The Ultimate Fighting Championship has come under fire recently to more ardently police its fighters when it comes to their public behavior. A Wednesday article by advertising trade publication Advertising Age (Ad Age) says that Anheuser-Busch, one of the UFC’s primary sponsors, has now joined the chorus.
“We've communicated to the UFC our displeasure with certain remarks made by some of its fighters, and they have promised to address this. If the incidents continue, we will act,” Anheuser-Busch reportedly said in a statement run in the Ad Age piece. The brewer continued, “(Anheuser-Busch) embraces diversity and does not condone insensitive and derogatory comments rooted in ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, etc.”
Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Lite brand is heavily integrated in UFC promotions, from TV broadcasts to marketing materials to promotional contests.
“With over 425 athletes on our roster there have unfortunately been instances where a couple athletes have made insensitive or inappropriate comments,” the UFC said in a statement to MMAWeekly.com. “We don't condone this behavior, and in no way is it reflective of the company or its values.”
The UFC has also been under attack by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which has started a website logging what it deems as objectionable comments or actions by the UFC or those associated with it. The website even includes a logo presumably mocking the Bud Light sponsorship, identifying the brand as “Blood Light.”
UFC president Dana White has often explained that he believes the Culinary Union’s attacks on the UFC – which includes pressure to block mixed martial arts sanctioning in New York – have to do with his partners, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, and their ownership of Station Casinos.
“My partners, the Fertittas, own a company called Station Casinos, it's the fourth largest gaming company in the country. They're non-union,” White explained on a recent episode of The Mark Levin Show. “So the union, the Culinary Union in Las Vegas, has been using their pull in New York to keep us out of there. It really has nothing to do with mixed martial arts. It has to do with culinary business in Vegas.”
Ad Age also cited a letter that the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence wrote to the New York legislature in January of this year, which urged the state not to sanction mixed martial arts, targeting the UFC in particular.
“The UFC, the largest promoter of cage fighting events in the U.S., has failed to demonstrate that it is willing to ensure its fighters behave in a socially responsible way, even as the company expressly markets its fights and fighters to children,” read a portion of the letter.
“We believe that the UFC contributes to a culture of violence against women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.”
The UFC didn’t specifically address the Culinary Union’s lobbying against the promotion or the letter from the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, but did answer Anheuser-Busch’s concerns, particularly in regards to its fighters public interaction.
“As an organization, we are progressive in social media and unlike most other sports leagues, we encourage our athletes to engage online. It is part of our company culture and whenever you are at the forefront of a trend or initiative, it comes with its own pitfalls,” read the UFC statement to MMAWeekly.com.
The UFC appears unwilling to back down from its strategy of utilizing social media, but it is taking action.
“We will continue to embrace social media while looking for better ways to stay in front of the issues. This includes a mandate for our athletes to attend sensitivity training and a seminar on proper use of social media.”
Such action, if effective, will likely quell the likes of Anheuser-Busch, but the Culinary Union is about much more than how the UFC and its fighters interact with the public, at least if White is to be believed. Aside from the union's efforts in New York, it has also made waves in California, trying to use its political influence to pass a measure that would make it less beneficial for promotions like the UFC to operate in California.
“Do you know what’s going on in Sacramento, right now?” White told reporters in California on Tuesday, according to the Orange Country Register. “They are trying to pass this bill to raise our taxes and do a bunch of crazy (expletive) to us. If that thing passes we won’t do anymore fights in California. All kinds of crazy (expletive) they’re trying to throw in this bill for MMA. You know who’s doing it? The Culinary Union from Las Vegas. These guys got a bunch of lobbyists together to try to pass this bill against MMA.”
As the UFC continues to edge more and more into the mainstream, particularly with its expanded broadcasting reach under its current TV deal with the Fox family of networks, more and more of this type of scrutiny and pressure is likely to come.