying to push? Money talks, BS walks, right? Well, not if the money is small in comparison to the state’s budget deficit. $23M in potential revenue versus a $9B deficit? “Those numbers are really not that compelling,” Mr. Klein stated.

“In terms of the positives, they’re really the only ones as far as I know that are spending money in any sort of lobbying effort and I think that, look at this year, I mean I think this year alone I mean I do think the Coalition (to Legalize MMA in NY) helped, I do think, you know, having Assemblyman Dean Murray up there certainly up there helped, but you know the votes are getting stronger. It was 42-18 it passed the Senate this year and, you know, last year I don’t have the exact number, maybe it was 32-26, you know, it was much closer and it passed that of the Tourism committee overwhelmingly and it passed out of the Codes committee. So, I do think they are having an effect up there.

“I think that in my view the one thing and I still hold this opinion, I don’t think focusing on money is really the answer because it doesn’t get you that far. It sets you up for the opposition like (Bob) Reilly to say, ‘well, if it’s about money, then there’s a lot of things we can legalize that I don’t agree with’ and things like that and also, it’s not a lot of money. $23M USD seems like a lot to me, certainly, you know, and to you and to other individual people but to a state that’s running a $9B USD deficit, it’s not that much money. So, I’d like there to be more focus on the education, you know, I’d like to see them use some of that money to put on a day up in Albany with people like Nick Lembo from the State ACB in New Jersey who’s been following this sport and on the forefront of making this a safe sport, get them up there. Get Dr. Sherry Wulkan up there, the chief ringside physician in New Jersey who’s also a New Yorker, get her up there talking about the medical stuff and the things she’s seen. I mean, I do think there is room for that, getting the right people up there and maybe you’ll get someone like Herman Farrell to come along and actually come to a table and listen to a doctor from New York talk about the work she’s doing in New Jersey and her knowledge of the medical requirements, how stringent the testing is, and her view of the safety of the sport. Or get a good neurosurgeon, you know, there is one Hopkins study out there. Continue to do research, continue to push medical research. I think all of that stuff will help.

“But I firmly believe education is key. I know people like to throw numbers around and it’s really easy for legislators to throw numbers around because that’s what they want to hear, but I do think if you can make this out in people’s mind as a sport that’s a lot safer, significantly vastly different than what it was in the 90s and highly regulated & safe, I think it become less of an issue of ‘this sport is still human cockfighting’ or whatever they choose to call it at this point. So, I think there can be more of an effort there in promoting the educational aspect of it and, you know, I’m certainly happy to help as best as I can in that regard and I tried to do that. I went up to Albany and met with some legislators and talked about the sport in my view and my view of what the New York State Athletic Commission will do once it’s legalized in terms of regulating it, you know, they’re a great athletic commission we have in New York state, highly qualified.”

It’s now been established that the cultural, safety, & economic arguments that the lobbyists are making aren’t working to sway the political leaders who are keeping the bills tabled to prevent a vote from happening in the Assembly. During his ESPN radio interview, Mr. Klein brought up a perfect example of what is happening in New York thanks to the vacuum created by the state not legalizing MMA: underground MMA fights.

“These underground fights are happening, any way. And, look, two guys could be fighting in vastly different weight classes. If you get concussed one day, you could be fighting the next day and it’s happening any way. So, while legalizing [MMA], you know, [underground fights] could still go on, some of it is going to come above board because you’re not going to have this incentive for these promoters who are running these underground shows to continue to do it, you know, outside the reach and view of law enforcement and the athletic commissions.

“I’ve talked to Nick Lembo about this, New Jersey has a policy, they don’t want fighters coming into the state who fight in these unregulated bouts. They spend their time and their effort and their resources, you know, trying to keep track of what’s going on in New York to make sure they’re not letting people come into the state who are at risk.”

Throughout the interview and after the interview, Josh kept saying that something bigger is at play in regards to why the Assembly leaders keep tabling the MMA legislation and preventing a vote from occurring. He doesn’t believe that it’s necessarily union power that’s at the heart of this. So, what’s the motive? Again, if you believe that UFC’s lobbyists have failed to persuade Sheldon Silver & Herman Farrell in regards to cultural/social, safety, & economic reasons, then what angle is there left to lobby?

