An Open Letter to Dana White on MMA in New York
Dear Dana White,
I'm writing you this letter to discuss an issue that affects people at every level of the mixed martial arts industry: the sanctioning of the sport in the state of New York. Specifically, I'd like to call to your attention some concerns that I and other MMA supporters in the state have with Global Strategy Group, the public affairs and research firm that Zuffa has hired to represent their interests on the sanctioning issue.
I've written this communication as an open letter rather than a private one for two reasons. First, I feel that while you and other members of Zuffa have the greatest interest in knowing what an independent contractor under your employ has been doing, the information contained in this letter is important for everyone to know if MMA is to succeed in the Empire State in 2012. Second, I understand that you are one of the busiest men in the industry and the only way this letter will seem important enough to be worth reading is if the MMA community at large agrees that it is important, before hand.
Also, the reason why this letter is addressed to you rather than Marc Ratner, whose work more directly handles matters of sanctioning, is because of some of the public statements you've made recently regarding the sanctioning process.
You once told me, on the record, after a press conference that you don't follow New York politics too closely but that the UFC has hired all the right people and that they know what they are doing. While delegating work to specialists makes perfect sense, it means that you have been answering questions from the media about New York based on information provided by Global Strategy Group. This information ranges from misleading to outright lies and is costing New York MMA valuable potential allies for next year.
The recent storyline being pushed out of Global Strategy's offices is that the reason MMA is not currently sanctioned in New York is not because of its faulty methods to campaign for it, but because of resistance from Unite Here and its affiliate Local 226 Culinary Union. This statement is not only patently false, but repeating it hurts the cause.
Unite Here stopped spending money lobbying against the sanctioning of MMA back in 2008, surmising that the effort was having no effect on its feud with Station Casinos. The infamous anti-UFC memo sent to the New York State Senate this year that Global Strategy is citing as their evidence of union troubles was not meant to block the sanctioning of MMA and wasn't even sent by Unite Here.
The memo sent to the Senate was from Josh Gold of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council. Gold openly admits that while his organization shares some affiliates with Unite Here, the NYHMTC has no authority to speak on behalf of Unite Here or the Local 226. The reason why the memo opens with the enormous stretch of the truth that they are members of Unite Here was explained to me by a source close to the issue who asked to remain anonymous.
The memo was sent to the State Senate, where everyone knew the MMA sanctioning bill was already a done deal. Even the senders of the memo knew the real battle was going to be fought in the Assembly. Sending the memo to the place where it would have no effect was intentional.
People within organized labor on the east coast see the writing on the wall and know that MMA is going to be big business here, and that the UFC will always be the biggest of the lot. So, they misleadingly identified themselves as part of a group that is having it out with Station Casinos in Las Vegas just to get media attention. What organized labor really wants is to make sure the UFC is more union friendly than other Fertitta businesses for when it comes to their home town, and will use every opportunity to complain until they get their way. But, they also made their complaints in such a fashion that did not hurt the overall effort to sanction the sport.
Gold, the man whose name is on the memo, even went on record praising Zuffa for the expansion of fighter health care that was made official just after the memo went public. Gold's sudden warming up to Zuffa is consistent with the explanation I heard from my source.
Global Strategy Group was either fully aware of the nature of the memo or is less connected than a single reporter, like myself. Either way, the memo was first leaked to more famous reporter Ariel Helwani. And, since Helwani was at the UFC Summit and out of the state of New York when he first received the memo, he most likely got it from a member of Global Strategy Group. Also, the version that Helwani received and printed had Josh Gold's name conspicuously redacted.
I know Ariel Helwani. He's based only a few miles away from me. I can say with confidence that he would not leave out that information unless the source he got it from already left it out.
Global Strategy Group saw the opportunity to create a scape goat for their own failures in Unite Here, and they took it. Not only does making Unite Here the bad guys justify Global Strategy continually taking money from your company to work on MMA in New York, but it distracts from the real people blocking sanctioning. The actual bad guys for the sport are people that Global Strategy Group have gone out of their way to shield from any criticism.
Ways and Means Committee Chair Herman D. Farrell and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver this year, and every year, have had their hands on the kill switch for MMA, and no one is even allowed to mention them. This year in the Assembly, it was Farrell who refused to put the MMA bill on his committee schedule, even though it had more than enough support to pass. That's what led to the bill's death. Speaker Silver, the other person with the power to overturn the will of the people in such an underhanded manner, was probably going to do the same thing if Farrell didn't.
Yet, Global Strategy Group has made any public criticism of Silver or Farrell taboo. After a pro-MMA rally in front of Silver's Manhattan office last winter, one which Global Strategy Group played no part in and offered no help to, Global Strategy began sending communications and actively trying to sensor grass-roots MMA supporters from criticizing the speaker.
Sheldon Silver is a man who can make life very difficult for legislation in New York. And Global Strategy Group's choice to try and defend him was probably what they considered the best way to avoid his wrath. But, in doing so, they alienated local gym owners, fans, and voters who want to help. Playing nice with men like Silver and Farrell, rather than encouraging their constituency to demand action, has not worked.
Blaming the unions as a deflection, however, did cut off a strategy that could work.
The fact of the matter is, there are many factions of New York organized labor that are fans of MMA. Assembly Democrats are split on the topic of sanctioning the sport, but are virtually all pro-union. A single positive statement about MMA from a union leader, any union leader from New York, would be worth millions in lobbying dollars.
All the anti-union propaganda that Global Strategy is pushing is scaring away potential allies inside union organizations. I have personally tried to get some kind of statement of support for MMA from any union leader, and I'm not the only one. But now, both fans of the sport and people who see the potential for new jobs created by MMA events within organized labor have been intimidated into silence because the situation has become so combative against them.
I feel that Zuffa, and you, specifically, get a bad reputation in the media when issues like those I've described in this letter come up. I was very careful to place all the blame for mishandling information on Global Strategy Group, because all the evidence indicates to me that Global Strategy is the one at fault.
Zuffa has been the spearhead for all sanctioning efforts across the country and have gotten the job done in 45 states. The only mistake I feel was made was placing too much blind faith that Global Strategy Group knew exactly how to see it done in New York. That mistake is one that is easily fixed.
Place the blame for why MMA is not in New York where it belongs: on the heads of a small minority of politicians that are keeping an MMA sanctioning bill from the Assembly floor. The majority of the Assembly is in favor of the sport, and even the most vindictive and politically entrenched opponents will fold if local MMA supporters can be united and apply enough pressure to see MMA sanctioned. Get the right information out, make the grass-roots work together with the big show, and MMA will succeed in 2012.
I understand that this letter is rather lengthy. New York politics is complicated and I did the best I could to sum up. Hopefully this letter finds you well and will help in promoting our mutual interests, as well as the state of New York that can benefit so much from the sport.
Thank you very much for your time.
Mid-Atlantic Editor for US Combat Sports
Always a fan at heart