Report: UFC nearing next TV deal?

April 17, 2018

Variety reports that ESPN and Fox Sports are coming together to bid for the television rights for the UFC.  The companies will split the UFC TV package and we will see 15 fight events moving to new subscription streaming service ESPN+.

ESPN, according to sources, ESPN is willing to pay $120-$180 million per year.  Fox currently pays $120 million per year.

The number of fights from Fox would “decline slightly” according to the report.

Last spring a Sports Business Journal article indicated that the UFC was looking for a rights package of $450 million per year.  The Variety article notes that it reportedly sought $300-$400 million per year.

But the ratings decline on Fox are glaring.  The article states that Saturday-night broadcasts fell 22% from the previous year.  This past Saturday’s UFC on Fox 29 barely surpassed 2 million viewers after the overrun.  The “UFC Fight Night” on FS1 averaged 795,000 viewers this year which is reportedly down 17%.

Payout Perspective:

If the rumored deal comes to fruition, it will represent a shakeup for UFC TV that will likely affect UFC Fight Pass.  In passing, articles on the media deal have indicated that the digital platform has approximately 400,000 subscribers.  With the launch of ESPN’s new OTT platform, the UFC will contribute to the variety of content offered.  But, this may mean a loss of exclusivity for Fight Pass which may have to rely on its library to keep its subscription base as MMA fans will have another bill to pay.

Zuffa files opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification in Antitrust Lawsuit

April 16, 2018

Earlier this month Zuffa filed its opposition to the Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification in the Antitrust lawsuit filed in Nevada.  Back from Spring Break, MMA Payout takes a look at the motion.

Zuffa Oppo to Class Cert by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 are four elements needed to show class action status is viable: Numerosity, Commonality, Typicality, and Adequacy.  Zuffa argues against each element for class action status.

The opposition brief goes in depth on the reasons why the 6 named Plaintiffs cannot represent the two broad classes contracted by Zuffa.  They argue that the claims are not the kind that should be decided as a class.  Rather, one of their main arguments is that the factual claims set forth by each plaintiff differ and there is no “typicality” of defenses or “commonality” of evidence.  Zuffa argues that the expert reports and opinions submitted by Plaintiffs are insufficient to buttress the argument that the claims are those that can be tried through class action certification.

The two classes that Plaintiffs seek to represent are the “Bout Class,” the class of athletes who competed in UFC bouts during the class period and the “Identity Class,” those athletes alleged to have their identities “expropriated” by Zuffa.  Nathan Quarry is the only named plaintiff to be a part of the Identity class according to Zuffa.

Zuffa outlines reasons why the Bout Class is defective:

  1. Plaintiffs cannot adequately represent the class because none of them currently compete in UFC promoted bouts, and their claims are not typical of others in the putative class, such as the current athletes they seek to represent.
  2. Plaintiffs cannot establish the requisite elements of an antitrust violation with common evidence. Essentially, Zuffa argues that the class of purported affected individuals is vast and a finding that the entire class was “coerced” into exclusive contracts is unlikely.  Zuffa also cites that the existent of local markets for live MMA entertainment means that individual issues predominate for all of those markets.
  3. Zuffa does not have a pay structure or follow a policy of “internal equity” according to the legal filing. They argue that the regression theory posited by Plaintiffs “cannot distinguish whether common or individual factors account for the variations in athlete compensation.”
  4. Zuffa also claims that the putative class is “unmanageable” due to the inability for Plaintiffs to identify which athletes would still be competing for Zuffa or any other MMA Promoter

Zuffa argues that the Plaintiffs’ cases are not typical of one another.  The “test of typicality” looks to “whether other class members have been injured by the same course of conduct.” The requirement evaluates whether defendant’s defenses would be similar for the Putative class representative.  Zuffa argues that the defenses vary based upon the athlete.  It identifies having varied defenses when dealing with Plaintiff Nathan Quarry, Brandon Vera, Cung Le, Javier Vazquez, Jon Fitch and Kyle Kingsbury.

