(My God, the muckraking! Pic: Strikeforce)
After being denied media access to cover last weekend’s Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley for CBS Sports (and apparently buying a ticket and going anyway), longtime reporter Loretta Hunt conducted a video chat with fellow scribe Jason Probst on Monday to discuss the ongoing banishment of many of the sport’s best-known journalists from events controlled by the UFC. We missed it, but since Zuffa, LLC’s brazen efforts to marginalize media it doesn’t deem friendly enough to its own interests is perhaps the biggest story consistently ignored by “credentialed” MMA sites (for obvious reasons, right?), we figure some of it needs repeating.
For starters, Hunt claims the honchos at CBS Sports are not impressed that Zuffa continues to conduct media relationships like a 13-year-old girl deciding who can ride the pony at her birthday party. It appears that heavy-hitters like CBS are used to a certain amount of professionalism from the entities they cover and the UFC obviously sorely lacks in that department. Zuffa has been such a pain in the ass that Hunt says CBS might just chuck it the fuck-it bucket and stop covering MMA entirely. So, that seems counterproductive. Her quotes – with props to Fight Opinion for the original transcriptions — and some of our own musings are after the jump …
“CBS Sports I’m told hasn’t really covered MMA for the last year or so,” Hunt says. “I’m told (it’s) because they’ve had some difficulty with getting interviews and things like that in the past, so they kind of cooled off from it. This was the first show that they were going to do in quite some time. They brought me in, assigned me and then we were turned down (for press credentials). So, CBS Sports decided that they just weren’t going to do any coverage at all of the UFC. They don’t want to be told who they can send to their events and who they shouldn’t send to their events representing (CBS) … I’m sad this door closed. I mean, a door really did close. CBS Sports is not going to look at MMA for at least a little while.”
To hear Hunt tell it, it sounds like CBS’ struggles with the UFC date back a few years to when the network was airing EliteXC programming and simultaneously trying to branch out into some overall MMA coverage. As they are apt to do, the folks over at Zuffa allegedly took a hard line, she says, denying CBS interviews and access to its events. In response, CBS naturally decided to just take its ball and go home rather than put up with a bunch of BS from some niche sport few of its viewers had even heard of before. That decision stood until last week, Hunt says, when CBS sort of weirdly decided to get off the bench to cover a Strikeforce event.
“This was (CBS) kind of dipping their toe back in the (MMA) water again and, you know, something like this happens again and it just reinforces the UFC and their take on the mixed martial arts media and them trying to decide who they want to sent and who they don’t want (sent to their events) …,” Hunt says. “(Zuffa) wants to move into being a mainstream sport and a mainstream league at this point … (but) what’s happening (with the media) is extraordinary and makes us seem kind of hokey, you know, mixed martial arts compared to all the other sports. What other big promotion do you know that doesn’t let the media in?”
She’s right about that. It actually does make MMA look totally amateurish for the biggest company in the sport to act so petty and, frankly, immature. For awhile now, we’ve wondered how Zuffa’s cutthroat and unorthodox (read: pretty crazy) way of conducting business would mesh with its push for mainstream acceptance. For a while there the mainstream media thought Dana White was pretty cute, what with all the retro T-shirts and the cursing, but maybe that’s slowly starting to change.
It’s also interesting to note that by denying CBS Sports access to its event – again, because a part owner of the company has a personal beef with a reporter – it was essentially denying a credential to Viacom, the media giant that owns CBS (which allegedly still has to decide if it will renew a broadcast deal with Strikeforce), Showtime (which aired the event), SpikeTV (which regularly shows UFC events) and MTV (which is just starting to test the water with other MMA events).
Looked at in that context, it just makes the UFC look almost unthinkably stubborn. Maybe the companies in question are so huge and separate that turning down CBS won’t make too many waves. Still, if we were a junior vice president somewhere at Viacom and we found out about this? We probably wouldn’t be thrilled. We might even think about writing a memo to someone above us. Or at least dictating a memo to our secretary while we tossed a rubber ball against the wall with our feet up on the desk. At some point you have to wonder, is the UFC’s small-mindedness really worth the trouble?