January 26, 2017
Judge John Walter issued an order granting Al Haymon’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Golden Boy’s antitrust lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles on May 5, 2015. The case was set to go to trial in March.
In his 25-page opinion filed on Thursday, Judge Walter determined that Golden Boy did not come forth with genuine issues of fact to support its claims that Haymon’s promotion, Premier Boxing Champions, foreclosed the market on boxers and other promotions among other antitrust violations. Moreover, it determined that Golden Boy’s injury “was caused by conduct that was beneficial to competition in the promotion market.”
The judge noted that Haymon’s business strategy actually helped boxing with more televised matches and better pay for fighters.
The opinion noted that the tv strategy of securing deals with multiple networks implemented by PBC did not foreclose all networks. It also pointed to the fact that Golden Boy expert’s did not provide an examination of recoupment of money of PBC’s purported strategy of “flipping” its business model from tv buys to securing license fees.
It also was not persuaded by Golden Boy’s claims of “sham” promoters that aided PBC nor the alleged “firewall” between promoters and managers. The court found no evidence that boxers were coerced into working with promoters. Moreover, the judge noted that PBC worked with other promoters. In the latter claim, the Judge wrote that there was no antitrust injury because there was no standing. Only boxers and governmental agencies may make the claim per the Ali Act.
In its conclusion, it noted that antitrust laws protect competition, not competitors.
— Jason Cruz (@dilletaunt) January 27, 2017
In reading the opinion, one might be concerned with the UFC antitrust lawsuit. The court stressed the issue that antitrust laws protect competition, not competitors. Despite the speculation that Haymon’s PBC attempted to foreclose the market on competitors, there was no evidence found by the court which conflicted with antitrust laws. The court determined that Golden Boy did not define the relevant markets and did not establish a “tie in” or “tie out” which may have been a violation of antitrust laws. Based on the opinion, it is unlikely that Golden Boy appeals this decision.
Payout Exclusive: Interview with Alliance MMA’s Robert Haydak and Suckerpunch Entertainment’s Bryan Hamper
January 25, 2017
MMA Payout had the opportunity to speak with Alliance MMA’s Robert Haydak and Suckerpunch Entertainment’s Bryan Hamper.
The two spoke about the acquisition of the fighter management company and how it helps both companies going forward.
Among the top-level fighters Suckerpunch represents includes Max Holloway, Joanna Jedrzejczykand Germaine da Randamie.
Haydak, president of the publicly traded MMA company stated that he knew of Suckerpunch from his previous relationship with them as the head of his own promotion. “I’ve known them for a number of years. We have a good working relationship. I’ve watched their company grow since Cage Fury (Haydak ran Cage Fury prior to establishing Alliance MMA). I have a lot of respect for them and a lot of their top athletes.” Bryan Hamper, head of Suckerpunch MMA, added, “We fell in love with the model [of Alliance MMA]. We really felt it was a fit the way going forward.”
Hamper noted that the internal production staff of Alliance MMA would help its stable of young up and coming fighters: “We can now film our fighters using high quality content and send our videos. It’s no longer cell phones. It’s a better finished product to market.”
Suckerpunch currently has 103 athletes. “We have less than 3% performing in Alliance MMA,” said Hamper. “The lionshare of the company is in the UFC, Bellator and Invicta.”
Hamper stated that the Alliance MMA acquisition is “not an exclusive deal.” He explained that any of its fighters are still free to fight on regional cards that are not associated with Alliance MMA. Hamper noted that the management company tries to be selective with its representation. “We have an internal system of where guys are at. For us it’s not about volume business. We want to bring in high-character guys.”
“Working with Alliance MMA gives us the bandwith to expand,” said Hamper. According to Hamper, the acquisition will free up Suckerpunch to go after more prospects while Alliance MMA will assist with the corporate work. “We will really focus on sponsorship engagement.” Hamper noted that Suckerpunch recently secured several sponsor and appearance deals for UFC interim Featherweight Champ Max Holloway outside of the octagon. He notes that sponsorship deals are still out despite restrictions made by the UFC.
“We think we have 15 guys on the cusp of being in the UFC,” Hamper said of the current state of his prospects. He indicated that he would like to bring on 10-15 clients a year. “We have the ability to market them like our top-rated fighters.”
“Suckerpunch under Alliance MMA will continue to operate under their own brand,” said Haydak. “Their brand identity is not going anywhere.” Similar to its other acquisitions, Alliance MMA has purchased the company but the acquired business will operate under its own name. He indicated that the company will likely add more assets to the publicly traded company. “Obviously, taking a look at our business plan, we are continuing our strategy in 2017. There will be several acquisitions made this year.”
Under the new owners, Suckerpunch will continue with managing its fighters. Hamper added, “[R]ight now, we’re looking at our growth perspective going forward. We are excited about the growth and making sure our top prospect guys are getting looks in 2017.”
The two addressed the potential issue of the acquisition of the management company conflicting with also being a promoter of MMA events. This may be an issue if legislation to the expansion of the Ali Act to MMA is passed.
