It’s always unsettling to hear Dana White plead ignorance.
After more than a decade as one of the most opinionated and hands-on executives in sports, we’ve come to rely on him as the last word on most MMA-related topics—both for better and for worse.
In an industry that somehow continues to operate largely without spokespeople, he’s not just the UFC president, but also its all-around point man. If White doesn’t know the answer to a question—or won’t at least say stuff to make it sound like he knows—chances are, nobody does.
Perhaps that’s why it was so jarring last weekend when, on the topic of why the fight company will add $5 to the price of its upcoming UFC 168 pay-per-view, the notoriously decisive White suddenly sounded shockingly out of the loop.
“Some guys got together at the office and decided to do that,” White said, during the post-fight media scrum for UFC on Fox 9. “I don’t know, I didn’t determine it.”
When asked why the organization would suddenly raise the PPV fee for one of its biggest shows of the year, White shrugged and said, “'Cause.”
Asked how the company determined exactly how much to inflate the charge, White admitted, “I have no idea.”
So there you have it. The man who is typically the authoritative source on all things UFC says he doesn’t know much about this one-time-only price hike and, what’s more, he doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.
Perhaps that fact alone tells us everything we need to know. Maybe White and the UFC are smart enough to realize some of what’s going on here is better left unsaid.
The truth is, we already know the answers to these questions, don’t we? Even if White wouldn’t come right out and say it, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the company might want to charge a few extra dollars for a PPV featuring Anderson Silva’s hotly anticipated rematch with Chris Weidman.
Because it can.
It knows most of us will grumble and mumble our complaints but then tune in anyway to watch one of the biggest fights in UFC history.
Granted, on the surface the decision appears to fly in the face of the promotion’s current talking points. Raising prices doesn’t jive with White’s continued assertion that the UFC’s numbers are down across the board and sponsorship money is scarce for fighters because the economy continues to slump. Nor does it bode well for an organization so vocal (and litigious) in its efforts to quell online piracy.
If White is right about the economy, and the UFC is justified in its fears regarding digital hijacking, then it’s hard to see how the company can defend asking fans to bear an added financial burden to enjoy the spoils of UFC 168. In fact, it’s pretty nakedly contradicting itself with a decision that will only exacerbate both factors.
Maybe that’s why White’s not even bothering trying to explain.
Because let’s also not kid ourselves. What’s going on here is entirely pragmatic.
Early estimates say this PPV could crest one million buys, and the president himself is on record saying he believes it’ll be the fight promotion’s biggest show ever.
Add to that the fact that the UFC’s biggest longstanding draw (Georges St-Pierre) just announced an indefinite leave of absence, that its heavyweight champion (Cain Velasquez) expects to miss most of 2014 with a shoulder injury and its lightweight champ (Anthony Pettis) just had knee surgery, and the picture is cast in even sharper relief.
If raising the price of UFC 168 is a boldfaced cash-grab, it’s a well-timed one.
It’s a decision fans might not like, but it’s also surely one they’ll understand. Hard to blame the UFC, actually, if right now it feels like it might want to sock away some cash for a rainy day. Or, you know, further retirements, economic collapses and schedule-shattering injuries.
While the implications here are a bit troubling—after the UFC raises prices once, it’ll be easier to do it for the next big fight and the next—it’s tough to be too mad, even if White admits he’s taking an uncharacteristically hands-off approach to how fans might be feeling.
“I haven’t heard any feedback,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people aren’t thrilled about it but, what are you gonna do?”
Grit our teeth and take it, I guess. And hope it doesn’t become a habit.