The purpose of “adequacy” is to “uncover conflicts of interest between named parties and the classes they seek to represent.”  Here, Zuffa argues that the Plaintiffs are retired or compete elsewhere.  None of the Plaintiffs currently fight in the UFC.  Thus, they would not be representative of the current class of UFC fighters as Zuffa argues that they would be more interested in money damages rather than injunctive relief.

In its argument rebutting the commonality element for class action status which allows certification if questions of law or fact common to class member predominate, Zuffa argues that Plaintiffs’ alleged theory of liability is incapable of proving liability with common evidence.  Here, Zuffa argues that the factual issues for each case differs and the commonality requirement would not apply here.  Zuffa goes on to argue with respect to the allegation that athletes were “coerced” into UFC contracts, Plaintiffs’ claims require “mini-trials for each plaintiff and class member on the issue of whether they voluntarily entered into their contracts.” Additionally, they claim that individualized evidence will be required to determine injury and show an antitrust violation.

The opposition motion includes declarations from Stephan Bonnar, Kenny Florian and Jim Miller which reflect the tone that the fighters made a choice to fight in the UFC instead of being forced to do so because of the economic market conditions.

Here are some other observations:

-Zuffa cites the U.S. Supreme Court case of Comcast Corp., et al. v. Behrend, et al. which found that the plaintiffs in that case failed to establish a sufficient connection between their alleged theory of liability and their claimed damages.  Highlighted in the opinion was the need to conduct a “rigorous analysis” to determine whether the standard has been met.  Similarly, Zuffa argues that the Plaintiffs have a similar problem with their case.

-According to an excerpt from Michael Mersch’s deposition, in order to re-sign Zuffa athletes before their contracts expire, the company offers higher guaranteed compensation for their next bout as an incentive to sign a new agreement.  Zuffa argues that the individual athlete makes the decision as to whether to sign or not and their reasons differ on the decision.

-Zuffa notes that there is “no testimony that promoters could not obtain MMA athletes during the class period.”

-The opposition argues that Plaintiffs have switched course in the argument of a combination of monopoly and monopsony allegations but a “multi-faceted “Scheme” of only monopsony-related claims.”

-Zuffa argues that Plaintiffs’ attempt to merely offer proof of harm that is widespread across the class is not sufficient as they must need to prove class wide harm.  They also state that the antitrust claims asserted here are not routine for class action lawsuits.

-Zuffa notes, “[A]lthough Plaintiffs suggest class certification in antitrust cases is routine, no court has

granted class certification in a Sherman Act Section 2 monopsonization case involving allegations

based on unilateral conduct.”

-With respect to their motion to exclude the opinions of Plaintiffs’ experts Drs. Singer and Zimbalist under Daubert, Zuffa argues that regardless of the outcome from the Court, it may still conclude that class certification should be denied.

Payout Perspective:

 The obvious objective of the opposition is to show that Plaintiffs’ claims cannot be tried as a whole and must be tried individually.  If this were to occur, the Plaintiffs would be in a bind logistically and economically as they would be left to prosecute cases for each of the athletes involved in the lawsuit.  Additionally, this would lessen their leverage of settling the cases as well as foreclosing a potential for larger award if they prevail.  Zuffa also stresses the Comcast case in its argument that under a “rigorous analysis” that Plaintiffs liability theory and damages are not tied.

UFC on Fox 29 draws 1.78M viewers

April 15, 2018

UFC on Fox 29 drew 1.78 million viewers on Saturday according to Television By Numbers.  It is the 6th straight UFC on Fox event that failed to draw 2 million viewers.

The main event featuring Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier went on past the 7pm PT time slot so there will be additional viewers tacked on.  But, the fast overnights reflect a drop-in viewership.

