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IOWA, CITY, IOWA—A few weeks, I discussed Dana White’s UFC take over of Strikeforce and part of my thesis, namely, UFC take over of the MMA world is a business model that boxing need to imitate.
The main opposition to my thesis was that White monopoly did little for the fighters and the accusation that White was a jerk to his fighters. This may all be true that White does treat his fighters with disdain; something I don’t have first hand knowledge and certainly, Patrick Cassidy of 3morerounds.com observed that many top MMA fighters dollars don’t match their boxing counterparts.
Boxing is run as much as a medieval fiefdom as a sound sport business. With control run by various sanctioning bodies, no one could tell you who the champions are including the majority if not all of boxing writers who cover the sports. This point I made White runs a MMA organization, which is similar to a boxing sanctioning body. (The problem with this debate is that many boxing writers view White less than a CEO of a sport but a promoter who runs one aspect of the sport. A legitimate point but I view White as the CEO of sport who happens to be a promoter.)
White views UFC as the highest level of MMA’s and with Strikeforce out of the pictures, White now can assert control the MMA. Here is the crux of the issue. White views MMA as competing for entertainment dollars with other sports including boxing. It is not just about MMA bodies competing against each other but the sport competing for entertainment dollars.
When UFC have their big event PPV competing with a boxing PPV or a NBA evening game, they are trying to gain a piece of the entertainment dollars for that night. Every day, people have a choice how to spend their dollars. When Pacquaio fights Mosley, that event will compete with other events including Tennis, golf, baseball and basketball. So how does a sport fans determine how to spend their sport dollars? How does boxing increase its audience for a primary event against competition?
Boxing has to distinguish itself to get fans to spend their dollars including for less important events including for many local cards. (Check Boxrec.com and you will see the number of events not televised on any particular weekend.) There is no doubt that boxing has lost ground and one reason is that there is no central body to control promoters or properly rank boxers to ensure best possible matches.
Contrast how boxing is run compared to Tennis or Golf, two individual sports. Golf and Tennis have central bodies that negotiate TV contract, established rules and set up pay scales for participants. MMA is moving toward the Tennis and Golf models but MMA does have one major flaw. There are no organizations or promoters who look out for the fighters. Tennis players and golfers have agents plus the governing bodies also set rules for participants and in boxing, many promoters look out for the interest of the fighters, a point that Patrick Cassidy does make.
There are things that the MMA do get right and one is put together a single organization to be able better to compete for the entertainment dollars. Cassidy point that by acting in a dual role as manager and President of the chief operating officer for the chief MMA organization, Dana White is involved in a conflict of interest; representing his own interest and that of his sport. The problem is when the interests of White interfere with the better interest of the sports and whether this will eventually derail MMA. (White counter point is that his top stars do make six figures; a good income for participating in a major event. And MMA is a new sport compared to other sports like Professional football or boxing) While the top boxing stars will make seven figures, there are plenty of boxers who have to work a job to make ends meet. Grady Brewer, a winner of a Contender championship series, was working a factory job throughout most of his career despite occasionally showing up on television events.
While some promoters do a good job with their young stars, boxing has failed to established youth programs to develop future boxers. Tennis and Golf have programs to help with their future and reach out to their fan bases. They have established their own networks for the hard core fans while broadcasting some of the lesser events not covered by ESPN or other networks. Plus these networks tell the story of their athletes and detail its past.
Many promoters and sanctioning bodies do not always act in the best interest of the sport but their own financial interest. How many times have we seen HBO and Showtime actually have main events on the same night? Sorry, but that is not smart business. Period.
What boxing needs to understand, it competes for entertainment dollars with other sports and other form entertainment. It needs a new business model if it is grow again. It is that simple. Boxing pundits may hate MMA’s Dana White but he does understand the need to compete for dollars which is why MMA has grown. Boxing does not.