Blue Chip Sponsor Anheuser-Busch Warns UFC About Fighters’ Sexist, Homophobic Comments

April 27, 2012

AdvertisingAge reports that Anheuser-Busch, a major blue chip sponsor for the UFC, has “reprimanded the mixed-martial arts organization for remarks made by some fighters”. Multiple advocacy groups have recently criticized UFC employees and fighters for using comments described as “sexist and homophobic.”

 

A-B recently released a press release which stated the following:

“We’ve communicated to the UFC our displeasure with certain remarks made by some of its fighters, and they have promised to address this. If the incidents continue, we will act”

In a statement to AdAge regarding the A-B situation, UFC issued the following response:

With over 425 athletes on our roster, there have unfortunately been instances where a couple athletes have made insensitive or inappropriate comments. We don’t condone this behavior, and in no way is it reflective of the company or its values

…. unlike most other sports leagues, we encourage our athletes to engage online. It is part of our company culture, and whenever you are at the forefront of a trend or initiative, it comes with its own pitfalls. We will continue to embrace social media while looking for better ways to stay in front of the issues. This includes a mandate for our athletes to attend sensitivity training and a seminar on proper use of social media.

AdAge also cited three recent incidents that were documented in a letter by the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence.  One involves UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson urging Japanese fans to say homophobic statements, another of UFC fighter Rashad Evans hyping his fight against Penn State alumni Phil Davis inappropriately stating “I’m going to put those hands on you worse than that dude did them other kids at Penn State”. The last is not a fighter, but UFC announcer Joe Rogan, who used sexist and misogynist language against Yahoo Sports blogger Maggie Hendricks after she pointed out Rampage Jackson’s inappropriate behavior towards female reporters.  Plenty of other instances regarding UFC president Dana White performing similar acts have also been reported within the last few years, but were not cited in the write-up.

The letter that caused a lot of the recent commotion for A-B and the UFC was a letter from the group Alcohol Justice, who titled it “An Open Letter to Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) Shareholders – RE: Opposition to sponsorship of the Ultimae Fighting Championship (UFC).

The letter states the following:

Dear Shareholder:

As fellow shareholders and as public health advocates, Alcohol Justice (formerly Marin Institute) asks you to vigorously oppose ABI’s sponsorship of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world’s largest promoter of violent cage-fighting events.

We believe ABI’s sponsorship of UFC must come to an end as there is a very tangible risk to the bottom line of dividends and stock price value as well as long term bad press as the relationship of this patently brutal blood sport to predatory marketing of Bud Light to underage youth are played out on the global stage of public opinion. It’s already being called “Blood Light.” This cannot be good for business, sales, or long-term profitability.

Alcohol Justice, the alcohol industry watchdog, has served as a leading research and advocacy institution for over 24 years. We monitor and expose the alcohol industry’s targeting of youth and minority populations, as well as the industry’s adverse effect on public health and the environment globally.

There is compelling evidence that exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing increases the likelihood of underage drinking. Since 2001, at least seven peer-reviewed, federally funded, long-term studies have found that young people with greater exposure to alcohol marketing — including on television, in magazines, on the radio, on billboards or other outdoor signage, or via in-store beer displays, beer concessions, or ownership of beer promotional items or branded merchandise — are more likely to start drinking than their peers.

As the primary sponsor of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) is delivering harmful content to millions of underage youth. At center stage is the ever-present Bud Light logo, imbued throughout all of UFC’s violent events, including live fights, Pay-Per-View, and television broadcasts that reach 354 million homes worldwide. These homes are filled with children!

In addition, millions of UFC fans of all ages have access to live streaming of fights via Facebook, and limitless YouTube videos of bloody fights, promotions, and “pornohol” such as Bud Light Lime ads featuring UFC “Octagon Girl” Arianny Celeste topless, underwear-clad and rolling around in a bed of limes.

UFC President Dana White has been quoted as saying “our targeted audience is anywhere from age 17 to 35.”  He and a number of UFC athletes have recently come under fire for sexist, homophobic, violent and derogatory remarks, including jokes about rape and sexual assault. As A-B InBev shareholders we should be outraged by this behavior.

Given that alcohol is the number one drug of choice among America’s youth, and the U.S. Surgeon General estimates that approximately 5,000 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking each year, board members, shareholders, and consumers will become more aware of the ethical ramifications that continued sponsorship of UFC will have on ABI. Do we really want Bud Light ads to be condemned for irresponsibly delivering harmful content to millions of youth, exposing them to people beating one another to a bloody pulp?

