New York State is one of the few states that still bars Mixed Martial Arts competition left in the United States. Over the past few years it has become a battleground between Zuffa (the UFC) and State Assemblymen Bob Reilly and Sheldon Silver. Both men are opposed to MMA (for a variety of reasons) and have worked to keep it prohibited in the state. Zuffa, on the other hand, has tried one basic strategy -- throw money at the situation. Bill King of the Sports Business Journal describes some of the aspects of their fiduciary fisticuffs
.So begins the latest installment in a push that began late in 2007, when UFC parent company Zuffa paid a well-connected upstate New York firm a $10,000 retainer to lobby on its behalf. Since then it has spent more than $1.5 million on lobbying and public relations campaigns in the state. It also has contributed $165,000 to election campaigns.
The tab for lobbying in New York last year eclipsed $500,000, based on public filings and interviews with UFC executives. Zuffa also contributed $130,000 to political campaigns, including $36,800 to incoming Gov. Andrew Cuomo, $34,000 to Democratic campaign committees, $10,000 to Republican campaign committees and $1,000 to $3,800 to a dozen different influential state senators and assembly members. Zuffa spent $530,000 lobbying in New York in 2009 and $595,000 there in 2008.
Zuffa has been lining the pockets of various politicians as well as paying a lobbying firm to assist them. That isn't the only financial incentive they have been using. Part of their argument stems their belief that the legalization of MMA will bring extra dollars into the New York economy. It has been shown that when Zuffa comes to town, there is an increased in revenue for that city.
However, as I have stated many times in the past, this is the wrong approach. Assemblyman Reilly appeared on Inside MMA and rebuffed this argument in a segment that sent many MMA fans into a tizzy. He rightfully explained that using money as a reason for legalizing something opens you up to a slippery slope. One could make similar arguments for prostitution and dog-fighting. Instead of focusing on his point (which was valid), people went apoplectic over Reilly comparing MMA to prostitution (which he wasn't).
UFC spent about $75,000 lobbying in Indiana in the 18 months leading up to the passage of legislation there in 2009, according to filings in that state. It spent $216,736 in Wisconsin, where lobbyists logged 366 hours with government officials on its behalf leading up to the law's passage last year. To get a bill passed in South Carolina in 2009, UFC spent $46,550 on lobbyists and contributed $4,250 to campaigns, giving $1,000 each to the chair of the committee where the bill originated, the chair of the subcommittee that reported favorably on it, the senate president and the senate majority leader.
While getting your "Pacman" Jones in a strip club on maybe have worked in smaller states, it's not the ideal strategy for a state like New York. I've always been a champion of Education and Public Relation (I've also suggested altering the presentation slightly in the UFC, but I'm extremely doubtful that will happen). Educate the population about the sport, let them know that it is no more dangerous than football or boxing. Throw money at research centers to fund studies on the "dangers" of MMA and use these findings to counteract the preconceived notions held by a majority of the uneducated public. Educate them on history and how MMA has been going on, in one form or another, since pankration.
There was an MMA Expo in NYC that most MMA fans didn't hear about. If the UFC had participated in that and helped promote it, it could've done bigger numbers than it did. Or, since the UFC doesn't like to share the headline, I've suggested in the past that they have their own event. A UFC Expo in New York City with grappling exhibitions and basically the same thing they had in Vegas and Boston, but just in NYC and not tied to a PPV. And while people are packed in, hand out some material with the names of the local politicians and tell the fans to contact them.
Now, that's not to say that the UFC hasn't been trying to get the fans involved.
Lobbying is the top-down piece of the UFC's legislative equation. There's also a piece that works from the bottom up. Since 2008, Zuffa has employed Global Strategy Group to design and manage a campaign to mobilize MMA fans to push for legislation. Zuffa paid Global $35,000 a month in 2008 and the first half of 2009, and $22,500 a month since then to build a grassroots campaign and drum up conversation online and in the media. The website it created and manages is packed with information that argues for sanctioning. It also offers easy ways for fans to e-mail legislators and craft letters to their local newspapers.
Now, I don't know exactly what that means by grassroots and "drum up conversation online and in the media" (I have my theories), but has anyone seen this website "packed with information"? If it exists, why isn't it promoted on UFC broadcasts?
So why the history and lesson on political machinations? Because the UFC has set up a press conference for Thursday, January 13 in New York City to announce their plan to bring MMA to Madison Square Garden and to also "release a new economic impact study" detailing "the economic benefits of regulating MMA in New York State". Yes, you guessed it, the "we bring money" argument. Also coincidentally, UFC 128 tickets go on sale in Newark, NJ just miles away. Well, you know that is no coincidence. Expect the rhetoric "look at the money Jersey is making" or "you don't want to have to go to Jersey to see MMA, do ya?" as well as Frankie Edgar talking about how as a Jersey boy, he always dreamed of fighting in Madison Square Garden.
While this is a new twist, it still essentially boils down to the same strategy of money which hasn't worked in the past few years. Perhaps the UFC should consult with Greg Jackson and see if he can cook up a better gameplan.