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:
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.”
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.
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.