Credit should be given to Eddie Goldman for coming up with two big motives as to why Silver & Farrell (and Reilly & co.) are not enthusiastic about allowing a vote for MMA legislation. First, look at who owns UFC and who largely controls the sport. It’s Zuffa, it’s the Fertittas, it’s a casino family. You can’t expect that to play well in New York politics. It’s one thing if the Fertittas were a player in MMA, but they are the dominant player in the sport. It sounds like a silly nuance, but for the older New York politicians you can’t deny that there’s something at play here in regards to the Fertittas being involved here. Second, the current MMA legislation does not address The Ali Act in regards to contracts. Would the legislation be allowed to the Assembly floor for a vote if the bill applied the Ali Act standards to MMA contracts? Perhaps it would. However, is that a risk that Zuffa would be willing to take?

I truly think that there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical that the state Assembly leadership will allow any sort of MMA legislation to go to the floor for a vote in the years to come. This seems destined to be a quagmire with no sort of definitive ending in sight.

Kind of like Vancouver politics and the media’s treatment of the UFC there. Last week, we talked about the Vancouver riots of 1994 & 2011 on the site and anyone with half a brain could figure out that politicians & media types would try to somehow blame the UFC for the riots happening. Of course, there is absolutely no connection, whatsoever. Remember when there was a hate crime after the first UFC event and there was an attempt to blame the UFC for producing such a rowdy crowd? Before the second Vancouver event, there were demands for UFC to pay for extra police protection. Of course, there wasn’t a riot after the UFC 131 event.

So, time to cue up the blame game in British Columbia as far as who or what is to blame for the Vancouver 2011 riot. Guess who’s getting the blame?

What is so fascinating about the commentary & articles is that the politicians & media want to lump hockey & MMA together as the culprits for the destruction of civilization. Hockey fans online, in return, are denouncing the criticism but then turning fire against MMA and MMA fans online. I understand why hockey fans are defensive, but it’s a strange & curious tactic to use to try to influence people on your side to play the blame game and point towards the MMA fans as somehow being the culprit for the riots.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of common sense on display these days.

Topics: Canada, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 20 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

20 Responses to “If UFC lobbying for NY MMA legislation on economic & safety grounds is futile, what’s left to lobby?”

  1. jim genia says:

    If and when New York regulates MMA, the underground fight scene will shrivel and die. Why? Because with a plethora of pro and amateur outlets for fighters and fans to get their fix, there will be no need for it.

    Take New Jersey for example. Back in the day, the only MMA show New Jersey had to offer was BAMA FightNight, which was an unsanctioned event run by Dan Miragliotta. The Serra brothers got their start there, a lot of fighters got their starts there. There were quite of few of these events that were huge – like, 2,000 cheering people crammed into a middle school gymnasium huge. And when the New Jersey commission put the kibosh on them, you know what illicit promotion rushed in to fill the void? Nothing. No one did, because New Jersey began having pro MMA shows and later on, amateur MMA shows.

    Now, there are zero unsanctioned underground shows in New Jersey. There is absolutely no need for them.

    Conversely, there’s a strong underground fight scene in New York because there’s a need for it. And once New York sanctions MMA, it will disappear just like it did across the Hudson.

    As an aside, I speak to the promoter of NYC’s Underground Combat League quite often (Peter Storm is his name), and he says he can’t wait for New York to regulate MMA so he can go legit. There is no real money to be made in doing shows unless the shows are legit.

  2. Keith Harris says:

    Good post, Zach. Justin Klein echoes a lot of the thoughts I had for why the Fertittas and the Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York were playing a losing hand. It’s better analysis than just throwing your hands up in the air and being offended at how “retarded” the whole situation is.

    Regarding the Vancouver riot, I’m always constantly amazed at how every time something like this happens nowadays that people start harping on about the decline of civilisation as we know it. Oh, for the days of yesteryear when riots at wrestling events happened on a regular basis throughout North America.

  3. Dave Ditch says:

    More to the point about ‘rage’ and the end of civilization: crime has plunged over the last 20 years in the US. I doubt very much that things are *worse* in Canada.

    But you still hear people talk about how you can’t trust anyone, or how it’s dangerous for kids ‘in times like these’, that sort of garbage. Such a lack of perspective.

    Meanwhile, Herman Farrell is a perfect example of what’s wrong with NY.

  4. The Gaijin says:

    Zach – no coverage on the Strikeforce HWGP ratings? While it’s probably a somewhat moot point, I thought it was interesting that given all the intervening factors (e.g. Fedor losing, long delays – although that’s probably attributable to the sale, seemingly very little promotion) the GP seems to have kept up its steam.

