Locally (and by that I mean Washington, DC), it's hard to argue there's a sports blogger more influential than Dan Steinberg. In addition to having a wide readership strictly in volume, all of the key sports business players and thought leaders in the city regularly read his Washington Post DC Sports Bog. Admittedly, I didn't realize this until I began working at 106.7 The Fan, but it's all too apparent now.
I met Steinberg at UFC Fight Night 20 and wanted to follow up with him personally to learn more about how someone who sits in two worlds - traditional sports establishment and online sports blogging (although he writes full length articles as well) - views the buregeoning sport of MMA. Some of what he said I expected. Some of it I was surprised to hear. Among other topics, we talked about:
1. How MMA is viewed by the traditional sports media.
2. Why MMA fans should be cautious of being perceived similarly to hockey fans.
3. Impressions of the MMA demographic.
4. How MMA coverage develops within traditional media outlets.
5. His impressions of UFC Fight Night 20 and MMA fighting itself.
And then this one, which keys in on a fact I've probably been harping on far too long:
Luke Thomas: Your impressions of Dana White. Obviously a very successful guy at what he's done. Overall, what kind of sense do you get about him?
Dan Steinberg: Yeah, he's successful and he's smart. He definitely knows how to play the media game, which I appreciate. I don't know the history...I think it's a little bit weird how one man, how much his personality is vital to the sport. I always find it weird when he's actually quoted in stories about upcoming matches just because he has such a vested interest in everything. It just feels like he can't possibly be a neutral observer when he talks about fights that his organization is promoting.
I've always felt a little bit uncomfortable about seeing him quoted so extensively. I would like to see more sort of independent trusted voices. And this is maybe not the best example, but if you're writing these stories about college football games and there's just this whole army of analysts - college football analysts - from whatever television stations, from ESPN who you can quote as somewhat neutral observers. And obviously they have a interest in propping up the games they're covering, too, but not quite like Dana who is so financially invested in it.
But as a guy to talk to he's personable, and he's interesting and he's quotable and he's smart. I've got nothing bad to say about him.
Be sure to note: this is not a criticism of White. It's a critique on the media, MMA-based or otherwise, who seek out answers from a man who, given the nature of his position, can't give you helpful analysis insofar as independence is concerned. If reporters ask White to comment, why shouldn't he? Not his fault and he's smart to take advantage of the opportunity. However, it does illustrate that the current press corps seems either unaware or unconcerned they are asking White for information that almost requires him to answer in a manner in keeping with his deep, deep financial interest.
That highlights something I've been discussing for quite some time. Namely, this notion that White is both "honest" and just a promoter all at once. I've heard that what's refreshing about White is his desire to speak his mind. This generally is issued when he makes a point his fans or fans of his organization like. Conversely, if he makes a patently absurd statement, the same supporters remind us he's merely a promoter and just trying to leverage his answer for maximum benefit. Well, which is it? Is he a candid person who tells the honest truth as he sees it or is he distorting what he actually knows to be true for personal benefit? At some point his honesty and personal benefit will intersect, but that's generally going to be few and far between. White's unique position in the sport makes him an interesting source on all things MMA, but to Steinberg's point, I'd prefer if White were asked less about how he views dubiously valuable cards like UFC 108, where he will use any angle or point to boost it's visibility and marketability.
Anyway, listen to the whole interview. Steinberg's a very bright guy with a lot to offer on the topic of MMA. If you want a look into the mind of someone in powerful traditional media about how MMA is viewed, where it's headed and why, I suspect you'll enjoy his thoughts.