We believe this will lead to mounting litigations, inevitable regulatory and legislative actions, and growing concerns about the safety of youth exposed to harmful content by viewing UFC promotions. All of this can only hurt ABI’s reputation as a corporate citizen and its robust revenue.

As shareholders we have an obligation to help protect stock value by holding the corporation to higher standards of responsibility, especially those related to underage consumption and harm.  We can insist that management address these ethical issues with more integrity by pulling its support of this graphic, violent, bloody sport.  While the world may still want to enjoy a Bud Light, it does not need “Blood Light.”

Respectfully,

Bruce Lee Livingston, MPP Executive Director/CEO

***

That very same day, Business Insider Advertising also wrote a write-up titled “Budweiser Threatened To Pull Its Ad Dollars From The UFC After Seeing This Guy’s Nazi Tattoos”.  They went to state that the statement released by A-B regarding the inappropriate language and behavior is “almost unheard of in sports sponsorship, where advertiser displeasure is usually delivered to media partners behind closed doors”. The website also stated “While the sport can’t be expected to be a bastion of Edwardian manners, it is not until you see a collection of the kinds of things said by UFC pros that you realize just how unprofessional the organization is. What follows is a slideshow of incidents in which offensive language and behavior is used in the UFC”.

This is not the first time A-B has reprimanded the UFC. If you recall back at UFC 100 – the biggest show in UFC history to date – Brock Lesnar stood on the Bud Light logo, pointed at it, and said he was looking forward to going home with his wife and “drinking a Coors Light because Bud Light won’t pay me anything”.  That problem was dealt with behind closed doors as both the UFC and Lesnar were reprimanded by A-B and during the post-fight press conference, Lesnar issued an apology for his post-fight behavior and continued to answer questions as a Bud Light bottle was strategically placed in front of him.

Courtesy of Bleacher Report

***

Regarding who is responsible for triggering most of this recent bad press for the UFC, look no further than the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, who has had ongoing labor dispute with Station Casinos and UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta – who are both firmly against labor unions.  So far, the Culinary Union has been credited for keeping the UFC out of the state of New York for several years by backing anti-MMA legislators in the state, triggering a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation, writing letters to UFC advertisers and TV partners (FOX) informing them of the inappropriate language and behavior of the organization and its fighters, the creation of http://www.unfitforchildren.org/ (a website illustrating many of these examples), and just recently, drafting up a version of MMA Bill of Rights and presenting it in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and recently in front of the California State Athletic Commission.

In terms of the labor union’s efforts against the UFC owners, this week has been a rewarding one. The letters to UFC sponsors and multiple  anti abuse and violence groups has increased the awareness of lack of  etiquette it has haunted the UFC in the past, when they just weren’t quite mainstream enough for anyone to care.  Landing the recent FOX deal and essentially putting all their main competitors out of business in recent years has caught the attention of mainstream groups in the last year.  Earlier this week, the proposed Bill of Rights hearing in Sacramento (AB2100) passed committee on a 5-3 vote. This bill would essential give fighters rights – many derived up from the Ali Act in boxing – which the UFC greatly apposes.  UFC representatives essentially told the committee that if the bill passed, it would essentially drive the UFC away from California, which would have a great economic impact on not only the fighters, but also on the state. It would also cause a heavy burden and expense on the CSAC, which they are not equipped to handle.

List of parties who are in favor and against AB2100 amendments:

Support: American Rights at Work, Arete Agency. California Conference Board of the Amalgamated Transit Union. California Conference of Machinists. California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. California Police Activities League. California Teamsters Public Affairs Council. Engineers & Scientists of California, IFPTE Local 20. Fighters Online, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Jockey’s Guild, Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association, Patient Networks, Professional & Technical Engineers, IFPTE Local 21, United Food & Commercial, Workers Western States Council, UNITE-HERE, AFL-CIO, Utility Workers Union of America, Local 132, two private citizens (Eddie Goldman & Juanito Ibarra)

Opposition: Goossen Tutor Promotions, Honda Center, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, HP Pavilion at San Jose, Ultimate Fighting Championship

Notice the opposition here.

- UFC is a given.