The telecast drew 0.6 in the A18-49 demo and a 3 share for its time slot.  UFC on Fox 29 went up against the NHL Playoffs on NBC which drew 2.18 million viewers and identical ratings for the A18-49 demo and share.

Overall, UFC on Fox 29 had the lowest overall viewership in its time slot.

Payout Perspective:

Despite the entertaining card, the casual viewer failed to tune in once again.  The 1.78 million viewer ensures another low 2 million viewership for the event when factoring in the overrun.  While the ratings are better than the PBC on Fox, there has been a decrease over the years in these network shows.  Some of it has to do with injuries and amount of cards ongoing, and fans are starting to tune out the free shows.

UFC 223: Payout Perspective

April 13, 2018

Welcome to another edition of Payout Perspective.  This time we take a look at UFC 223 which took place at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Iaquinta fills in to take on Khabib

The main event was to be Tony-Khabib and then Max Holloway and Khabib, but eventually Al Iaquinta, who was to face Paul Felder, filled in to the main event spot.  As one might expect, Khabib’s wrestling was too much for Iaquinta despite some moments that may have had him in trouble.  Khabib called out Georges St Pierre for November’s big 25th Anniversary show this fall.  Whether or not we will ever see Tony-Khabib remains a mystery and then there’s the potential for a huge fight against Conor McGregor once his legal issues are sorted out.

Namajunas defeats Jedrzejczyk in rematch

Rose Namajunas proved that her first win against Jedrzejcyk was not a fluke as she won most of the exchanges with the former champ to retain her title.

Attendance, Gate and Bonuses

The event at the Barclay’s Center drew 17,026 for a gate of $3,007,108.12 according to the UFC announcement post-event.

$50,000 bonuses went to Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Chris Gruetzemacher, Zabit Magomedsharipov and Kyle Bochniak. The Canadian with the fanny pack had an impressive submissive victory over Evan Dunham.  Gruetzemacher defeated Joe Lauzon via corner stoppage after 2 dominating rounds and Zabit and Bochniak stole the show with a back and forth affair.  Zabit still did more to win the fight but Bochniak put up a game effort.

UFC Prelims and other ratings

The UFC Prelims drew 892,000 viewers.  It was up 23% from the UFC 210 Prelims last April per Nielsen.  The Prelims had an average minute audience of 7,131.  The Prelims peaked on FS1 with 1,057,000 viewers in the last quarter of the telecast.

In addition, the UFC Prefight show drew 373,000 viewers and the Postfight show garnered 138,000 viewers.  On Friday, the weigh-ins on FS2 drew 47,000 and the replay later that night on FS1 drew 128,000 viewers.

The Conor McGregor Show

After Khabib Nurmogomedov’s camp ran into Artem Lobov in the hotel during Fight Week, Conor McGregor and his crew came to UFC Media Day at the Barclay’s Center to get revenge.  As most know, it ended with McGregor trying to get onto Khabib’s bus and throwing a dolly through a window.  The fifth episode of Embedded had a first-hand account of the attack.  As a result, Michael Chiesa was cut on his forehead and Ray Borg had shards in his eye.  As a result, Chiesa’s fight with Anthony Pettis was called off and Ray Borg’s fight with Brandon Moreno was cancelled.  In addition, Artem Lobov was taken off the card for discipline purposes.  As a result, his opponent Alex Caceres was taken off the card as well.

Sponsorships

Motel 6 was once again in the Octagon as one might suggest that the company may be closer to being an official sponsor of the UFC.  In addition, HSS, AMC’s Into the Badlands, Gruntstyle.com, BodyArmor, MetroPCS, Modelo, Harley Davidson, 7-11, EA UFC 3, Toyo Tires and Monster had the center of the Octagon.

The UFC Prep Point was sponsored by EA’s UFC 3 with the tag line, “Become the GOAT”

The Embedded episodes were presented by AMC’s “Into the Badlands.”

Odds and Ends

Jimmy Smith, Joe Rogan and Jon Anik did a very good job on the broadcast.  Smith’s addition to the broadcast team has been seamless.