Hamper reiterated that, “Less than 3% of our athletes are competing for Alliance MMA [promotions]. It’s a very small piece.”
“Definitely it’s something we considered when looking at this acquisition,” Haydak stated. “We are monitoring the Ali Act. Less than 3% of Suckerpunch fighters fight within Alliance. If the Ali Act (is expanded), it would not happen to have impact on our operations. A lot of promotions are managing athletes. We are completely transparent. We are putting the athletes first.”
Hamper added, “From my perspective, transparency is a key element. Opponents and matchup approvals come from athletic commissions. We’re governed by athletic commissions. I think we’re taking broad steps.”
An expansion of the Ali Act would create a firewall between managers and promoters.
January 20, 2017
Chris Liddell, the global CFO at WME-IMG has taken a post with the newly installed Trump Administration as reported by Deadline.com and the Hollywood Reporter.
As we know, WME-IMG purchased the UFC this past summer. Ari Emmanuel, the former Hollywood agent for President Donald Trump, met with Emmanuel shortly after he was elected president. The substance of the discussions was not made public. Despite their relationship, Emmanuel is considered someone that supports Democrats.
Liddell will take on the role of adviser and has been named an assistant and director of strategic initiatives for the new administration. He had provided advice to President Trump in appointments during the post-election transition.
The appointment is key if you are one to connect dots. The expansion of the Ali Act to include combat sports (i.e., MMA) is still an active bill in the House. The UFC is opposed to this legislation and has lobbied against it. The appointment of Liddell to a post within the Trump Administration might be the death knell for the success of passing this bill. While we might believe that all parties will have an open mind on the bill, you have to wonder if a former executive of the company that owns the UFC would advise the President to veto such legislation if it got to that point. More likely, the bill gets buried before even getting to the Senate.
December 29, 2016
In May 2016, Oklahoma Republican Congressman Markwayne Mullin introduced an expansion of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to include MMA. A Congressional Subcommittee hearing was conducted in December to discuss the issues related to mixed martial arts and how the introduced law would help fighters.
In addition to Congressman Mullin, it is co-sponsored by Democrats including Joseph P. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Mark Takano of California. Overall, 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats have put their name to the bill.
The UFC opposes the expansion and hired a lobbying firm to influence legislators into voting down the amendment to the existing law. Several op-eds have come out to oppose the law citing government overreach among other reasons. It attempted to strong-arm the December hearing by indicating it would not participate if Randy Couture testified. It backed off and Jeff Novitsky represented the UFC at the hearing.
The amendment to the Ali Act mirrors the current law with few changes but for the inclusion of combat sports. Earlier this year, I outlined the issues with the expansion of the Ali Act which included a variety of cases where boxers sued promoters and came up with a loss. Notably, there could have been more done with the Ali Act to ensure functionality to allow fighters an alternative to needing to file a lawsuit under the Act.
Currently, the Ali Act is in the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee. There is no word on whether there will be additional hearings on the subject or what the next move will be on the bill.
With the new UFC ownership and its previous relationship with the incoming administration in January I do not know how successful passage will be. At this point, there seems to be a lot more work to do before it comes to a vote in the House.
16 for 16
5. UFC 200
14. Bellator 149
15. CM Punk debuts
December 6, 2016
Bloody Elbow reports that the UFC threatened not to participate at a Congressional subcommittee hearing on MMA and the possible expansion of the Ali Act set for Thursday. The power play was due to Randy Couture’s participation as a witness at the hearing.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Republican congressman Markwayne Mullin, the UFC attempted to influence the hearing by refusing to participate at the hearing. The hearing is before the subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.
The witness list is now public and it appears that based on Congressman Mullin’s statement, the UFC threatened to withdraw the presence of Jeff Novitsky from the hearing. Novitsky, who is the Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance will be speaking on behalf of the UFC. The UFC denied Mullin’s statement that they attempted to rescind its participation via Novitsky.
It will be an interesting hearing on Thursday as Couture, Novitsky, Lydia Robertson (Treasurer of the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) and concussion researcher Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University will be testifying. Mullin’s assertion that the UFC did not want Couture to testify could be true. The UFC and Couture have had contentious past and the UFC likely does not want him to speak about his side of the story. Whether or not the UFC attempted to get Couture off of the witness list is another issue. Certainly, the company has lobbyists working on its behalf and they have talked to legislators including co-sponsors of the Ali Act Expansion Act.
December 3, 2016
The Congressional subcommittee on energy and commerce will have a hearing this Tuesday on the Expansion of the Muhammad Ali Act. According to the notice, the hearing is entitled, “Mixed Martial Arts: Issues and Perspectives.”
No witnesses have been announced and are by invitation only. A webcast will be available for public viewing.
Republican Oklahoma congressional representative Markwayne Mullin was the primary sponsor of the bill introduced last May. Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors to the bill which seeks to expand the current Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to combat sports. Specifically, the bill is addressed to help mixed martial artists.
