Madison Square Garden: MMA's Unsung Hero


The New York Times finally takes notice:

Radio City Music Hall, which the Garden operates, will host a news conference on Wednesday for the Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view card on Saturday in Newark. The fights, to be contested at the sold-out Prudential Center, will be shown on a big screen at Radio City.

The Garden also has a co-promotional deal with Bellator Fighting Championships, a smaller mixed martial arts organization based in Chicago, to have fights at a Garden-owned theater in Chicago and a theater in Boston.

As revenue for some leagues and teams has fallen during the economic downturn, crowds for mixed martial arts have continued to grow. Saturday’s U.F.C. event will take in at least $4 million in ticket sales.

Lorraine A. Cortés-Vázquez, New York’s secretary of state, favored the legalization and regulation of mixed martial arts in an op-ed article she wrote for The Times Union of Albany. She cited its potential economic benefits, among other issues.

Gov. David A. Paterson included a proposal to legalize the sport as a way to raise money in his budget proposal in December. But when Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch presented a five-year financial rescue plan this month, he did not mention any specific programs.

The U.F.C. is hoping the economic potential of events in New York will keep mixed martial arts as a part of the state’s revenue plans.

We have people who fly in from all around the world to our events," said Dana White, the president of the U.F.C. "That is a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of merchandise." And this week, a lot of hoopla in New York for a sport that is prohibited there.

Neil did not see any contradiction in promoting an event for another arena.

"We have had press conferences for lots of events that did not take place here," he said.

Neil denied that the Garden was trying to make a point by showing how much revenue a fight could generate if it were in Manhattan.

I can tell you I know for a fact the team at MSG have spoken with other MMA organizations to launch other MMA endeavors. Whether those make it off the ground at this juncture is hard to know. First the regulatory climate has to change, then we'll see how matters progress.

The strength of this ally, however, cannot be understated. We aren't just talking about a notable venue; we are also talking about "a fully-integrated sports, entertainment and media business comprised of dynamic and powerful brands", that being Madison Square Garden, LP. This is a company firmly ingrained into both the larger sports and entertainment establishment. They are deeply, deeply connected in the New York market in terms of strategic alliances, public relations networks and access to power players in virtually every facet of professional sports. They even have their own local television network that carries sports. To have them be as enthusiastic and proactive about making MMA a priority on their turf and in their company as they have thus far should make every MMA fan take notice.

As for the venue itself, there's more than just "history" there. There's logistical flexibility and opportunity. MSG also has an expo center that could serve as a the site of a future UFC Fan Expo. Given the strength of the Northeast grappling scene (NAGA is huge there) as well as the rabid fanbase on the Eastern seaboard, MSG could serve as fertile soil for a UFC event/expo. There's also a huge theater on premises (I saw Chris Rock there in 2004 when I lived in New York) that seats thousands. In addition to Radio City Music Hall, this could be converted into an overflow room at a UFC fight. And all of this is accessible by subway or cabs.

The key takeaway is this: once the floodgates of legalization break open, the possibilities of what we can see in the New York market extend beyond the hosting of fights in a venue of historical significance. As laudatory as that may be, that's only the beginning. We are talking about key power players firmly entrenched in the media capital of the world with resources, connections and huge interest in MMA aligning themselves with all of the right MMA actors.

New York, New York: where dreams are made.

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