    While it didn’t draw the peak or average numbers from the Fedor-centered card (as much as people don’t like to admit it, the guy clearly was/is a fighter that draws more interest than almost anyone in mma outside of Zuffa), it was the 2nd highest rating for Showtime/Strikeforce and has kept up the momentum they’ve seemingly had in 2011. I will be interested to see if it carries over to the 2nd round given the generally poor reviews the card received.

    At this point I think you could say that the HWGP was certainly successful in garnering mma fans interest.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      I think it showed that the HYPE of the tournament brought in viewers. But I’m no so certain that the delivery of the fights are going to keep them. Only time will tell.

      But I’m not sure all any of that matters. The UFC will probably ask for more money then Strikeforce was getting, and it all comes down to if Showtime wants to pay more.

      Just like the NBC/Versus potential deal…. Since they both have less viewership then SpikeTV…. They only make sense if the major Network (NBC or CBS) is behind them and they can get like 6 or so shows a year on primetime.

      At least that’s my opinion on the long term picture of all of this.

    • nottheface says:

      This is what I find interesting: of the 5 cards held by 2011, all of which were held after the GP was announced
      – the two GP events have been the two highest rated Showtime MMA events in its history (out of some 50 total MMA events)
      – 4 of the top 5 cards in Showtime history have been this year.
      – Even the lowest rated of the 2011 events still comes in at #8 on the list of all time ratings.

      I think we can now declare, even with all its problems, that the Grand Prix has been a big success.

      • edub says:

        A success yes.

        A big success, maybe.

        There has been an increase in SF viewership, but there has also an increase in MMA programming in all types of media this year (just like the year before). Is it wrong to say the trend of mma viewership as a whole could have provided the increase in SF programming without the GP ever taking place? (Just playing a little devil’s advocate here)

        IMO the SF GP was a “success” after Zuffa bought out the company. They were obviously looking to sell the entire time, and I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say the SF GP was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” (in terms of Zuffa’s interest in the company). They got what they wanted, and it came from putting on an event that rivaled interest usually reserved for UFC shows. Big success.

  5. 45 Huddle says:

    The fact that a gay marriage bill is having a hard time passing in the overly gay friendly and liberal north east state is about the only indicator a person needs to understand how difficult the political process is in NY. Gay Marriage should be a slam dunk for that state and it’s still not.

    Both Gay Marriage and MMA will both be legalized in the state over the next 5 years. But what a mess it is.

    On a side note, I never understood why straight conservatives always cared so much about how gay people can live their lives. Never made sense to me…..

    • Chuck says:

      “On a side note, I never understood why straight conservatives always cared so much about how gay people can live their lives. Never made sense to me…..”

      Two reasons. One, many conservatives are big into the Bible, and the Bible says ill of homosexuality. And two, many VOTERS who are conservative are against gay marriage, so there. It’s definitely more the latter than the former. Why did Congress finally get it right with ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Because most people (even gay-hating conservatives) agreed with ending DADT, so it got voted out (the biggest shock was North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr voting in favor of ending DADT. HUGE shocker. He’s as anti-gay as it gets. Well, maybe that’s not quite true anymore, but you get my point).

      Eight Senators voted in favor of ending DADT. That is basically three or four more than what was expected (Everyone knew Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Mark Kirk, Scott Brown, and Lisa Murkowski were going to vote on ending gay marriage. But George Voinovich, John Ensign, and Richard Burr shockingly voted to end DADT).

  6. jack says:

    Overly gay friendly and liberal north east state?

    What exactly makes someone overly gay-friendly? Or overly liberal?

    • 45 Huddle says:

      1) Gay marriage is legal in 5 states and DC. Of those 5 states, 4 of them are in the North East…. CT, MA, VT, & NH. So the north east is absolutely more gay friendly then the rest of the country.

      2) And just look at the voting paterns of the north east for the liberal part…

      3) I live in the North East, and I’ve seen gay couples making out at concert venues and nobody could care less. And this wasn’t a lady gaga concert (sorry for the stereotype). I’ve been to events in the south, and I saw a gay couple that had one partner with his hand over his partners chair, nothing more…. And the hateful things said at this couple by multiple parties was outrageous.

