What to learn from the Jeremy Stephens situation
October 10, 2012
Does the UFC need a crisis communications department? Last Friday showed that the UFC has not learned from its mistakes when it comes to addressing an emergent situation.
Friday night’s UFC on FX 5’s event was marred by Jeremy Stephens as he was arrested the morning of his fight on an outstanding warrant. Despite his incarceration, Dana White maintained that his fight with Yves Edwards was still on despite the fact that Stephens had not been released from custody.
White made his obligatory “blame the media” argument as he told his twitter followers not to believe the media that were claiming the fight was presumably off. Of course, we come to learn that while White was trying to get Stephens out of jail for the fight, he did not know at the time of his tweet whether the fight was going to happen. Even if he thought it was going to happen, it didn’t happen.
Is this a problem?
We are again presented with the UFC asserting a point before it actually knew it as fact. Recall the UFC 151 press conference when Dana White stated that Lyoto Machida would face Jon Jones next. Except, the UFC did not confirm that Machida would take the fight.
White sent out via his official spokesperson, his twitter handle, that the fight was still on and not to listen to the media.
Don’t listen to the media! Nobody ever told them Jeremy isn’t fighting. He is fighting!!
— Dana White (@danawhite) October 5, 2012
OMFG!!! YES Jeremy Stephens is fighting tonight! At no point did ANYONE from UFC say he wasn’t. Some media jackasses said he wasn’t
— Dana White (@danawhite) October 5, 2012
Likely, not the most professional way to address the situation.
A more professional representation of the unfortunate (for the UFC) facts could have been to give the “no comment” or the “we are still gathering facts and we will let you know.” Certainly, the UFC could have let Edwards, its own contracted fighter, know the status without leaking it to the public/media. In a post-fight interview on Fuel it was apparent that he was kept in the dark as much as the media that tried to uncover facts. Edwards looked visibly shaken…as if all of his sacrifice, training and hard work went for nothing. Well, it did.
If there’s any justice for Edwards, he should have been paid his show and win money. He did make it to the arena without being arrested whereas his opponent did not. If nothing else, put Edwards at the top of the injury replacement list. We all know someone is going to get injured on a card sometime soon. UPDATE: Edwards will be on the UFC on Fox card this December per MMA Junkie.
The issue with the Jeremy Stephens situation is how it was handled. It was done poorly and it was obvious that the only plan was to try to negotiate with the police to get Stephens out in time to fight. The lack of a plan only magnified the situation. Remember, the Stephens-Edwards bout wasn’t even on the main card. It was a Fuel prelim. Realistically, only the hard core UFC fans would have noticed the absence of this bout. Moreover, what would have been the real fallout if the UFC announced that the fight was off due to a legal issue involving Stephens.
How bad would it look if the UFC would have let media members know about the Stephens legal issue and that it was “working with authorities (not negotiating) at this time and details would be released once it they were made known by the authorities”? Probably not that bad. While the spiel is formulaic and “PR” speak for Stephens got arrested and we don’t know what’s going on its better than what happened.
What’s worse about this latest misstep is that it happened so soon after the UFC 151 fallout. And it was the same issue: releasing information without knowing the truth of the information.
Crisis communications does not always mean that a company must respond to issues at a moment’s notice but it can. The role is to protect the company and its reputation when faced with a public challenge. Here, one of the UFC’s fighters was arrested. Not an unusual situation except for the fact that it occurred on the day of his fight. This issue could have been addressed from the start without the confrontation of the media. While we understand that the UFC wants to stand by its fighters, it does not help to provide further misinformation (i.e., that the bout was still on) and then blame Iowa authorities for not letting Stephens out. What were to happen if this was one of the main event fighters was detained? How would the UFC adjust? By calling out the media?
It’s easy to Monday Morning Quarterback the situation here, but the UFC is a professional organization that should have policies in place to deal with these issues.