White confident as MMA legalization pushes forward in New York
The Ultimate Fighting Championship announced Tuesday it will run two major events a year in New York and Buffalo, along with smaller events in other municipalities if and when the state government legalizes Mixed Martial Arts.
“We’re here to talk about our commitment to New York. Not just the city but the State of New York. Not only will we be doing fight here — obviously big pay per view events in Madison Square Garden — we’re also talking about doing fights in Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse,” said UFC President Dana White in a mid-afternoon press conference at the Garden’s Club Bar and Grill to introduce a new feasibility study about MMA’s economic benefits to New York City and New York State. The press conference was also attended by UFC Owner Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar, President of Madison Square Garden Sports Scot O’Neil and Suffolk County Assemblyman Dean Murray (R).
UFC hired HR&A advisors to commission the study. It reported that MMA would generate $23 million annually for New York State and create 212 jobs. $16 million would be created from UFC events at Madison Square Garden and Buffalo’s HSBC Arena. The remaining $7 million would be produced by smaller MMA events. It went on to suggest that suggest that MSG and HSBC Arena would total a combined $6.7 million in ticket sales. Finally, the study stated that New York and Buffalo would earn $16 million in economic activity. Included in economic activity is local spending and lodging.
MMA is legalized 44 states and seven of the eight Canadian provinces. Along with New York, legislation is pending in West Virginia and Connecticut, although the Native American Tribal lands at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods have legalized MMA. Vermont does not have pending legislation, while Alaska and Wyoming do not have athletic commissions. The lone Canadian provincial that MMA is not legalized is Saskatchewan, which does not have an athletic commission. Ontario announced in August that it would legalize MMA. UFC responded quickly by naming the Rogers Centre the host arena for the UFC 129 pay-per-view on April 30.
“The process is the same everywhere we go. Over the last 10 years it’s been an education process. There were a lot of misconceptions about this sport when we brought the company. Our job over the last 10 years has been to crush those misconceptions and to educate people on who (the fighters) really are and what the sport is all about,” White said when asked to describe the legalization process in Ontario and how it compares to that of New York. “We got Ontario done and I’m confident that we’re going to get New York done.”
The last UFC pay-per-view event to be held in the Tri-State Area was last March’s UFC 111 pay-per-view. White said the event “sold 17,000 tickets and did a $4 million gate,” before adding “30 percent of those ticket sales were bought by New Yorkers.”
Those are numbers that would be attractive to any major sports venue executive.
“We can’t wait for this to be sanctioned here. We are anxiously awaiting this to happen. We think Madison Square Garden, the World’s Most Famous Arena, is no better place to host the world’s fastest growing sport,” O’Neil said. “We’d be proud to host it. We’re excited to host it. We look forward to it.
“UFC is the pre-eminent organization. They are the dominant force in the sport. We believe they should and will be the first MMA event in Madison Square Garden.”
Throughout the press conference, White repeatedly spoke of “educating” the opposition. White was optimistic that the educational progression has been successful and that legalization will happen soon.
“I honestly think it’s happening. Look who is represented here today and all the people we’ve talked to. From Madison Square Garden to politicians and the list goes on and on. Was New York tougher than every other place? Absolutely. But I feel like we’re right there.”
Amongst those that have battled UFC in the legalization process is Saratoga County Assemblyman Bob Reilly. Reilly has led the opposition because he believes the sport is too violent and has been critical of the Fertitta Brothers and White. Murray admitted that he and Reilly “haven’t spoken about this particular issue but I have a funny feeling we will be speaking.”
One person who already has been contacted is Governor Andrew Cuomo. Former Governor Patterson was in favor of legalizing MMA, so much so that he had included it in his initial budget proposal last year. Neither White nor Murray would bite when asked if they had any idea of the Governor’s stance.
“He hasn’t been in (office) long enough. He has a lot of issues to deal with right now. We’ll see how this whole thing plays out,” said White. Murray revealed that he asked Governor Cuomo to include MMA in his budget. “We’re going to wait and see if it’s included in the budget. If it is not, I’m hoping we’ll bring it to the floor for a vote,” Murray said. “I’m not going to speak for the Governor. I did have a conversation with him and he seems open. As I said, we sent a letter and talked to him personally and requested that he include this in his budget proposal. We’re taking a wait-and-see approach but I have to say I’m optimistic.”
O’Neil attempted to avoid answering questions about the political fight, but when pressed said, “if invited to go to Albany, would we talk? Sure. Yes.” O’Neil followed up by stating that he and The Garden have not been asked to talk to the state government.
White reported that tickets went on sale yesterday for UFC 128 in Newark. That pay per view is headlined by Rashad Evans vs. Mauricio Rua for the Light Heavyweight Championship. The event takes place March 19, 2011.