UFC Advertiser Backlash Story Marred By Factual Errors And Axe Grinding

Jon Jones displays his patience at the press conference for UFC 145. Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.

In the world of advertising, maintaining a carefully crafted image is the single most important thing in the business. In recent news, the UFC has been warned by Bud Light that certain fighters have crossed the borders between acceptably edgy and offensive too many times for Bud Light to feel comfortable with the UFC's image.

Now, the advertising and finance-specific magazine Business Insider has decided to springboard off the Bud Light/UFC relationship by scaring current and future mixed martial arts advertisers and consumers by purportedly listing the "unprofessional conduct" of the UFC and its fighters.

The article, written by Jim Edwards at Business Insider, pushes a group of incidents in the past of the UFC together with the controversial Brandon Saling issue front and center to create a condemnation of the Zuffa-run organization and the sport of mixed martial arts itself. Edwards writes:

[The open statement Bud Light delivered to the UFC] is almost unheard of in sports sponsorship, where advertiser displeasure is usually delivered to media partners behind closed doors.

It came after UFC president Dana White used the word "faggot" in a video; presenter Joe Rogan used the C-word to refer to a female blogger; and one fighter, Brandon C. Saling, was allowed to compete in a UFC-affiliated event, according to Big Lead Sports, even though he is a convicted sex offender who wears Nazi tattoos. The picture above is Saling's police mugshot, taken after he was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl.

The UFC is an extreme case. While the sport can't be expected to be a bastion of Edwardian manners, it is not until you see a collection of the kinds of things said by UFC pros that you realize just how unprofessional the organization is. What follows is a slideshow of incidents in which offensive language and behavior is used in the UFC. We don't publish it to be sensational-although we're not against that either. We do so because parents ought to know what their kids are watching.

Related Link: Tim Burke's notes on the Bud Light/UFC relationship

To refresh the common memory, Brandon Saling is the convicted sex offender with the tattoos that are linked to white supremacy beliefs who fought in Zuffa-owned Strikeforce for one bout. Saling took the fight against Roger Bowling on short notice and lied on his fight license application to cover up his prior convictions for felony sexual assault of a minor and for domestic violence. His license to fight in MMA has been revoked and it is extremely unlikely that he will ever fight again in a commission-regulated MMA event. Saling is a regrettable example of how fighters can manage to slide by the appropriate legal barriers against such individuals ever gaining a license to fight, much less appear on a national level MMA show. He has been dealt with and the fan outcry was targeted more at his own deplorable beliefs and actions than at Strikeforce or its advertisers.

There is no doubt that UFC employees have said and done things that are not at all acceptable in today's world. However, what Jim Edwards actually writes about is not a true and comprehensive expose of those things. What he actually writes is a sideswipe that bashes the UFC, Strikeforce, the fighters and the sport itself in the name of formenting outrage among a very specific crowd.

"What follows is a slideshow of incidents in which offensive language and behavior is used in the UFC. We don't publish it to be sensational-although we're not against that either. We do so because parents ought to know what their kids are watching."

This is an article that puts together a cherry-picked selection of incidents clustered together for page hits by outraged moms and dads. This is not at all a true damning of the sport of mixed martial arts, the UFC or anything of the kind. Edwards wrote this article with the full intent of making worried parents out there even more irrational and concerned about boogeymen that do not exist or are wildly exaggerated in their actual significance. Unfortunately, these are the same types of marketing segments that advertisers want their products to be presented to in a nice, wholesome, athletically edgy light.

This is a scare-mongering column that should not work in an ideal world. For better or worse, we do live in this world and this column is going to unsettle the advertisers connected with Zuffa and by extension the larger world of MMA. All it takes for the advertisers to decline to renew the valuable contracts is the hint of scandal.

Somehow the occasionally stupid or impolite actions or words of two or three of 400+ athletes under contract combined with Brandon Saling lying his supremacist/felon patootie off creates that distinctly odiferous, anti-advertisers whiff. The inoffensive, funny, smart or even admirable actions of the other 400+ Zuffa employees somehow cannot cover up or drown out this whiff.

It is too bad there there isn't anyone covering these issues in depth or explaining their actual context and significance? Oh wait - that's what we do here at Bloody Elbow - and what they don't do at Business Insider. Corral your rage and show these concerned parents around you that MMA can be enjoyed safely, smartly and without connection with the detritus of the world like Brandon Saling. Only then can the advertisers relax and continue to fund this sport we love so much.

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