Dana White Couldn't Do It Alone

My comments about Lorenzo Fertitta yesterday were not well received to say the least. Let me elaborate a little bit and clarify what I meant when I said Lorenzo coming about "wasn't good for Dana." First off, I think its a great move for the UFC/Zuffa. Its a sign that the Fertittas see the UFC as a major part of their business empire, not just a hobby to be managed by their old high school buddy Dana White. And secondly, Dana might not be going anywhere. His old role as king of the UFC and American MMA in general might be unchanged. He always answered to the Fertittas, now he'll just more supervision and support from Lorenzo each and every day.

Here's something from Sam Caplan that says what I meant in a more nuanced way:

Some see it as a negative; that UFC president Dana White’s act has grown tired and Fertitta’s presence is imperative in order for the company to go to the next level.

Others view the announcement with a more positive spin; that the UFC is growing so much that White needs someone on the executive level who can assume some of his workload in order to ensure greater output.

I see today’s announcement as something in between.

Having someone like Lorenzo Fertitta involved on a day-to-day basis is huge for the future of the UFC. He’s been involved since 2001 as an owner and producer but now he’s in a position to make a much bigger impact.

But to say the primary motive for this decision is based on the growth of the company is not telling the whole story. While this isn’t a demotion for White and he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, Fertitta’s involvement still means that a great deal of White’s power has been usurped. Before this announcement, Dana was the most powerful man in MMA. Now, he’s number two.

To say this move was made because the UFC is growing so fast is a cop out. The UFC has been growing at a fast rate for quite time and we’re now only see this move made in light of EliteXC becoming the first promotion in MMA to land a primetime network television deal.

My feeling is that White has taken the company as far as he can take it. He’s been the key to the UFC’s growth for so many years but the stakes have changed with so many major media companies now paying attention to the sport. Corporate accountability is finally starting to be added to MMA’s lexicon.

And here's Adam Swift dropping some science:

Yesterday, for their part, the Fertittas emphatically expressed their opinion that the company's, and by proxy the sport's, brightest days are yet to come. However, the decision also expresses a simple calculus, for the company to fully maximize its potential, major changes have to be made.

Under Dana White's leadership the company has reached heights that could have scarcely been imagined by most when the Fertittas bought the company. However, it has became increasingly clear that the job of taking the company to the next level was simply overwhelming White.

Whether it was too much work, too little ability, or a combination of the two, it was clear that something would have to change if the company was going to reach the next level. Simply put: White could not, and perhaps no mere mortal could, transform the UFC into a mainstream, international sports and entertainment brand on his own.

Having said, or cut and pasted, all that, I want to be very clear that Dana White did a hell of a job to get the UFC to its current point. But MMA is in the big leagues now and its time for the big boys to take over.

I also wanted to feature this comment from SavageScience  to Rome's post from last night that elaborates a bit on a possible division of labor between Dana and Lorenzo:

Here’s something else to consider—while Lorenzo may or may not be an expert on getting TV deals, etc, he is an expert on mergers and acquisitions which allowed the Stations casino group to grow faster in the LV locals market. They’d wait until some moron mismanaged his casino (eg: the Texas Casino, now Texas Station) and swoop in and buy it below market value. This could mean that it makes a purchase of smaller MMA groups a more likely scenario, or even that he’s been brought in to sell Zuffa to a bigger media group.

My take, however, is that the guy has built a business from a dump on west Sahara called the ‘Bingo Palace’ to dominating the lucrative locals market and wants to do something different. Not that running the UFC is not a challenge, but after dealing with the constant headaches of the casino industry it is more of a ‘labor of love’. Word has been even before the Fertittas purchased the UFC that Frank was the guy who had more of an intrinsic love for the gaming industry.

I’m also of the opinion that this allows Zuffa to delegate the duties of running a billion dollar company to two people now, each working from their strength. Lorenzo will likely handle more of the duties typical of a ‘legit’ corporate exec while Dana will handle more of the things like media relations, directly overseeing the fighters and how the events are run, etc.

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