UFC 223 drew 200,000 searches on Sunday after the event.  Wrestlemania 2018 drew over 1 million searches.

Kyle Bochniak was introduced as being a pit fighter.  It was the first time I heard someone having a discipline as a pit fighter.

Conclusion

According to The Wrestling Observer’s early estimates, the UFC 223 buy rate is higher than the UFC 222’s 210K-260K estimate but lower than UFC 220’s 350K viewers.  This has to be seen as a good since the main event was uncertain even a day before the event.  If the event ends up around 300K viewers, you might infer that many viewers already were purchasing the PPV regardless of the main event and you might argue that the women’s bantamweight co-main event drew many to purchase the card.

Iaquinta replaces Holloway in UFC 223 main event

April 6, 2018

Al Iaquinta has filled in for Max Holloway to take on Khabib Nurmogomedov after it was determined that Holloway could not make the required weight of 155 pounds.

Holloway, filling in on less than a week’s notice, was unable to make the weight according to officials.  One has to wonder whether having Holloway come to Brooklyn to fight made sense considering he was coming off an injury and the compressed time to make the weight.

Paul Felder offered to take the fight but the New York State Athletic Commission indicated that since he was not ranked, he could not take the championship fight.  The reasoning falls in line with what many have advocated with the Ali Act – Felder was not ranked high enough to take the fight for the Championship.

Iaquinta, Felder’s opponent steps in to the main event.  And, it appears there’s a discrepancy on whether this is a title fight or not.


Payout Perspective:

UFC 223 seemed like such a great event and the events of fight week have soured some good fights.  If Iaquinta were to pull an upset over Khabib, the heavy favorite, we could see a strained relationship with the New York State Athletic Commission.

McGregor detained by NYPD and more fallout from UFC 223 media day

April 5, 2018

Conor McGregor has been detained by the New York Police Department according to MMA Junkie as of Thursday night which brings an end to a tumultuous day for UFC 223.  Three bouts have been cancelled due to McGregor’s actions at the Barclay’s Center.

The UFC has issued a statement in light of the incident:

“During today’s media event at Barclays Center to promote UFC 223: Khabib vs. Holloway, Conor McGregor and Artem Lobov entered the building accompanied by over a dozen individuals.

The group, which included McGregor and Lobov, vandalized the vehicle that contained a number of athletes competing at the event taking place this weekend. NYPD was immediately alerted and is currently in the process of investigating the situation. UFC is working very closely with the New York Athletic Commission, Barclays Center security and law enforcement authorities. All parties are working together to ensure the highest standard of proper safety precautions are implemented to protect the fans and athletes.

The organization deems today’s disruption completely unacceptable and is currently working on the consequences that will follow. Immediately, Lobov has been removed from this weekend’s card and individuals involved in the incident are not welcome at tomorrow’s ceremonial weigh-in or Saturday’s event at Barclays Center.”

Lobov was set to meet Alex Caceres.  Michael Chiesa was injured on the bus when glass cut him and his fight with Anthony Pettis was taken off the card.  Ray Borg also injured his eye during the incident and his fight with Brandon Moreno was scratched.

Payout Perspective:

There will be a substantial legal fallout from Thursday’s ruckus and most of it will not even deal with McGregor’s criminal issue which will be a relatively minor offense and will be pleaded out (settled) by his attorney.  The question about whether the athletes not involved in the offense will be paid is unknown.  By contract, none of these fighters made weight since that does not happen until Friday.  Moreover, the UFC has been known not to compensate fighters if an injury occurs to their opponent.  Also, what becomes of Alex Caceres whose only fault was that he was facing Lobov.  These fighters may have legal claims against McGregor and the UFC will also have legal issues against McGregor as it was forced to cancel at least two fights due to the attack.  We will see how the UFC deals with these issues and when the fighter lawsuits might occur.

