The Toughest Fight in Mixed Martial Arts History - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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The Toughest Fight in Mixed Martial Arts History

The Toughest Fight in Mixed Martial Arts History

TV and online viewers watch Quinton Jackson take a swing at Chuck Liddell during an Ultimate Fighting Championship light-heavyweight title bout in Las Vegas.

Over the past five years mixed martial arts (“MMA”) has gained considerable traction in the sports market, from both a global perspective and, to an even further extent, in the eyes Americans.  MMA, as defined by Wikipedia.org is “a full contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques and skills, from a mixture of other combat sports, to be used in competitions.”  The sport’s rise in popularity is often  attributed largely to successful business endeavors undertaken by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”), including most notably the hit reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” which has been airing on Spike TV since 2005.  Prior to the show, the sport’s exposure was limited to the occasional Pay-Per-View event, which meant channel surfers never had the opportunity to discover MMA.  With the airing of the show, cable television increased the sport’s visibility, in turn helping the sport’s popularity (and similarly, brand awareness) to explode.  Little by little the fighting industry has made strides which have culminated in significant coverage by all the major sports media outlets throughout the nation, and in many more countries all over the world.  Ironically enough, though, in light of recent legal action taken by Zuffa, LLC, the UFC’s parent entity, onlookers may be asking themselves if it is possible that the sport is now actually suffering from overexposure?  The action is currently ongoing, with recent updates available at http://www.fightlawyerblog.com/2011/02/google-and-zuffa-copyright-fight.html.

The answer to that is a resounding no.  However, the question probably seems more rhetorical in nature than what the facts actually bare out.  Specifically, the UFC itself is losing out on an indeterminable sum of money due to online piracy.  Although much of its present-day success can be linked with the sport’s exposure on the cable television platform, the promotion still derives most of its income from selling its product the Pay-Per-View platform.  Technological advances in recent years have made it rather simple for people to broadcast live television over the internet.  For example, numerous websites now offer illegally broadcast live feeds of live television.  In turn, although hundreds of thousands of MMA fans have routinely purchased the biggest fight cards offered by the UFC over the past few years, not all fans have been able to resist the temptation of scouring out an illegally posted live stream to avoid the Pay-Per-View surcharge.

The music industry has been devastated since the days of the Napster, when the file sharing service paved the way for the free exchange of copyrighted property.  Although Napster was ultimately shut down, the industry will most likely never recover since today there are more viable options than ever before to illegally download music.  When music industry leaders recognized that such an outcome was likely to play out as it did, advocates began taking legal action against arbitrarily selected violators, hoping that a deterrent effect would help buck the trend.  Needless to say, such an effect has not been felt, at least not significantly.

Zuffa, however, apparently feels that this type of deterrent effect may still be possible to invoke for the MMA industry. Wisely, the company seems to be protecting itself in the likely event that its product will always be compromised if a surcharge is being charged to consumers, as the UFC has hinted at having a major network television deal in place in the near future.  A major network television deal would greatly alleviate pirating potential because the vast majority of MMA consumers already subscribe to such television channels.   In any case, it is unlikely that the Pay-Per-View platform would be fully abandoned, so until then, online piracy will remain a thorn in the side of MMA’s leading promotion.  This is because as long as fans are required to shell out about $50 per event when fights are on Pay-Per-View, there will always be cheapies that find their way around paying the fee.  In essence, as long as Zuffa is hosting its events on a premium channel that requires additional costs to what television subscribers are already paying, pirating seems likely to continue…

The longest fights in the UFC can last up to 25 minutes before the ringside judges award a decision.  However, the battle between Zuffa and online piraters is destined to play out for quite a long time before any judge decides anything at all. Stay tuned…

Brett Cohen