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Random Rant: UFC is well within its rights to counter-program Affliction

I have a confession to make, which is that I sometimes lurk on some of the more popular message forums out there just to see how people are reacting to certain things that are taking place in MMA.

I was especially curious to see what people were saying about the UFC’s decision to hastily put together a UFC Fight Night card to be televised live on Spike TV on July 19, directly opposite the Affliction: Banned pay-per-view that has been scheduled for that day for several months.

Most of the posts I’ve seen have been critical of the UFC and its President, Dana White, for going ahead trying to take the steam out of Affliction’s inaugural event. Some of the posts I have seen have contained a ton of angst, almost accusing White of being an MMA anti-Christ.

The UFC’s decision to run opposite Affliction is a low blow, but it’s not illegal. Furthermore, there’s no written or unwritten agreement that says promotions cannot hold cards on the same day of each other.

With that said, I actually think what the UFC is doing it’s smart business. Some people are claiming White is being a hypocrite because he’s said in the past that he welcomes competition but then does something like this. But I don’t see how he’s being a hypocrite? He said he welcomes the competition but has never said he was going to roll over for it.

Lest we forget that two recent UFC heavyweight champions, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, are set to appear the Affliction PPV. While Sylvia was released with one fight left on his contract, the specter of Affliction’s involvement of MMA no doubt hurt the UFC’s leverage at the negotiation table.

Whether the UFC wanted to keep Sylvia around at the right price is debatable, but I don’t think it’s even a question that the UFC did not want to lose Arlovski. Not to mention, if Affliction succeeds, they could potentially recruit and sign many other stars that the UFC had a hand in building.

Seriously, did the same people that are crying now about the UFC’s decision say they felt it was unfair when Affliction signed Arlovski out from under the UFC?

The July 19 UFC Fight Night is not good for the long-term growth of the sport, but it could be good for the long-term growth of the UFC. I can understand why purists do not like the move, but can’t we think logically for a second? White is not a paid good-will ambassador of MMA. He’s paid by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to run the UFC and ensure it remains the market leader in the sport. Would White be any good at his job if he willingly allowed his competition to overtake him?

I’m not going to sit here and try and tell you that UFC Fight Night 14 isn’t going to hurt Affliction: Banned. The fact is that I am convinced that the UFC card will have a serious adverse financial impact on Affliction’s PPV buyrate. Yes, Affliction has the better card. And yes, we live in the age of DVR and TiVo, so people can watch both, something that I anticipate many hardcore fans doing. But hardcore fans aren’t going to make or break Affliction. With the money it is spending, Affliction needs to breakthrough to the casual audience and convince them to order the PPV in droves in order to have any hope of breaking even.

The problem is, Affliction has done a poor job of marketing “Banned” to the masses. Look, they’ve put together an All-Star card, one so good that I have been thinking paying out of pocket so that I can see it live. They’ve also done a good job of holding press conferences in Los Angeles and New York and making the fighters accessible to the MMA media and hardcore MMA fans. And getting Donald Trump involved was a tremendous coup. But we’re running out of time here and I have not seen a major mainstream media push. Unless a big campaign starts soon, they will not be able to penetrate the casual MMA audience.

Now, even if they come up with an amazing mainstream marketing campaign, Affliction’s debut show is still going to have problems from a pure dollar and cents perspective. By holding a free show opposite Affliction’s PPV, the UFC is giving the casual MMA fan a strong alternative. You and I will be watching both, but if the typical casual fan gets the urge to watch MMA on July 19, chances are that with the economy the way it is, he or she will tune into Spike instead of shelling out $39.95 that they can instead use to fill up their gas tank.

The UFC’s decision to counter-program Affliction is bad for the sport. However, just because something is bad for the sport doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. Assuming it’s not violating anti-trust laws or using strong-arm tactics, the UFC has every right to run its business how it sees fit and to rip White to shreds for making a smart business decision is just plain “crazytalk.”

To the fans who see the MMA industry from the outside looking in, MMA is a sport. But what so many of us overlook is the fact that when it comes to those on the inside, MMA is not only a business, it is also their livelihood. Why shouldn’t the UFC try to protect that livelihood?

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