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Yahoo! and The UFC

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Look, Dave Doyle's a good guy. He does his best to run a mainstream MMA news department and overall I'd say they do a decent job. He's contacted me directly in the past and was always professional and courteous. I hope to reciprocate whenever the occasion arises, but that does not make them immune from criticism.

It turns out that the UFC and Yahoo! have teamed up to make the online company the official online distributor for UFC live PPV events. To wit:

"This relationship with Yahoo! is an important step for the UFC to build its global distribution platform for live pay-per-view events," said Dana White, UFC President. "We are looking forward to working with Yahoo! Sports to expand our reach and bring the sport of mixed martial arts to fight fans in every corner of the world in every possible language."


In 2007, Yahoo! and UFC began a relationship that would expand the availability of MMA news, information and entertainment coverage to reflect the explosive growth of the sport and the UFC brand. In October 2007, Yahoo! Sports launched a channel dedicated fully to MMA, offering fans access to live streaming of UFC pay-per-view weigh-ins, press conferences and a wide range of UFC video content. This media-rich channel includes original content from Yahoo! Sports writers Dave Meltzer, Kevin Iole and Dave Doyle, as well as additional contributions from other recognized MMA writers. This partnership is an important component of UFC's overall global expansion plans.

Emphasis mine. I have no doubts that Doyle will try to run the fairest news section that he can. He knows what to do and how to do it. That does not mean, however, that there won't be external pressure from the UFC for favorable coverage. Dana White and the UFC simply do not interact with media outlets they deem low-end or even remotely hostile to their product. Pro Elite, for all their massive shortcomings, at least adopts a policy where they leave open the door to criticism and critique. The UFC, by contrast, will only accept suggestions or the like on their terms: when they want to hear it and who they want to hear it from.

This is partly the media's own doing. By ignoring the UFC for years, White & Co. were forced to attract attention however they could get it to come their way. Now they have options, but instead of embracing the bloggers, Sherdoggers and other small outlets, they've decided to only credential those news sources with some sort of journalistic name. The problem is that most of the journalists from these outlets know next to nothing about MMA and are susceptible to buying into the UFC's manufactured narratives. They are able to tell the media how to view their fighters, events and more. Maybe over time as the media becomes more educated this will be less of a problem, but it's a huge issue now. The UFC may never admit it openly, but everyone who reads this blog knows that the entire writing staff here can write as well as any mainstream MMA journalist and are infinitely more knowledgeable about the sport at large.

I don't place Yahoo! in the same category as some of the awful writers at the Newark Star-Ledger, but what I would say is that the marriage between Yahoo! and the UFC is a little too close for comfort. You can make an argument that any mainstream newspaper's corporate overlords can wield the same kind of influence, but really the relationships are dramatically different. Aside from the place in society that the media holds as the Third Estate, the UFC and Yahoo! are partners but also separate entities. They work together for mutual benefit, so it goes without saying that both have incentive to keep the other satisfied as a partner under the terms laid out in their contractual agreement. To think that Dana White would even hesitate finding a way out of a partnership with Yahoo! were they to offer fair but consistent criticism of the UFC is fantasy. He'll bend a little because he has to, but he is partnering with them (beyond the fact that they have a tremendous online reach) because he already views it as a friendly platform and because he expects to see favorable coverage.

The UFC puts new articles on the front page of their website everyday that present what they do and what they're about in a positive light. Obviously you wouldn't expect the to put negative articles, but that's not the point. Part of what they are doing is driving the narrative of events and ideas in their favor. They are cultivating use of the term "ultimate fighting" and spreading pre-packaged talking points as incontrovertible truths so reporters in turn disseminate them. The UFC has been searching and hunting for credibility for years, so I sympathize with this position in part. But they are also deeply resentful of any criticism whether it's correct or helpful or worthless. They are incessantly trying to dictate the terms of any debate. This new entanglement with Yahoo! isn't evidence of nefarious aims, but it worries me just the same. It seems to me to be a business move first and foremost, and as a secondary benefit, back-end influence over the power and reach of one of the Internet's largest news sources.