Politics, Not Ignorance, Delaying MMA in NY

February 24, 2009

There is a central misconception at the heart of discussion of the opposition to the legalization of MMA in New York. The opposition is not born of ignorance, but rather politics. Last October my colleague Robert Joyner provided a detailed examination of the political situation at the root of the current opposition in an article titled “Labor Politics at the Heart of MMA’s Impasse in NY.”

In brief summary, UNITE HERE is embroiled in a bitter struggle to unionize Station Casinos in Las Vegas. Coincidentally, it is also registered to lobby on the subject of Mixed Martial Arts in the state of New York. Disclosure forms show that it has actively lobbied on the topic for the past two years (See reports: here, here, here, and here). In fact outside of the UFC, it is believed to be the only group that has registered to lobby on the subject.

The labor angle was largely forgotten following a public denial by the UFC’s Marc Ratner, however, as every day passes without progress towards the legalization of MMA in NY it becomes clearer that there are forces at work in the matter far greater than mere ignorance or genuine good faith opposition.

Case in point, the recent opinion poll released by Assemblyman Reilly. The classic push poll (the use of poll phrasing to reach a desired result is staple of political lobbying) was produced by Gramercy Communcations.  From the release:

Gramercy Communications is a communications firm based in Downtown Albany that specializes in public relations, marketing, and public affairs. Founder & Principal Tom Nardacci earned his master’s degree in strategic communications from Columbia University, and his bachelor’s in history from Syracuse University.

Tom has over a decade of experience as a public relations strategist, senior public affairs advisor and communications manager. Tom previously directed public relations for the Alliance for Downtown New York, lower Manhattan’s business improvement district, and he formerly managed communications and organizing for the 40,000 member retiree division of 1199 SEIU, New York State’s largest private sector labor union. Tom has served in leadership and consulting roles on dozens of federal, state and regional political campaigns, including as a field coordinator in Iowa for a United States Presidential Candidate. (emphasis added)

For those unfamiliar with labor politics, the SEIU is one of the largest and most powerful unions in the country. Coincidentally, it is also closely aligned with UNITE HERE. Both are members of the Change to Win Coalition of labor unions and according to Wikipedia have a joint local union chapter in New York called Service Workers United.

Someone paid the group to produce the poll and appears to have had a good idea of how they wanted it to turn out. I doubt a group of outraged citizens of New York is responsible, if such a group were behind it they most surely would have taken credit. Now on the other hand if a labor union were the benefactor, they might have good reason to keep there efforts hush hush.

I suppose that the fact that the poll was handled by a pro-union firm with ties to SEIU and UNITE HERE could be a coincidence. However, considered in light of the other facts and circumstances, I believe the logical conclusion is that opposition from pro-labor forces to the legalization of MMA remains alive and well.

The UFC has chosen to ignore the labor angle in its public efforts thus far, perhaps hoping to avoid confronting the issue all together, but has it becomes increasingly clear that its opponents are more committed than previously believed to delaying/defeating the legalization of MMA in New York. As this reality becomes clearer, the time is coming when the UFC may need to call a spade a spade. The current strategy is allowing the opposition to drive the debate without exposing their true motives which gives their arguments undeserved credibility.

MMA deserves an up or down vote based on its merits, labor politics have no place in the octagon. If a debate takes place solely on the merits of MMA I am confident that the sport will be legalized in New York.  But in order for that to happen, a light has to be shown on big labor’s opposition to the bill.

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