- Notice HP Pavilion in San Jose.  Last year, the UFC’s purchased Strikeforce, which at the time was it’s main competitor,  from the Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment based out of San Jose, who also owns the San Jose Sharks and manages the HP Pavilion.  The problem with owning Strikeforce was that it kept UFC out of San Jose, a hotbed for MMA at the time, due to the nature of being competitors.  Part of the deal to sell Strikeforce to Zuffa was for the UFC to put on several shows at the HP Pavilion per year.  Since the purchase, Zuffa has visited San Jose for UFC 139 late last year and is currently scheduled for the Strikeforce HW GP finale on May 19th. Another date for a smaller UFC show was discussed for July and another big UFC numbered event is in talks before the end of the year.  A bill which would would drive the UFC away and it’s now close ties to the promotion would obviously be bad business for the San Jose based venue.

- The Honda Center is the other California venue listed as opposition.  Interestingly enough, that’s the UFC’s preferred venue when visiting Southern California, where they can heavily push and market towards the Hispanic demographic as they did for Cain Velasquez against Brock Lesnar and most recently on their FOX debut against Junior Dos Santos.  UFC’s plan was to host another big event at the Honda Center by the end of the year.

- The other is Goossen Tutor Promotions, which is partly ran by Dan Goossen, a boxing promoter and the manager of ex-boxing champ James Toney, who previously fought for the the UFC back in 2010 against Randy Couture back in 2010. Goossen negotiated Toney’s contract to fight in the UFC at the time.  Goossen also wanted to do James Toney vs Tito Ortiz even further back in 2003-2004 and a previous Toney vs Couture bout about five years ago.

***

Looking at the Culinary Union’s efforts the past few years, it’s apparent that their efforts have focused on keeping the UFC out of New York, trying to do the same in California (one of their biggest current markets within the US), and impacting the relationship between their major blue chip sponsors is quite the strategic plan.  All would impact the UFC’s bottom line. I’m not sure the labor union can continue to be successful and continue to lobby against the UFC for years to come, but they are doing something most other groups have failed to do in a very long time, and that’s pose a challenge. If they weren’t taken seriously before, I can assure you no one from Zuffa is laughing at their efforts now. At the very least, it causes a few annoying and pesky headaches here and there for the Fertitta brothers in hopes that one day both sides can come to an agreement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that a compromise will be reached anytime soon.

12 Responses to “Blue Chip Sponsor Anheuser-Busch Warns UFC About Fighters’ Sexist, Homophobic Comments”

  1. Jason Cruz on April 27th, 2012 5:11 AM

    Great stuff Jose!

    Here’s my 2 cents:

    It comes with no surprise that the UFC would be questioned about some of its practices by mainstream sponsors. We assume that the sponsors are paying top dollar to align with the UFC. If the UFC makes derogatory remarks that could harm a segment of the sponsors’ market, that sponsor will be concerned. It also is a reflection of the sponsor.

    As for the Culinary Workers Union, it appears that UFC may have underestimated its opponent. The union’s mobilization in attacking the UFC is much more effective than the UFC’s attempt to legalize MMA in New York. Not only has the union contributed to halting legislation legalizing MMA in New York, it is now affected one of its biggest sponsors.

    As for its response to the videos, it needs to show that it is addressing the situation. And it has to be across the board. In the past, we’ve recognized that there’s a hierarchy and some rules don’t apply to certain fighters. This means that it cannot fire Miguel Torres for a tweet but ignore Forrest Griffin’s tweet. While punishment may not be equal, it still must have some form of punishment.

    Its also interesting that Rampage’s former trainer, Juanito Ibarra is in support of the AB 2100.

  2. juan on April 27th, 2012 11:21 AM

    As UFC has gone mainstream I’ve often wondered how long they can keep Rogan in such a high profile position. Anybody who’s listened to his stand-up or podcast knows he says some crazy stuff. Funny stuff, too, of course.

    Obviously any of his racial and sexual jokes can be seized on by activist types to smear UFC. But I’ve been surprised Rogan being a 9-11 Truther and out-spoken drug use advocate has flown under the radar. I hate the Truthers, but I like Rogan cause he’s funny. I just think his pot-head lifestyle has caused him to become paranoid. A functional paranoid, but one prone to believe in all sorts of conspiracy theories. This is actually a pretty well-documented side-effect of chronic marijuana use for some people.

    No other major sport could have their #1 color commentator say the things Rogan has said and keep his job. Rogan gets a pass because 1)he’s a stand-up comic and 2) it’s UFC. The hardcore fans love that Rogan can say all sorts of nasty, filthy jokes on Friday night, then call the fight on Saturday. I like it, too. It adds to the outlaw image of the UFC.