Conor McGregor sought after by NYPD after UFC 223 media day incident

April 5, 2018

Conor McGregor made his presence known at UFC 223 media day as he attacked a bus carrying UFC fighters as they were leaving the arena.  Michael Chiesa was injured and is reportedly off the card this Saturday.

McGregor and his entourage which included UFC fighter Artem Lobov made their way through the Barclays Center in search of Khabib Nurmogomedov.  Footage shows what appear to be McGregor throw a guard rail into a bus, breaking one of the windows.

Dana White indicated that Lobov, who was scheduled to fight this Saturday, is now removed from his fight due to the incident. The New York Police are looking for McGregor and anyone else involved in the incident.

Payout Perspective:

What exactly ignited McGregor is not clear aside from the fact that White announced that Khabib-Max was for the lightweight championship, a title McGregor has held but not defended.  It could have been a confrontation between Lobov and Khabib earlier this week.  Still, if you are a professional and want to keep your place in the organization, there are other ways to go at it.  There will be repercussions from this incident and one has to wonder what in the world was going to be accomplished by these actions.  There is a good possibility that there is legal trouble coming forward especially Chiesa if it is determined that he’s off of Saturday’s card.

The Interview: Ally Quinney and Sam Erhlich

March 30, 2018

The Interview talks with Florida State University doctrinal students Ally Quinney and Sam Erhlich as they recently presented an upcoming paper at the Sports and Recreation Law Association Conference regarding the privacy concerns with USADA and the UFC anti-doping policy.

In addition to their presentation, we discuss the recent Jon Jones hearing and the Josh Barnett opinion.

We discuss an exchange at the December 2016 Congressional Hearing on Mixed Martial Arts between the sponsor of the expansion to the Muhammad Ali Act, Markwayne Mullin and the UFC’s Jeff Novitsky regarding the reinstatement of Brock Lesnar.

Introductions: 1:04

Discussion about Presentation at SRLA:  2:31

Discussing UFC/USADA deal and the privacy concerns: 3:57

Survey re tracking of athletes provided to Fighters by USADA: 7:23

Discussion regarding leaving USADA testing pool:  11:36

Whether USADA is a state actor: 16:47

Does it matter that USADA is a third party:  20:14

Discussion on the Mark Hunt case: 21:21

Why won’t an Antitrust lawsuit work in this case: 31:24

Discussion about Jon Jones hearing: 33:30

Thoughts on Josh Barnett case:  34:30

Has pro wrestling evolved with The Golden Lovers?

March 25, 2018

A gay wrestling tag team?  Almost 20 years ago, the WWE gained notoriety when Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo teased a gimmick in which they feigned a homosexual relationship which led to a televised “commitment ceremony.”  In 2018, a similar tag team relationship is being teased, but with the times, it is not that controversial.

Billy and Chuck received national attention for an alleged stunt in which they were going to have a commitment ceremony.  The WWE had worked with GLAAD in securing publicity for the event.  Once the ceremony took place (which turned out to be a swerve), GLAAD denounced the stunt as they were duped into helping the WWE obtain awareness for the purpose of gaining ratings.

The Golden Lovers, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi are taking on The Young Bucks on Sunday Night in Long Beach, California in the main event of the New Japan Wrestling Show to be televised on AXS TV.  The promotion has taken off since airing on AXS and the event in Long Beach sold out its 6,500 or so venue within 15 minutes.

The issue of homosexuality in wrestling is no longer a de facto heel character as in the days of the WWE’s portrayals of Adrian Adonis or Goldust.  Omega even invites the thought that the characters may be homosexual.

For that matter, there is not much backlash from NJPW fans.  Arguably, Omega is the biggest fan favorite in the company, and maybe even all of pro wrestling.  His demand is through the roof and its clear that he is in no way looking to parlay his popularity into a shot in the WWE.

 

Via AXS TV

Omega does not care about the ambiguity of his character’s relationship with another man.  In an interview with Yahoo this week Omega let it be known:

“Let people think what they want to think.

