“Y’all f—ing with my money now, and I don’t like my money f—ed with.”
Those words were spoken by Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs in the criminally underrated Jon Favreau/Vince Vaughn buddy comedy Made. They may also reflect what UFC President Dana White is telling his roster after one of his main sponsors took him to task for sexist and homophobic comments made by fighters and UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan.
Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch, which controls UFC sponsor Bud Light, issued a statement containing the following:
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 is presumably referring to comments such as the ones listed by lobby group the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, which was among the organizations that has put pressure on the state of New York to uphold its ban on mixed martial arts. Those comments included many of the entries in the Quinton “Rampage” Jackson misogyny hall of fame; Rashad Evans telling Phil Davis “I’m going to put those hands on you worse than that dude did them other kids at Penn State” and Joe Rogan referring to Yahoo’s Maggie Hendricks by the c-word.
UFC responded with a statement that seemed to put most of the blame on the roster’s use of social media, as the statement included the following:
[U]nlike 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. 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.”
Zuffa takes pride in it’s testosterone-driven, in-your-face brashness as it’s the cornerstone of the attitude that has seen the company grow into the global juggernaut it is today. But while they can afford to anger the Maggie Hendricks’ of the world, the pull-out of a major sponsor would not only be a financial hit but a public relations nightmare.
Dana White likes to wax eloquent about joining the ranks of the “big four” of major league sports in North America. Indeed, the momentum continues to grow, the deal to be broadcast on the Fox network shows the level of mainstream acceptance is increasing.
But with increased mainstream attention comes increased scrutiny. Holding sparsely attended events in Casper, Wyoming allows you to fly under the radar and say pretty much whatever you like. Being placed under the glare of mainstream media (and yes, lobby groups) means the organization must conform to socially acceptable behaviour if they wish to prosper. So that means things like Dana using an anti-gay slur in a rant against Loretta Hunt or Rampage dry-humping female reporters have got to go. Or high-quality sponsors like Anheuser-Busch will be the ones heading out the door.
Which one would UFC miss more?