    But as UFC tries to grab more mainstream money the pushback against Rogan will grow. Imagine an NFL or NBA analyst being an open drug use advocate or 9-11 Truther. Wouldn’t happen.

    The leverage from activist types — whether left-wingers upset at racial or sexual jokes, or right-wingers upset at drug advocacy and 9-11 Trutherism — will only grow as UFC becomes more dependent on advertiser money.

    When UFC was all about the PPV and live event money, then they could tell the activist brigade to go to hell. But with advertisers the activists target the advertisers to pressure UFC.

    Left-wing activists seem to be better at this, as we see with this pressure campaign. They seem to use more scorched earth Alinsky style tactics. Of course, the right wing activists have noticed the success the left-wing activists have had and are starting to copy them.

    It’s all annoying, but it is reality.

  3. Jose Mendoza on April 27th, 2012 12:45 PM

    Great input Juan.

    Not just Rogan though… what about Dana White, what about the MMA fanbase? After the story came out yesterday, a bunch of MMA fans have been very vocal towards A-B about their displeasure. “Drop them, we don’t need them” “those d-bags… etc”. As you say, the more mainstream spotlight they get, the more issues they will have on these fronts.

  4. BrainSmasher on April 27th, 2012 2:35 PM

    I dont like Rogan as a person. But i give him mad respect. He brought Attention to the UFC when it wasnt popular to do so. He worked for the UFC before he was ever famous so he has a passion for the sport. When he rejoin the UFC he worked a very long time for free because he was still under contract for Fear Factor. I think the reason he gets a free pass on his stand up is he isnt a popular comdian. I have only seen his stand up on tv 2 times in the last 10 years and i only watched bacause i know of him through the UFC. He doesnt get any attention so what he says doesnt get noticed. One of y biggest pet peeves about him is he has his mind made up on subject with shaky circiumstancial evidence at best and everyone who doesnt agree is not only wrong but a moron and an idiot.

    I hope the UFC and FOX doesnt give in to the protestors. IF Bud Lite pulls their ads im sure the UFC wouldnt be hurt much at all. As long as Fox doesnt give in to pressure every thing will be fine. It amazes me that these companies can look and see that the complaints have not real merit to them and are based on the Culinary Union manipulation. Why cant they see that is the basis for these claims and tell them to fuck off in a nice way of course?

    What if the UFC went out and tried to get companies to replace Culinary Union workers. It is crazy that this Union can go around like the Mafia and strong arm people to get their service/policies/etc used.

  5. Jose Mendoza on April 27th, 2012 3:14 PM

    BrainSmasher:

    “IF Bud Lite pulls their ads im sure the UFC wouldnt be hurt much at all.”

    This is the typical MMA fan talking here. A-B is their biggest blue chip sponsor. If they leave, it won’t be so easy to replace them. Not only that, both Fox and UFC have both admitted that gaining more blue chip sponsors has been more difficult than expected due to the image problem UFC has. Culinary Workers Union (regardless of their agenda) is hitting UFC where it can hurt them the most at this time. The value of a property that can draw the demo but not the blue chip sponsors is not one with leverage here. At the end of the game, its all about money and image.

    And no one is the guilty or innocent party here. Both are playing the same game. Both UFC and Culinary Worker’s Union have been throwing money at lobbyists and politicians to get their way for years. At this point, it’s who has more pull.

  6. BrainSmasher on April 27th, 2012 11:01 PM

    Dana White has also said he doesnt need huge sponsors which i believe. Of course it would be nice. Extra money is always good. Buts lets be real how much is the UFC actually making per year off A-B? It isnt a ton i will bet on that. A couple million. They pay GSP 5-6 million when they dont really have to. So a few million is really nothing. Not when it comes down to them really not having your back. UFC is driven by PPV and now a tv contract. Sponsors are only life and death when it comes to keeping fox happy. FOX needs to sell AD time. Who is in the center of the Octagon doesnt make or break the UFC. To be honest if AB was going to come down on me over some groups backed by the Culinary Union then i would look for a new partner or go without one. AB threw the UFC under the bus when there really wasnt even an issue here.

    I dont agree the Union and the UFC are playing the same game. Both are using lobbyist. But UFC is using them for a direct benefit. The Union is using them to achieve a something that has nothing to do with the UFC. They are only Coercing the UFC to get their way in Station casinos. They could careless what the UFC does if not for that.

