Frustrated with the tone and quality of their coverage, the NFL today rescinded the media credentials for massive online outlet AOL FanHouse, banning them from the press box indefinitely. When approached by ESPN’s Ed Werder for comment, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell replied, via text message, “[Expletive] you. We do what we want.”
Okay, that didn’t happen. In fact, it’s completely absurd and unbelievable on multiple levels, right? Not if you’re trying to deal with the UFC.
In fact, that’s what happened to MMA website Sherdog.com this week right before UFC Live: Vera vs. Jones. As reported by SI.com’s Josh Gross, Sherdog — who is the MMA content partner for no less than the “Worldwide Leader” ESPN.com itself — had its credentials pulled two hours before the first fight on Sunday night due to an “executive decision.” When Gross asked Dana White for comment, White told Gross that the decision was “none of your [expletive] business” and later had a few choice and foul words for Gross via text message.
Josh Gross: excellent writer, former editor at Sherdog, current columnist for the web outlet of the most prominent sports magazine of all time. Can you imagine what might have happened if a two-bit blogger like me had tried to get a comment out of White? He might have stabbed me in the eye.
The Sherdog situation illustrates the problem with Dana White. His outsized passion for the sport — coupled with an egotistical streak — was what the UFC needed to burst onto the scene. But as the promotion grows, that passion and ego are smothering the league.
David Stern would be a laughingstock if he challenged Mark Cuban to a fight. So why does Dana White get away with the same immature behavior?
This isn’t White’s latest tussle with Sherdog. The UFC had taken away their credentials for over three years prior to its reinstatement in 2009, a ludicrous decision considering how well-placed Sherdog is within the MMA media world. Sherdog’s partnership with ESPN.com brings a huge amount of eyeballs to the site. Even if the site was hacky — which it isn’t — it would be similar to the Yankees kicking the Daily News out of the press box. George Steinbrenner may not like the way the local papers cover his team, but he’d be a fool to keep the team off of a paper that hits every newsstand in the city. Yet White had no problem with doing this because his axe to grind with the site is clouding his business sense.
For having the nerve to write about White’s credentialing standards, White blasted Sherdog reporter Loretta Hunt in an expletive-laced rant that contained sexist and homophobic slurs that was posted on UFC.com. Think you’d see Gary Bettman tape himself dropping both types of f-bombs and posting it to NHL.com anytime soon? More importantly, if you’re a major corporation, is this the sort of man you want to throw your sponsorship dollars behind?
White’s grudges extend far beyond the Fourth Estate. Personal battles with Tito Ortiz and the Shamrock family have led to the deletion of their UFC contributions from the league’s history, which cost the UFC’s attempt to compile the 100 greatest fights in their history more than a few notable bouts. His strongarming of fighters from the American Kickboxing Academy camp created an embarrassing battle over personal image rights. And White’s inability to play nice and be the bigger man started feuds with lesser promotions like Affliction and EliteXC that should never have happened. The league expended valuable energy in an “us vs. them” game that could have been avoided simply by pointing to White’s superior product.
Luke Thomas at Bloody Elbow describes the UFC’s attitude towards the media as “a de facto PR arm for the promotion of MMA.” What White doesn’t seem to realize is that by courting and controlling the mainstream media at the expense of the blogosphere, he’s alienating his federation’s most hardcore fans. If an MMA fan wants to get news, he’s much more likely to go to ESPN’s Sherdog coverage than, for example, The Washington Post, which runs maybe one-hundredth of the stories on MMA every year that a typical blog does. While every other major sports federation is aggressively courting the Internet, the UFC is moving backwards.
Some people love Dana White precisely because he’s not your typical stuffed-shirt. I’ll readily admit that I’ll take the honesty of a Dana White over the blathering and incompetence of 10 Bud Seligs. But there’s a linfe between being honest and putting every insecurity in your head out for the world to see. White’s Byzantine tactics may not hurt the UFC’s bottom line right now, but when he pops off about the next New York Times article on MMA he doesn’t like he’s going to find out very quickly that while he’s the biggest name in MMA, he’s still a very small fish in a very large sports and media pond.
Either White needs to grow up soon or he needs find a more dispassionate commissioner to run his league. Because eventually his ego is going to cost his league more than respect around the blogosphere. It’s going to cost his sport a chance to go truly mainstream.
Image from yorkblog.com.