Dana White: The People's Executive


Just over a week or so ago, Dana White was doing a PR appearance at a Dave and Buster's in San Diego to promote UFC on Versus 2.  In the midst of shaking hands and talking to fans, one fan approached Dana and told him that in his excitement to meet Dana, he got a $300 speeding ticket.  Upon hearing the news, Dana White opened his wallet and gave the fan $300 to pay off his ticket.

This is the kind of PR that money just can't buy.  No multi-million dollar ad campaign on radio or television could instill the kind of brand loyalty in the UFC that Dana created in this interaction.  Not only is that one fan a fan for life, so are all the fans that saw it happen, including the hundreds of thousands that saw it on Youtube.  While other executives hire advertising firms and spend six figures just to turn around their image, Dana achieves more on a regular basis just by directly engaging his consumers.

Among his executive peers, Dana White is no pariah.  If anything, his fellow executives admire what he's done, as evidenced by his rockstar-level reception at a CEO summit in Seattle.  He facilitated a miraculous turnaround of a dead industry, and simultaneously made himself more popular than the workers on the ground--in this case, the fighters.

In a lot of ways, Dana White is the quintessential new age CEO.  He directly engages his customers, channels their emotions, and turns those emotions into revenue by making customers feel like UFC shareholders.  Instead of shaking their heads in shame when Dana goes off on swearing tangents at press conferences, media members should try to grasp what he's doing and why he's doing it.

When Dana White went nuts after UFC 112, he wasn't just venting for himself.  He was expressing the feelings of hundreds of thousands of angry people that were considering avoiding future UFC purchases after feeling ripped off. In the process of venting, Dana made sure that angry fans would hold the disgraceful effort against Anderson Silva, not against the UFC.  Crisis averted.

No man is without flaws, and that brings us to the story about Dana's gambling habit.  Personally, I could not possibly care less about what people do with the money they've earned on their own time.  For all I care, Dana can pile his money up and burn it in an attempt to set the world record for largest pile of money ever burnt.  That being said, allowing a reporter to observe it was a crass PR mistake that the UFC should seek to avoid in the future.  It's one thing for Dana to give big tips and show off his hard-earned wealth, it's another to publicly brag that you can only relax by gambling amounts of money away in one night that most fighters will not earn in their entire career.

There are those in the industry that believe that Dana's attitude will eventually come back to bite him.  They think it's only a matter of time before Lorenzo pushes Dana out and hires someone more polished to be the face of the UFC.  People with this view are engaging in delusional wishful thinking, because Dana White is not going anywhere, and he's not going to change.  For better or for worse, the tone of media coverage is moving towards White's style, not away from it, and I suspect that in 20 years we'll be listening to other sports executives that sound a lot like the Dana White of today.

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