Zuffa has employed lobbyists to combat the passage of this bill. The bill will likely meet stiff opposition despite the bill coming from a Republican. Current UFC exec, Ari Emmanuel, met with President-elect Donald Trump last month. While no specifics of the meeting were revealed, Emmanuel and the President-elect have a past business relationship. One might suspect that Emmanuel’s relationship may influence support to quash the expansion of the Ali Act.
Since the sale of the UFC to WME-IMG, more and more fighters have come forward to discuss their need for better pay and benefits. Two organizations, the Professional Fighters Association and the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association have come forward seeking support to organize in hopes of negotiating with the UFC on behalf of the contracted fighters. The two join the MMAFA as organizations that continue to seek better conditions for fighters. The MMAFA is an active advocate for the expansion of the Ali Act.
The hearing should be interesting as to who will testify and what will be said about the expansion of the Ali Act. The sale of the UFC will likely come up as well as the current antitrust lawsuit. The question is whether the expansion of the Ali Act would truly help MMA fighters. What will interest me is how educated the legislators will be on the sport of MMA and how the application of the bill to MMA will have on the sport.
November 21, 2016
President-elect Donald Trump met with his former Hollywood agent, and current UFC owner Ari Emanuel on Sunday.
Emanuel met the President-elect at his New Jersey golf course. Trump touted Emmanuel as “the king of Hollywood.” The substance of the meeting was not revealed.
Despite being a longtime Democratic fund-raiser, Trump called Emanuel a “great friend.” Dana White spoke on behalf of Trump at the Republican National Convention and was seen at an GOP party on election night.
Perhaps the meeting included some talk about Emmanuel’s new venture as head of the UFC. He is one of the new faces of the organization since WME-IMG took over from the Fertitta brothers in July.
One of the relevant issues that the President-elect may deal with is the attempt to amend the existing Muhammad Ali Act to include combat sports. The UFC has lobbied vehemently against it. It has enlisted Farragut PR to monitor the Ali Act on behalf of the UFC.
The bill was introduced in late May by Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin. In late September, the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protection as set forth by the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
With the new administration set to come in this January, the likelihood that the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act passes is low. Certainly, having President-elect Trump as an ally will help Emmanuel and the UFC. Moreover, one would think that a Republican dominated House and Senate would persuade Representative Mullin to shelve the bill or amend it to make it more friendly for promoters.
July 17, 2016
I hopped on with Paul Gift and John Nash of Bloody Elbow to discuss the UFC sale and the future impact. We also learned at the end of the episode that Brock Lesnar was flagged for a potential UFC anti-doping policy violation.
June 17, 2016
The initial draft language for the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act was made public last week. The language, while likely not the final version, amends the existing act which protects boxers.
The UFC opposes federal regulation of its sport. Lawrence Epstein, the company’s Chief Operating Officer told ESPN, “We continue to believe the federal government would have no productive role in regulating MMA promotions or competitions.” This is not the first time the company has lobbied against regulation. According to Fox Sports.com, Zuffa hired lobbyists to help them oppose Senator John McCain’s proposed amendments to the Ali Act.
Officially the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 amends the Muhammad Ali Act. It was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Energy and Commerce in late May.
The language essentially expands the current law to include combat sports. The language and sections are changed but there is nothing wholly different from the existing law other than combat sports are now a part of the proposed law. Certainly, the expansion of the Ali Act could cause the UFC, Bellator and other organizations to change its business practices to ensure that it is in compliance with the law. However, the utility of the law has proven to be a difficult obstacle for fighters that have sued under the Ali Act.
The UFC has retained a lobbying firm to oppose the regulation. A letter to the committees which will evaluate the proposed law, signed by mainly Republican-backed groups, has been circulating opposing the expansion. On the other end, MMAFA has released a letter in support of the law. The letter is signed by many fighters in support of the bill.
June 11, 2016
The D.C. based firm was formed this year. They are an offshoot of partners from another firm. They have a list of clients in the telecommunications, energy and healthcare industries. Earlier this year, T-Mobile chose the firm to help it push support for the “Wireless Tax Fairness Act.” The bill would enact a five-year moratorium on any new state or local taxes imposed on consumers for wireless service.
The firm also represents Comcast Corp., Altria Group (Tobacco Industry) and Blue Cross/Blue Shield according to opensecrets.org. Thus far this year, it has reported $950,000 in lobbying income.
Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin introduced the bill late last month.
The bill would introduce measures to expand the Ali Act protecting boxers to all pro combat sports athletes.
A three-person team at Farragut Partners will handle the UFC account including federal legislative staffers for Republican politicians.
Clearly, the UFC opposes federal regulation of MMA and specifically its business practices. It should not surprise anyone that it has hired a lobbying firm to represent its interests and gain support in opposing the expansion of the Ali Act. This year it has already spent $110,000 on lobbying firms. Last year it spent $410,000. Look for the total for this year to increase due to the Ali Act lobbying efforts. We shall see if it is money well-spent for the company.