On May 5, a stones throw from the Empire State building, Jim Miller will battle Nate Diaz before a packed house over close to 15,000 and a national television audience in the latest UFC event to hit the New York area. it will have the hope, the hype and lots of hometown flair, especially for the New Jersey born Miller, another successful event for Zuffa around the Apple. Billboards and bars throughout Manhattan and the five boroughs will push the event, and a good time will be had by all, from brand partners to fans, celebrating another step forward for the UFC, if not for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
In and around the event, the UFC brand will look to break records in other venues, from Stockholm to Atlanta, where Rashard Evans and John Jones will meet in what will be another landoffice success for all things UFC. Merch will fly off shelves, trash will be talked, and the south will get its strong dose of a huge crowd to keep the MMA Bandwagon going. So with all that great news, what’s the problem?
The problem remains that the MMA is still not legal in New York State, and despite the fact that the May event will be in the area, it will be at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, not Madison Square Garden. Jones even voiced his disappointment this past week about the lack of UFC in New York, saying that he had hoped that his Evans fight would have been the first in The Apple. So despite grassroots efforts, hard lobbying and talk by athletes, New York remains steadfast in their lack of interest in legalized MMA. Now the fight against the fight is becoming less for sure, especially with politicians changing seats and a national election coming in November, but the question remains, does it really matter in the growth of the sport to have the UFC on Broadway?
Some supporters talk to “millions” in revenue for the state if MMA becomes legalized, but the truth is the biggest money making events would be limited to one or two a year, probably between the new Barclay’s Center and the Garden, with another one landing in Buffalo at some point, or maybe the cavernous Carrier Dome. MMA from the gym side does very well already in New York, as the home base for star trainers like Renzo Gracie. Sure smaller shows, all with minimal gates and purses and stars, would pop up and have to be regulated, but the UFC would not suddenly gain billions with legal MMA in New York. What it would get is the perception of becoming more mainstream, which could open the coffers of additional brand dollars from Madison Avenue which may be less averse with an OK from Governor Cuomo’s office. It would be another chip that Zuffa could claim, much like their FOX deal, to move the business of the UFC forward, one less objection to battle.
Now is there any fan who would not make the trip, especially now with public transportation available like never before, across the river to see the UFC just because it is in New Jersey? Are there really politicians, with all that is going on in government, who would suddenly make legalizing MMA in New York a priority? The answer is probably no.
Dos the UFC deserve to bring their business to New York? Yes. They have done all that has been asked and then some, and legalizing the sport would remove one more stigma for those who support, and probably bring a few casual fans on board. However without legalization, the UFC and some others have done well in venues like the Prudential Center and the IZOD Center and to some degree in Atlantic City all on their own, and that should continue in May.
Sometimes it is true that perception leads to reality, and maybe the reality of legalization in New York will change the perception of millions to suddenly enjoy a sport they really didn’t care for. However more likely is the fact that the UFC wll continue to thrive in the key male demo without New York. Either way fans will get their fill in the area come May, even if it is just across the river. If that changes in the future, great. If not, the show goes on elsewhere.