No One in MMA Makes 50 Most Influential in Sports Business List

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I won't say it's routine, but I often hear more than I'm comfortable with the idea that what Dana White and the Fertittas accomplished with the UFC sports property "will be taught in business schools" for some time. Honestly, it's very difficult to think of a more hardcore delusion than this. One has to sit down and really try desperately to ignore the history of far more influential financial success stories or block out the magnitude of other financial (sporting or otherwise) properties to make a claim this outrageously off the mark. And one has to invent reasons to make it so, as if the understanding of business or finance was somehow made more complete with the turn around of a failing fight company. The accomplishments of Dana White and the Fertittas are, in fact, tremendous, but relative to the size of other ventures or success stories both current and historic, the Zuffa undertaking is impressive if small. Take note MBA students: your textbooks won't have any Zuffa addenda added to them any time soon.

But White and the Fertittas can't be ignored either. They operate a reported billion dollar business in a sport with still plenty of growth curve that's rapidly expanding its domestic and international partnerships with media, sponsors and other important stakeholders. And as is widely known, they did it from a two million dollar deficit in a hostile business and regulatory climate. That's nothing to sneeze at. So, why, then did neither Dana White nor Lorenzo Fertitta make the list of the Sports Business Journal's 50 most influential players in sports business?

Take a look at the list and take a look at the breakdown of what roles these entrants occupy. Some are team owners, some are sports media, some are "agency types" and some are in marketing and advertising. All, however, have nothing to do with combat sports. Notably, no one in European or American boxing made the list either. I wonder if this is less a snub of MMA and more a wake-up call about the magnitude or image of combat sports within the larger sporting community.

My personal sense of matters is that there are a variety of factors why White and Fertitta, despite their impressive accomplishments and despite moving financial figures that rival or surpass the efforts of the bottom ten on the list, are excluded. Chief among them: they are involved in a closed-off sports property. The MMA world is at once surging and aloof. And remember, White is the same CEO who said the UFC didn't need Coke, Coke needed them. That depends how one defines "needs". Coke is deeply embedded in a larger sporting community with access to dollars and demographics that trounce anything MMA has ever produced. If there is access to something the UFC offers that Coke can't get elsewhere, I've yet to see what that is.

The growing internationalism of MMA and the UFC does help raise and open the UFC's profile, but generally speaking, the MMA world isn't fully integrated into the larger sporting conversation. The Sports Business Journal, sports executives and other opinion leaders in this market tend to view matters through a prism of acknowledging the biggest financial or impact players (Nike, International Olympic Committee, NFL) and then the orbiting satellites around them. The UFC, while an impressive well-run machine, either by design or by accident hasn't moved into the space where the orbiting or central players have welcomed its arrival or mutually partnered with them for any end. They've reached partnerships with some key players, e.g. Anheiser-Busch, but that has not translated into entry of the community of sports property players of significance.

Does this list truly matter? Should the UFC change what it does to accommodate editors at the Sports Business Journal? Probably not and probably not. This list isn't going to shave off PPV buys for UFC 108 or force the UFC to change their practices. And a reasonable case can be made for either White or Fertitta to be included on this list. But their absence shouldn't produce a call from MMA fans that there is media bias. Instead, it should be the acknowledgement that despite the tremendous success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and despite how well they've secured their financial success in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, many of the acknowledged movers and shakers of sports business operate in a world almost completely independent of them. Perfect integration into that community seems absurd and pointless, but so does perfect absence. There must be some reasonable middle ground.

Just like Dana White says, we're barely scratching the surface of this thing. There are miles to go before we sleep.

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