LAS VEGAS — The launch of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Fight Pass online streaming service has caused more headaches than the company likely intended when it made the announcement in December.
Plagued with security issues, difficulties for users to opt out of the service and a less-than-complete library, Fight Pass could largely be described as something that held plenty of promise but needed a ton of work before reaching its potential.
Fixes have been made. Security protocols surrounding user password resets have been upgraded, and the service now has an easy opt-out link for users who wish to cancel their subscription. And though the viewable library is far from containing the complete history of the UFC, the company has added new archived content on an almost-daily basis.
But one major issue remains: sponsorship.
Flyweight Zach Makovsky told MMAjunkie on Wednesday that he opted to accept a fight with Josh Sampo this weekend instead of participating in a Brazilian Fight Pass card in the future:
“They were like, ‘You can turn it down and we can get you on later, but that could be on a card on Fight Pass in Brazil, against a Brazilian,’” Makovsky said.
Such a booking would have brought a hit to his pocket book in the form of flying his coaches to the fight and selling sponsors on the still-developing digital network.
“I think this was the best scenario,” Makovsky said. “I always wanted to fight in Vegas.”
Makovsky is not alone. Three separate managers told Bleacher Report on the condition of anonymity that the difficulty of securing sponsorships for Fight Pass makes it the least attractive card placement for their fighters.
White is not sympathetic, however. When pressed about finding solutions to the problem during a Thursday media scrum, he was at first evasive. Then he pushed back.
"It's not my f-----g problem. It's not a problem," White said. "Getting sponsorship is a problem. It's tough. It's hard to do. If a guy fights on Fight Pass, right? First of all, he's getting paid to fight. That's what he does. How sponsorship works out for a guy is not my problem. That is not my problem. He's a fighter, he gets paid to fight, period, end of story. Whatever extra money he makes outside of the UFC with sponsors and all that s--t, that's his deal."
White's usual response to difficult questions is to turn red, raise his voice and, when all else fails, turn the question back on the interviewer in a mocking manner.
When Fox Sports reporter Mike Chiappetta asked White about fighter concerns over the in-progress UFC uniform deal I first reported last week—citing concerns made public by strawweight Felice Herrig—White immediately forgot the nature of the actual question and used it as a launching point to talk about reporters "b------g" about stuff, even though reporters weren't "b------g" about stuff in the first place. It was his own fighters.
Chiappetta was simply asking a question.
But the truth was already lost, obsfucated in a cloud of red faces, loud voices and curse words.
This is business as usual. Just last week, White executed one of the more memorable tirades I've ever seen based off a question from Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole asking about drug testing. Fifteen minutes later, White was standing, screaming at those of us gathered around the conference room table at Zuffa's headquarters on Sahara, waving his flip phone in the air, telling us to give him the names of 10 fighters on his roster so he could drug test them.
When we would not (because professional journalists never try to make the news, just report it), White said he never wanted to hear us "b------g" about that subject again.
There's that word again.
The truth is there are no easy solutions to the immediate issues proposed by Fight Pass or the uniform deal, whenever that is completed.
The uniforms will clean up the sport from a visual perspective, getting rid of tiny companies who bandwagon on the UFC's brand by slapping their logo on the butt cheek of an unknown fighter and sending him to the Octagon. You'd never see a random NBA player sporting dozens of hideous logos on his uniform, and for good reason. The uniform and the policies that go along with it will make everything look that much more professional, and that is never a bad thing.
It will also be a financial help to those who cannot sell their own sponsorships. The UFC isn't cutting fighters out of the sponsorship pie. They're taking away the ability for fighters and the people who represent them to sell their own body space, but they're going to compensate them in return. The only people truly affected by the uniform deal will be those in the upper tier of sponsorships, such as light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
In ten years, we may look back at Fight Pass as the most brilliant move the UFC has ever executed. Television is moving more and more to the streaming format, and the UFC is ahead of the curve. Fight Pass is not a creation for the now; it is a platform for the future, and there is plenty of room to grow. In that respect, it is a great move for the UFC.
But convincing fighters who are relegated to Fight Pass now, and not the distant future when millions are streaming all content to their television screens, is a tough sell.
Answering questions about how a uniform deal that isn't even signed yet will affect the grocery-buying abilities of fighters who rely on Billy Bob's Print Shop from down the street isn't easy.
Both of these things are landmark moments in mixed martial arts, in their own unique ways, and both present significant changes for the business of MMA in the future.
But there's one thing for certain: The best way to answer present and future questions about these and other issues is not to yell a lot and hope that intense anger and sarcastic mocking will make the questions go away.
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