      In general, the “gay issue” isn’t an issue in this part of the country. I almost never hear conservatives up here complain about it. It’s just that politics in NY are so out of control that this stuff happens.

      It’s no shock that NY also is where Weiner comes from. They elected Clinton who wasn’t even really a New Yorker. And don’t forget NYC Mayor Bloomberg said that he will remove any funding to any Republican Politican who opposes the bill.

      The MMA Media talks about the MMA issue in NY like it’s just something against MMA. This is just NY politics every second of every day. It’s a complete mess. They create issues out of things that are not….

      • Steve4192 says:

        New York is not one homogeneous blob of humanity. While NYC runs very liberal, the northern part of the state can be downright conservative.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Almost 60% of New York residents (state not city) support gay marriage in the state. So as one big blob, the state is for it.

          Gay Marriage is a much bigger issue then the UFC…. But their problems are almost identical. Too much playing of the political game. That’s all this is….

        • Chuck says:

          My home state of Pennsylvania has a number of about 63% in favor of equal gay rights (a slight majority of them are in favor of civil unions though, not outright gay marriage) and even PA can be very conservative. Much of upstate NY can be quite conservative. Maybe not so much socially, but definitely fiscally.

          There was recently a special election for a House seat (NY’s 26th district), and Democrat Kathy Hochul won. it was the first time on about 60 or so years that a Democrat won the 26th district. Her, the Republican (Jane Corwin), and the Tea Party candidate (Jack Davis) are ALL pro-choice. So some can be fiscally conservative, and socially liberal (or at the very least socially moderate). Liberal and conservative are way too cut-and-dry terms.

      • jack says:

        So youre saying that the reason MMA isnt passing is the same reason that gay marriage isnt passing? Hmmm…I’m not sure I see the connection.

        I think in reality there are a lot of different reasons why the bill didnt even come to a vote. For one, this bill and the issue of legalizing MMA in general is probably the least important thing that the Assembly could have voted on. Dont get me wrong I’m a lifelong NYC resident and the biggest fight fan you’ll ever meet, but especially in these times, there are much more pressing matters facing the state (and city) than MMA legalization. Personally, I consider it an important issue, but thats because I’m selfish and pretty much all I wanna do is watch fights. But compared to the various other proposed legislation, this is relatively unimportant. Even I can see that. In addition, the Assembly leader has stated his personal distaste for the sport and that he doesnt think there is widespread support for it. And then there’s the anti-MMA forces (Bob Reilly, the unions lobby, anti-gambling people, anti ex-mafia family people).

        Now are those the same reasons that gay marriage isnt passing? I’m not so sure.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          It doesn’t matter if it’s an extremely important issues like gay marriage…. Or a trivial (in the scope of life) issue like MMA being regulated.

          New York politics just screw up everything and makes debates out of things that should not be. It’s corruption and problems are only 2nd to the Federal Government.

  7. mr. roadblock says:

    People that don’t live or haven’t lived in NY can never truly understand it. That place is an absolute hole of corruption and BS.

    Best thing I ever did in my life was getting out of there. It’s over regulated and people are constantly up in your s***.

    I’m glad MMA isn’t legal in NY. They’re missing out on millions in revenue per year and it serves Albany right. There’s an old saying that you can’t fix stupid. New York is driving the best and the brightest out of the state. While creating an underclass through bad policy and legislation. Then turning that group into slaves dependent on a system so that the system can grow and grow and ultimately you have two choices work for the state or a giant corporation. That or go on the dole and be part of the underclass which works out about as well as being low level in a corporation anyway.

  8. jack says:

    “New York is driving the best and the brightest out of the state.”

    Hahhaha. Ummm, no.

    Where are they moving?? To wherever you ran off to? I dont think so. NYC still is still the destination of many of the worlds best and brightest minds. Thats not gonna change.

    I’m not saying its perfect, but its still the capital of the world, in every respect. The political system is fucked up, but politics is just a fucked up game, wherever you go in the world.

  9. Chuck says:

    It’s official. New York is now the sixth state (seventh overall territory) in the United States that allows gay marriage. It passed the NY senate by votes of 33-29, including many Republicans voting in favor. It will go into effect 30 days after governor Andrew Cuomo signs it (he will probably sign it immediately).

    And unlike in California, it is there to stay. How the state goes, it can’t go into an immediate vote amongst the populace, it will have to go through some long and drawn-out procedural hearings. Fat chance any of that will happen.

  10. […] 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 […]


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