Opinion: MMA Clearly Not Ready to go Mainstream

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Earlier this week, a blogger known as “Joey” made THIS POST on the blog, The Sports Sound Off 2.0. In it, he discusses why MMA is not ready to be a mainstream sport.

July 22nd, 2015

We’re not ready for this.

Understand that I mean that collectively. Not you or I singularly but we, MMA fans as a group, are not ready for this. The Reebok backlash has solidified that for me. This sport simply cannot handle ANY fragmented notion of being mainstream. You’re all insane. I’m insane. We’re all insane.

Whether you like or dislike the Reebok deal is ultimately irrelevant really to the point. If you dislike it and can articulate why, I’m fine with it. If you like it and can articulate why, all gravy baby. Doesn’t matter. It’s the response. The response has been 98% on Reebok and about 2% on the UFC. It takes two parties to make a legal, binding deal. The UFC didn’t get shoehorned into taking this Reebok deal, they negotiated it and accepted it. So why are Reebok the bad guys? Two parties made a deal and so here we are now. The UFC cut Stitch Duran—yet Reebok eats the shit for it. Why? Also let’s draw a distinct line between fair criticism and some of the stuff people are saying. It’s ugly, abrasive and downright atrocious. What’s more, it’s shortsighted and downright dangerous for the sport.

I absolutely agree with the above points. Anyone who has spent five minutes scrolling through a Facebook feed can understand exactly what is being said here. Yes, the UFC is taking some heat, Dana White especially with his ill timed Twitter Q&A, but most of the hate has been directed at Reebok.

A friend of mine who happens to be an MMA fan works for a pretty solid apparel company. I asked him what he thought about the whole mess and his text response summed up arguably all of our biggest fears; “why would anybody want to be associated with this market?”  See people want Reebok out of MMA and that’s cool and all but for this sport to grow beyond the circus that it is currently, big sponsors HAVE to get involved. Every major “league” has sponsors of note who carry weight and clout and legitimacy. MMA has very few of those. If Reebok leaves the sport, they’ll have even less of those. Advertising revenue, the kind of stuff that kept Bellator on Spike and ran IMPACT to Destination America, will dry up. Contrary to popular belief,  MMA organizations need these things to stay alive. As Jason Floyd and Sam Caplan discussed previously, “if sponsors don’t want the #1 organization in the world, they’re not going to jump to the #2 organization.” You know how fighters earn million dollar paydays? If top sponsors want to get in bed with the sport and start wanting to throw their weight (and money) around. The best way to NOT get that is to run them off by being, well, us.

All of this bodes to MMA’s current problem in all facets: it’s stuck in between wanting mainstream acceptance and wanting to make changes. The UFC’s “hardcore fanbase” is passionate, fanatical and bordering on a lunatic fringe. To appeal to casual fans, they’ll need the hardcore fans to be as vocipherous as usual while also not coming off like a bunch of goonybirds. You know how your mom says “behave yourself” when company is coming over and she makes it clear that what she wants is for you to not be yourself while still being yourself? That’s what this is like. Instead we’ve got hardcore “fans” tweeting pictures of Reebok and the UFC with nazi imagery. Good start. Those casuals tuning in for UFC 189 sure will be happy to see that. The UFC was built on the passion of hardcore fans—and that same passion is what’s going to cause it the most harm. The fact is these fans aren’t ready for this sport to keep growing. They’ve made that distinction.

First of all, there is tremendous truth in the fact that the sport will never be able to rise as a whole without big name, and big money sponsors coming in and making improvements. Money talks. The original claim for most fans being against the Reebok deal was that it would dry up sponsor money the fighters would be receiving. But let’s face it; as a whole, the small to mid-range sponsors had really topped out for the sport as a whole. They can only provide a small level of growth, and some of those sponsors we feared losing weren’t even paying their fighters anyways (looking at you Pretorian and Fear the Fighter).

But this nonsense of trying to push Reebok out is doing more harm than good. It’s the equivalent of a child throwing a tantrum and trying to pop the soccer ball everyone is playing with because they don’t want to play his way.

So now here we are, fellas. The first major sponsor apparel org likely about to skip town by way of the lunatic fringe. You know what’s funny? This all started about fighter’s getting shafted. Which is funny because if/when all of the big sponsors flee this place, they’ll be even less money for fighters. But at least we’ll have proved a point. Right?

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