Let’s be clear here up front: I understand why Dana White and Zuffa would support legal action like SOPA & PIPA, and were I in their place I’d be concerned about piracy too. They have a company whose foundation is built upon their customers paying to see events live, so anything that undermines that business is clearly going to have an impact on profits.
That being said, SOPA is not the way to stop piracy. In fact I’d be very surprised if our government was able to introduce any kind of legislation that effectively stamps out piracy in all its forms. Fighting a war on piracy is similar to fighting wars on drugs and terrorism; they may be noble causes but ultimately they will prove to be futile. Religious and social divides will always cause cultures to hate each other, some people will always look for a way to alter their consciousness, and there will always be people on the internet with more free time than money.
Another thing that won’t help fight piracy is angering the hacker community. After taunting hackers on Thursday,the UFC President had his site hacked again in addition to having his personal information compromised. I have no desire to know what Dana’s social security number is, but the fact that it’s now available for viewing on the internet should be a clear sign that mistakes have been made. Maybe Dana can shrug off this invasion of privacy and claim it’s no big deal. After all, he can change his phone numbers, hire private security for his home, and pursue legal action against anyone taking advantage of his personal information. His customers, however, may not be so lucky.
On Friday another member of the hacker group Anonymous (the very group White provoked on Twitter on Thursday) announced that he had hacked both UFC.com as well as the company’s live streaming site UFC.tv. This hacker also claims to have retrieved data from customer’s who have used UFC.tv to purchase PPVs. Anonymous made headlines this past Christmas when they used stolen credit card data to make donations to charity, and they have vowed to release the data acquired from the UFC if Dana provokes them again.
I know Dana has taken a carefree attitude towards this hacking situation, and at the start he wasn’t really out of line to do so. The initial attack just took down UFC.com for a few hours, which is roughly equivalent to taking down some advertisements. Had he left it at that things may not have gone any further.
By provoking the hackers (and specifically Anonymous) and equating their actions to terrorism, Dana brought unnecessary grief upon himself, his family, and his business. Anonymous doesn’t deal in the business of pirating PPVs, they are hackers acting as social activists. Whether or not you agree with their methods and their message is up to you, but there’s no reason to invite action from them against you and your business, particularly when your website is storing credit card information from your customers. It’s also worth noting that Anonymous is (by their very nature) a decentralized organization, with no control over their individual members’ actions. There’s been no action yet with any stolen information (at least that we know of) but this entire chain of events could lead to serious ramifications for the UFC and their online businesses. They have essentially broken the trust necessary in a capitalist society, wherein the consumer willingly supplies his financial information to a corporation with the implied understanding that it will be used in a responsible manner and not abused in any way. Obviously the UFC will be working with law enforcement agencies to find those responsible for this intrusion, but by inviting the attacks White may have implicated himself in any civil action that takes place in the future. It’s certainly too early to know exactly what will happen as a result of these hacks, but for now we can’t rule out the worst scenarios coming to pass.
So if the UFC and White are unable to completely stamp out piracy and stop the actions of hackers, what’s the solution?
One way to solve the problem is to give people a reason to buy your product online. Those who watch pirated streams are obviously willing to sit in front of their computer to watch a UFC event, so Dana White and Zuffa should be working to convert those people into paying customers. The easiest way to do this is to make PPVs less expensive. It seems like such an easy thing to do coming from somebody like me (you know, a consumer) but it really does make sense.
Whenever the price of his product is brought up, Dana dismisses the issue by stating that people can buy the program in groups, go to their local bar or restaurant, or if all else fails, just don’t watch it. What about those UFC fans like myself who usually watch the events alone? Not everyone has friends that watch the UFC and would be willing to pitch in for buying a PPV every single month. What about people under the age of 21, or those members of society who don’t drink? It’s hard to justify spending $45-55 for something that’s just for me, especially when that money could be used for food or clothing for my family. Dana would say that that’s too bad and I’ll just have to deal with not watching the UFC events, but is that any way to grow your business?
If the UFC really wants to get more people to purchase their streams online (especially in the wake of a possible violation on consumers’ private information), lower the price for the streaming version of the event. Since the UFC doesn’t have to share that $45 or $55 with cable and satellite providers for their online stream, perhaps they could pass some of those savings on to their consumer. Cut the price for a streaming event to $25 or $30 and I can practically guarantee that you’ll have a lot more people buying a reliable, quality stream over a sketchy pirated one.
This doesn’t have to be a permanent price change either; they could offer it on some of their events and reserve the higher price point for bigger cards. Flexible pricing is one idea that could be implemented for the streams as well as the regular PPV broadcast, and it allows the UFC to be more aggressive with cards that lack a blockbuster main event. As the sport’s biggest stars start heading towards the end of their career (and some are already there, see Lesnar, Brock and Liddell, Chuck) the UFC is going to be putting more and more fresh faces at the top of their cards, and having a lower price point for shows not anchored by proven draws allows these events to be seen by more people; which in turn gives these newer fighters a better chance to gain fans.
Let’s also consider the first time buyer. The whole point of getting their product on broadcast television with Fox is to create new fans who will in turn purchase the PPVs, right? If you had your first MMA experience this past Saturday night would you want to put down $45-55 to watch this weekend’s event? Make the first PPV after a Fox show lower priced and you’ll assure yourself a better chance of hooking those new fans.
The UFC will never be able to wipe out piracy completely. As their own employee Joe Rogan likes to state, “you can’t stop the internet.” Provide a product that’s both affordable as well as attractive, and back it up with great customer service, and you’ll please the customers you have while adding new ones all the time. It’s worked wonders for online businesses like Amazon.com, iTunes, and Steam, and there’s no reason why it can’t work for the UFC as well. They can continue their anti-piracy efforts by working with law enforcement to take down sites illegally streaming their shows, but at the same time they can be proactive and offer a more appealing product that people want to pay for.
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC