White fires back on business criticism
LAS VEGAS – In an impromptu question and answer session following the formal post-fight press conference for UFC 100 on Saturday, UFC president Dana White battled criticism over his promotion’s control of its product.
At issue were two stories that had recently made the Internet rounds in source-free blog posts; one, that the UFC had levied a $100,000 tax for the right to sponsor UFC fighters; two, that they had issued a stern warning to fighters who considered appearing in a new MMA video game made by industry leader EA.
White confirmed the second charge, namely, that he had told managers that if fighters wanted to fight for or continue fighting for the UFC, they should not sign on to the EA game.
“Sounds like me,” said White. “Sounds like something that I would say.”
The news prompted a fresh round of charges that the UFC was trampling on the little guy, re-routing money designated for fighters and sponsors to the promotion’s bank. By charging exorbitant sponsor fees, smaller companies could not compete, driving business to well-funded companies. That, in turn, could limit athletes’ ability to pad their purses with multiple sponsors. And by telling fighters they couldn’t participate on a video game, it would take away another potential revenue stream if they weren’t already fighting in the octagon.
White met the criticism head on, disputing the notion his company was trying to cut out competing interests.
“Since day one, we have tried to figure out how to make fighters more money, how to build the sport at the same time, and grow everything for everybody,” he said. “And everything that I come up with is not gonna be the best… not everybody is gonna go, ‘Oh, that’s a great idea, I love it. This is gonna work for everybody.’”
On the first charge, White said the promotion was well within its rights to restrict certain sponsors, but there was not a blanket $100,000 fee being instituted.
“That $100,000 number was one of the businesses,” he said. “Depends on how big or how small your business is and how much you pay. We are the most lenient sports organization on planet (expletive) earth. When was the last time you saw guys wearing whatever they want in the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, World Cup Soccer? Do guys wear whatever they want when they walk in? No they don’t.”
The policy had always been in effect, White continued.
“What we did is actually a good thing. The bottom line is, we could always say who can sponsor and who can’t. They send in their list of sponsors and we say, ‘nope, you can’t have them, you can’t have them, you can’t have them,’ either because of pay-per-view, Spike TV, or because they conflict with our sponsors. Always been the case.”
The contention over EA’s new video game appeared to be more of an issue of loyalty. White said his proclamation stemmed from the company’s unwillingness to work with the UFC in earlier negotiations.
“I went to EA Sports,” he said. “Know what EA Sports said? ‘It’s not a sport. This isn’t a sport. We would never get involved in something like this.’ We come out with a video game and now they want to come out with a video game? (Expletive) you.”
Making fighters choose between the game and the UFC was a casualty of the “war” he declared on EA.
“What we’re trying to do is, we’re doing deals with fighters,” he said. “The great thing about this business is, the UFC brand, plus stars, equals success for everybody. Now a fighter who fights in the UFC lives inside that brand forever. You can live inside that brand forever. So when we do a video game, you’re a guy in the video game for (expletive) ever. You stay in it forever and you can be a guy in there and you get paid off of that forever.
“If we can come up with some type of merchandise that people give a (expletive) and want to buy your shirt, you make a royalty off of that forever. The action figures, and this is my best line, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, when was the last time you saw him wrestle? In the ’80s. He’s still getting royalty checks off the dolls. He still gets royalty checks today. You think (boxer) Leon Spinks is getting royalty checks somewhere? He’s a janitor somewhere. I just saw a thing on him; he’s a janitor. That’s what we’re trying to not let happen to these guys.”
White said the rift over video games started with Randy Couture. Couture had made ancillary rights one of the chief points of contention between him and the UFC since 2001. It was front and center during his year-long resignation from the promotion, which ended last September. Months later, the first draft of the UFC’s video game agreement, which gave the promotion the rights to a fighter’s image and likeness in perpetuity, brought quiet outrage from many fighters and managers.
“I struck a deal with EA during my hiatus with the UFC,” Couture explained to MMAWeekly. “And it was an exclusive deal, so it was a point of contention when I came back to the UFC. Obviously, they wanted me to be in their game, and I had already done an exclusive deal with EA that, frankly, was a lot better deal for me. The ancillary rights are something I’ve been fighting for almost since Zuffa bought the company. It’s a major point of contention between us for a long time, so this was no different. Part of the negotiations in coming back to the UFC was that EA deal, and being allowed to do that.
“It was an exclusive deal with EA, and there wasn’t any room to negotiate. We negotiated a little bit for a while to maybe not do the exclusive deal, or lighten up the exclusive deal, EA was willing to work with the UFC and let me do their game, but they were going to have to make up the difference in compensation that I was getting from being exclusive with EA. That’s where things broke down. Then they obviously set a precedent: if they’re giving me compensation, and none of the other athletes are getting compensation, that creates a whole other issue, and a lot of problems for them. Ideally, they would have liked to have had me in their game, but it just didn’t work out.”
White confirmed Couture was the only fighter under exception to the new rule. He blamed the controversy on negative media spin.
“All these people that want to cry and bitch, EA Sports didn’t give a (expletive) about you and wouldn’t even touch this thing with a 10-foot pole,” he said. “We went out and made this whole thing happen. THQ basically put their entire business on the line. If this game didn’t work, they were in big trouble.”
White didn’t have exact figures, but expected “UFC 2009 Undisputed” to reach two million in sales. A second version of the game is currently in the works.