UFC takes the fight to Capitol Hill

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Mixed martial arts was once driven from the airways by politicians, and banned in a number of states. Thus it is little surprise to learn that they are one of the top spenders among sports leagues and recreational entities in Federal lobbying, coming in at #3, ahead of MLB and PGA, among many others.

National Football League    $1,140,000
Blackstone Group    $980,000
Ultimate Fighting Championship    $620,000
Canyons Ski Resort    $510,000
PGA Tour    $380,000
US Olympic Committee    $360,000
Feld Entertainment    $335,000
Outdoor Industry Assn    $320,000
Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Ofc    $310,000
Bowl Championship Series    $270,000
We Are Golf    $200,000
National Recreation & Park Assn    $165,689

Reity O’Brien from publicintegrity.org has the story. Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in Washington, DC, that concentrates on ethics and public service issues.

Ultimate Fighting Championship last year spent $620,000 lobbying on a variety of issues affecting its business, making it the No. 3 spender among sports leagues and recreational entities.

UFC outspent former heavy-hitters such as Major League Baseball ($310,000) and the National Basketball Association ($125,000) last year. The National Football League remains the top lobbying spender in the live entertainment industry, but the league’s total spending fell from $1.6 million in 2012 to $1.4 million in the previous year, according to federal disclosures.

UFC is continuing its aggressive advocacy this year, spending $80,000 on federal lobbying in the first quarter of 2013, records filed with the U.S. Senate indicate.Video piracy is among UFC’s chief concerns.

Though some of UFC’s live competitions are now available with a basic cable subscription, the company still relies on pay-per-view broadcasts for much of its revenue. When bootleggers surreptitiously film and post fights to the internet for free, UFC loses money, according to Makan Delrahim, an attorney at the Washington office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Scheck who represents UFC.

“Or even worse, copyright law violators are charging $9.99,” for access to the illegally-captured fights, Delrahim said. “My clients are deprived of the economic benefit that intellectual property laws allow.”

Before lobbying on behalf of the UFC, Delrahim served as deputy assistant attorney general to the Department of Justice’s anti-trust division and chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Anybody who believes in property rights supports this issue,” he said, “It’s a bipartisan issue.”

“We just want to be sure that people who may not be watching it every night know what it is. And don’t react in an immediate kneejerk reaction, thinking that it’s some sort of nefarious sport.”

And MMA, it turns out, attracts a bipartisan fan base. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and U.S. Reps. Duncan Hunter of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio, both Republicans, are fans, according to Delrahim.

While UFC has changed its rules over the past decade to make the sport safer, more athletic and more palatable to a broader fan base, its intense violence and that it is not a team sport has impeded its reach beyond a niche audience, according to Marie Hardin, associate director of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University.

“You have to wonder if part of this is simply the growing pains of a very fast growing sport in the United States,” Hardin said.

As MMA grows in popularity, there will be “more legislative eyeballs” monitoring the sport, she said.

“It’s going to come under more scrutiny.”

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