If LGBT people can identify with our story, if they think ‘the Golden Lovers are my team,’ I’m good with that. It’s the story of two wrestlers who shared dreams on their way up, who became fast friends, who are now reuniting at the top of their game.

I think it’s important to show in the 21st century that if you’re gay, lesbian, trans, whatever, that you should feel just as welcome to be a wrestling fan as anyone else. You’re welcome in the space.”

Pro wrestling is made up of characters and sometimes it’s based on dredging up the stereotypes to illicit a response from the fans.  From the bad Russians, to the savage Samoans to the good guy American, characters were premised upon typecasts.  Since the WWE became a publicly traded company, the era of focusing on race, gender or ethnicity have largely gone by the wayside.

The newfound view of sexuality is inclusive for everyone and indicative of a new viewpoint on pro wrestling in 2018.  The fans have evolved and are much smarter and are less likely to be pulling for a wrestler based on vanilla characters.

Barnett receives only reprimand, no suspension, in USADA Arbitration hearing

March 23, 2018

Josh Barnett became the first UFC athlete to win an appeal through the UFC Anti-Doping Policy as a the opinion issued on Friday gave the heavyweight “no period of ineligibility.”  He only received a public reprimand but no suspension for the flagged drug test.

Josh Barnett wins USADA Arbitration by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd


Barnett tested positive for a banned substance as a result of an out-of-competition sample on December 9, 2016.  The sample tested positive for Ostarine.

Barnett noted that he was routinely taking dietary supplements “to maintain his conditioning as an elite athlete.”  The opinion notes he took 17 supplements prior to providing the sample that came up positive for Ostarine.  Tributestin 750 was one of the supplements that was supposed to contain only Tribulus Terrestris.  Tribulus is not a Prohibited Substance.  “It is claimed to naturally support the production of testosterone among other positive health attributes.”

Through working with USADA, it was discovered through the process of supplement examination that Barnett’s Tributestin was contaminated with Ostarine.  After testimony at the hearing, USADA conceded that the source of the Ostarine found in Barnett’s out-of-competition samples were from Tributestin as the product was contaminated.  With this concession which USADA seemed to admit from the outset and confirmed with Barnett’s testimony, the case “became one of the Applicant being the victim of a Contaminated Product with a Prohibited Substance.”

Barnett’s prior history of failed drug tests was discussed and the matter of whether this was a second infraction of the UFC ADP.  However, the arbitrator determined that a drug sample taken by the California State Athletic Commission

Notably, Barnett, gave the UFC notice that he was taking a “leave of absence” on December 14, 2016.  Two weeks later, his A sample came up positive for Ostarine.

The arbitration hearing took place on March 6, 2018, 14 months after his sample was taken.  The Arbitrator seemed to be persuaded by Barnett’s testimony as he described his detail in trying to make sure that he was compliant with USADA rules.  Notably, after his dealings with the CSAC, he devised a practice of “keeping each original container of any supplement he used and ensuring that a small portion of its content remained and could be analyzed.”  This seemed to sway the trier of fact.

The Arbitrator noted:  “I find this Applicant to be a very meticulous and careful person.  In my experience as an arbitrator of hundreds of doping cases I have never heard testimony from an individual who has taken so much care to record his supplement regime in order to avoid the very problem he is now experiencing.

Payout Perspective:

Barnett’s prior fallout from drug issues was the reason that saved him here.  It was his cataloguing of what he takes plus the samples he had that persuaded USADA.  Could the system be fabricated?  Yes, but the presentation seemed to be compelling to the trier of fact.  So, it was not just cooperation plus providing all of the supplements to USADA, but the original bottles and samples taken which likely ensured that Barnett would not be suspended.  While it was curious that Barnett announced leaving the UFC for a time two weeks prior to his notice of his drug test results, it seemed to be of no consequence in the final conclusion.

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