Opinion: Another Round in New York’s MMA Legalization Fight
By Jesse Heitz
Again this week the chatter about the prospects of MMA’s legalization in the state of New York has intensified. The call for this long overdue move seems to get louder and louder with each passing day. Now, even the state’s top lawmaker has jumped into the fray, outlining his support for MMA’s official entrance into what could be the sport’s most lucrative market.
The key component that forces politicians to legislate is his or her constituents. If the voting populace suffers long enough, politicians—even the incorrigible ones, fearful of losing their jobs, will support the necessary changes that will keep their constituency happy. It’s no secret that economics and the almighty dollar, or a lack thereof, is what produces some of the fiercest political changes of heart. This is precisely what we are witnessing in New York.
The country is suffering economically. We have a national unemployment rate of 7.7%. Yet, New York still sits well above the national average at 8.2%. Proponents of MMA’s legalization in New York, as well as the general citizenry itself, have long argued that the economic impact MMA could bring to the table is something that could benefit the struggling state.
In a March 12th, 2013, article in the Albany Times Union, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, stated,
“We’re looking for economic activity wherever we can find it, right? Mixed martial arts is a possible place for economic activity. We have a big viewership for MMA now. I understand the flip side, but I think it’s something that should be pursued, definitely.”
One could assume that MMA will have more than a noticeable economic impact on the state of New York. In a study published by the UFC itself, the study examined the possible economic impact MMA would have on New York, and stated,
“The study found that holding two UFC events in the state (one at Madison Square Garden and one in Buffalo) will create roughly $16 million in new spending. Additionally, the study found smaller MMA operators will likely hold events that would bring an additional $4 million. In total, $23 million of annual new spending and hundreds of new jobs will be created in the local economy by regulating MMA. Many UFC fans travel from surrounding states, stay for extended periods (at least one night at a hotel), and often arrive hours early for fights, which boosts merchandise and concession sales. New York-based MMA gyms and related industries are also expected to see an increase in revenue from the regulation of the sport. Likewise, local businesses will benefit greatly from MMA bouts, particularly outside of New York City where the economic influx is proportionally greater. This trend follows that of surrounding states which currently regulate MMA fights.”
The findings of this particular study, while one should always be wary of data collected and released by an entity with a subjective view—or an agenda that is being actively pursued, that MMA pumping $23 million into the state’s economy each year isn’t that preposterous. Back in 2011, The Toronto Star published an article on the economic impact of UFC 129 on that city, stating,
“The Ultimate Fighting Championship went the distance for Toronto tourism and for local businesses, which took in an estimated $40 million from the most successful fight night in UFC history.
Overall, Moneris Solutions, Canada’s largest credit and debit card processor, issued a report last month showing a substantial increase in dollars spent in the city on Saturday, April 30, the day of the highly-anticipated Toronto event.
Restaurants enjoyed a 19.2 per cent jump in dollars spent compared week-over-week. Similarly, bars and pubs experienced a 15.7 per cent increase — confirming that in addition to the 55,724 fans at the Rogers Centre, many more watched the popular event outside their home.
The Moneris report also showed a sizable rise in retail spending from people who made their way to the downtown core. Apparel and sporting goods stores saw a 41.3 per cent and a 33 per cent jump in sales respectively.
And many people travelled to Toronto to experience the UFC in person, as evidenced by the 20.3 per cent rise in dollars spent at hotels, says the report.
“Toronto’s hotel occupancy rates were in the high 90s — which doesn’t usually happen in April,”
UFC Canada is finalizing an economic impact report on Toronto’s UFC bonanza that is expected out in August, adding the $40 million estimate of the financial boon to Toronto is only a conservative estimate.”
These numbers put everything into perspective, and while we must account for the fact that UFC 129 was an incredibly successful card, I think it’s safe to assume that if one card could pull $40 million into Toronto, that one or two UFC cards annually and countless other cards from the remainder of the industry could top the previously estimated $23 million. And this is money that will undoubtedly be spread throughout a variety of industries, making MMA’s inclusion in New York a winning proposition for all parties involved in commerce.
The age of MMA’s widespread domestic acceptance is upon us. All of our logical arguments in favor of the sport pale in comparison to overwhelming power of simple economics. Dollars and sense will eventually override the stubborn minority of legislators that seek to keep MMA out of the sporting oasis that is New York.