How do you become Dana White? How do you package a sport that was once thought of as human cockfighting, and make it into a product that can be sold for $4 billion?
No holds barred, balls to the wall, bulldog mentality.
Stuff like this:
Now imagine: Dana White, who was once shaken down by famed Boston mobster Kevin Weeks, who's taken risk after risk, necessarily, to make the UFC a major American sport, taking a call from some old wrinkly guy in a suite asking him if he's gotten the memo.
For some reason, I don't see Dana freakin' White taking that well, but that's just me.
Today, that's exactly what happened. ESPN executives succumbed to the pressure of California governor Gavin Newsom, and laid down the law, telling Dana White to call off UFC 249.
Yikes. Everything the UFC stands for - renegade, risky, anti-authority - just took a major blow. That's what happens when you partner with Mickey Mouse. ESPN is owned by Disney, and Disney didn't want to attach themselves to the only sporting event willing to defy the country's economic shutdown.
This, after Dana White did what he always does - defy media and critics, kick ass and take names. He called organizing UFC 249 the hardest thing he's ever tried to do. In the end, the company that kept Disneyland open until March 14th despite growing public concern, decided they didn't couldn't take the public relations hit.
That begs the question: Why would the UFC want to be attached to Disney? Disney's safe. Disney's cartoonish. Disney, and more specifically ESPN, was once willing to take risks, but is now in asset-protection mode. That's not a shot at Disney, that's the reality of a publicly traded company valued at over $100 billion.
Of course, that valuation, and brand, is the answer to my question. ESPN is paying $1.5 billion over 5 years for the rights to air UFC fights. ESPN offers an audience beyond what the UFC could've garnered elsewhere. But, when you get in business with Mickey Mouse, you better not get Goofy. They expect you to be a Muppet, and sing to the beat of Bob Chapek.
Nah, not Dana. No way this thing lasts. If it does, the deal certainly won't be renewed. $1.5 billion's a sweet number, but you can't put a price on creative freedom.
I'll bet you the late Walt Disney would agree.