  7. CodeMaster on April 28th, 2012 11:03 AM

    A tiny special interest group in Marin County California calling themselves “Alcohol Justice” wrote to all the major shareholders of Anhauser Busch decrying the sponsorship of a ‘Blood Sport’. I quote the Alcohol Justice special interest group prez:

    “We expect upset shareholders at Wednesday’s annual A-B InBev meeting to demand stronger action from the management, perhaps even an immediate end to UFC sponsorship,” said Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director/CEO of Alcohol Justice. “Shareholders don’t want to be associated with a bloody sport that denigrates women and the LGBT community.

    For those unaware and/or insensitive: LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

    They created a video calling the A/B beer Blood Light.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9itah5K8Q8&feature=youtube

    So Anhauser Busch took this seriously and warned the UFC.

    The bottom line is that a tiny, privately funded, special interest group mounted a massive campaign against the UFC and MMA in general because of two or three ‘insensitive remarks” not liked by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community?

    Why are MMA journalists not investigating Alcohol Justice?
    What are their motivations and prejudices?
    Why is Alcohol Justice not after the NFL or cheerleading which are more dangerous to participants than MMA?

    To contact Alcohol Justice for further info on their stand against MMA:

    http://alcoholjustice.org/about-us/contact-us.html

    I think it is clear that Alcohol Justice has a firm and negative opinion of MMA. It is also clear that this privately funded organization has made enough of a stink, with their private funds, to make Anhauser Busch worried.

    There seems to be little fairness in all of this. While a few UFC fighters have made insensitive remarks–most have publicly apoligized and attempted to make ammends. eg: Miguel Torres. In other major league sports, individuals often make insensitive remarks–but you do not hear complaints that the ENTIRE SPORT should be outlawed.

    This situation illustrates the continued vulnverablily of the UFC and MMA to demagogues who wish to garner publicity at the expense of MMA. Please note no calls for banning the violent sport of American Football. These publicity seekers know that would be the death knell of any credibility they might possess.

    Instead, they go after the Blood Sport.

  8. Mossman on April 28th, 2012 4:50 PM

    BS… you know very little. And when you assume… you make an ass out of you.

    BL is commiting much more than $5m a year. To Fox against UFC programming/ads maybe.

    But to be the largest sponsor of the UFC is easily a seven figure deal. Can you count that many zero’s?

    All told… you can probably ASSUME that Bud Light dedicates about $20M a year to the sport of MMA and programming in a given year.

  9. BrainSmasher on April 28th, 2012 6:58 PM

    How about a source? With all the crap you post sorry if i dont take your word for it. Until them we are both “assuming”!

  10. Bruce on April 29th, 2012 10:08 AM

    No professional sport would exist without sponsors. UFC must begin to fix its public image and clamp down on their athletes/their own offending speech. Each one should be given a course on inappropriate public relations and then monetarily penalized for each transgression as objectively measured by a neutral 3rd party. As far as Dana and Rogan…. Well, Rogan is an employee, he should be reigned in, and Dana is an equity holder so he is only hurting himself with his big mouth.

    IMHO UFC should take the show only to friendly locales, and go more international. California and Nevada may be a large market but the difficulties of doing business there may outweigh the benefits. Many countries would love the UFC there, and I’m sure would provide large incentives for the opportunity to host.

  11. Sampson Simpson on April 30th, 2012 9:23 AM

    Sponsors provide more than just monetary gain for the property. They provide valuable marketing resources.

    So yes, in short, losing a company like AB would be a huge loss for the UFC.

  12. Diego on April 30th, 2012 10:53 AM

    Losing any blue chip sponsor will be a huge step back for the UFC. Firstly, the UFC makes significant amounts of money from their sponsors, secondly, the reason Fox is paying the UFC $100M per year is because of the ad space Fox can sell. If the biggest UFC sponsor pulls out – and especially if it’s a beverage company which is exactly the kind of sponsor Fox is paying the UFC to bring in – Fox is going to have to rethink the deal. IIt’s no good getting the ratings in your key demos, but having all the sponsors run for cover.

    If the UFC gets a reputation as a company that is toxic to blue chip sponsors it will .cripple the UFC’s plans of primetime success and someday being the biggest sport franchise in the world. The UFC’s reputation is already questionable simply because of the nature of the sport, it can’t afford the taint of homophobia, sexism, or any other related issue.

    The UFC needs to sort this out, and it needs to start at the top with Dana White. Young fighters are just emulating their boss when they go on profanity laced rants on twitter or in interviews. No figurehead of any other primetime sport behaves the way Dana does. It’s been fun for hardcore fans but time to put the f-you routine to rest.

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