Your Rio 2016 meta-medal guide

I did tell you Ginny Thrasher (Springfield) would be someone to watch. Sure enough, she’s in the shooting final.

What else have I written to preview these Games? Glad you asked …

In addition to my analysis of Olympic odds, projections and TV offerings, I have a few general overviews up at Bleacher Report

Thrasher was mentioned in my look at teen phenoms of the Games, which includes a few players soccer fans will recognize.

I’ve given a guide of everything to watch in men’s swimming. (Not just Phelps.)

Will Usain Bolt lose? I said yes, as one of my Bold Predictions for the Games.

And if you read just one thing to get the broad overview, flip through my broad overview.

Because Samuel L. said so.



Olympic coverage at Bleacher Report

I’ve returned to Bleacher Report to help out with Rio coverage, with three pieces so far …

  1. Preview slideshow of the top events to watch at the track and field trials.
  2. When will the next generation of men’s 100m sprinters arrive?
  3. Top storylines to follow from now to the start of the Games.

I was also happy to see the last thing I wrote for B/R in 2012 is still valid: 10 Bridesmaids from London Who Will Medal in Rio. A quick check shows nine of the 10 are indeed in contention.

UFC: Your unofficial guide to survival as a reporter

Dana White can make things very difficult for those who cross him in any way. Rival promotions are left in the dust. Fighters are cut. And reporters, even entire news organizations, can be tossed into the cold.

The funny thing is that I still like him on a personal level, and I respect what he and the Fertitta brothers did to build MMA from a sideshow to a main event. Had the UFC folded circa 2004 when the brothers were losing a ton of money, I doubt MMA would ever have risen to anything resembling the prominence it has today. The Friends episode in which Monica’s boyfriend is beaten up might have been the peak of the sport.

I don’t blame him for playing hardball with other promotions. Most of the cuts from the UFC’s oversized roster are justifiable, and they let a fighter go off and headline a smaller show instead of taking more lumps in the Octagon.

The attitude toward reporters, though, is an issue. I’ve told Dana before that I don’t think it’s fair to keep out Loretta Hunt, Josh Gross and others who have fallen afoul of the UFC’s good graces.

So today, Deadspin got a tip — a note from Bleacher Report/Houston Chronicle MMA writer Jeremy Botter to other writers, explaining What Not To Do To Piss Off Dana.

(Disclaimer time: I’ve written for Bleacher Report. Most of you know that already. Yes, I was paid. Moving on.)

The fact that it was at Deadspin should set off some alarm bells. Writer Tim Marchman seems to be casting himself as the MMA-community equivalent of the guy who says, “Fine, I don’t want to go to your stupid party, anyway.” He notes with pride that Deadspin itself is blacklisted from the UFC. But … it’s Deadspin. Deadspin has always taken the stance that it doesn’t WANT credentials because its brilliant bloggers might meet actual athletes and come to consider them as human beings rather than fodder for their snark cannons.

But the funny thing is that Botter’s note — not really a memo — is mostly spot-on.

The exception is the mention of Loretta Hunt. She wasn’t actually banned for her reporting on UFC backstage access. At the time of the backstage access story, she was working for Sherdog, which was already banned. And her previous employer fell out with the UFC, too. The details in each case are rather arcane.

(Yes, I know the “official version” UFC drones post to impress basement-dwellers on the UG is vastly different, but that just shows how effective the unofficial UFC spin machine can be. One of the UFC drones on the UG is female, and I think a lot of people in that community are just excited to be speaking to a girl.)

In any case, Sam Caplan backed up Hunt’s story. And to this day, I think it’s a story that would’ve been forgotten if Dana hadn’t responded on video in a way that forced him to reconsider his language. The fact that Dana responded so harshly makes me think Hunt was on to something. Why else would he care?

In any case, it’s worth remembering here that Botter never intended for this to be public. If he was writing this for publication, he’d be a little more careful with the research.

With that out of the way, let’s look at just how accurate this note really is:

1. Nothing pisses Dana off more than people talking about Zuffa’s financials and getting everything wrong.

True of nearly everyone in the news. The UFC (Zuffa) is stingy with details, sure. But reporters can’t try to fill in gaps in their knowledge with flimsy information.

2. Don’t “report” things unless you have two very credible sources.

Basic journalism there.

3. Don’t be a mouthpiece for a manager who may be feeding you false information.

Hunt was used as the example here, and that’s inaccurate. But the point is correct.

4. Don’t be a mouthpiece for a fighter who may be feeding you false information.

Frankly, if Bleacher Report lives up to this, they’ll be ethically ahead of a lot of major news orgs.

5. Don’t talk about Dana’s history with his mom.

I didn’t know about this, but it never occurred to me to ask. Not sure how it’s anyone’s business unless his mom starts a rival fight promotion.

6. Don’t mix rumors with opinion.

Funny — people loved it when William Safire did it. But again, it’s good basic journalism here. You’re entitled to your opinion. Dana may tease you about it, but I don’t think he has banned anyone simply for an opinion. He doesn’t like inaccurate reporting about it. (The problem comes when the reporting is accurate, and he insists it’s not.)

7. Don’t be negative just to be edgy.

Well, no wonder Deadspin thought this was amusing. That’s their entire business model.

7a. Wait until the media scrum after an official press conference to bring up controversial topics.

People in the news often have their idiosyncrasies, and this is one. I don’t think a reporter is bending to Dana’s will by waiting for the media scrum to ask about fighter pay or something like that. If you know you’re going to get a better answer then, why not wait to ask it until then? Reporters want answers, not pointless confrontations.

8. You’re being watched. They pay attention to all media reports.

They most certainly do. Some in the sports world say they don’t read the papers or pay attention to the news. Dana doesn’t say that. He knows people would just laugh. The UFC is image-conscious to a fault.

So there’s really nothing controversial (other than the Hunt comment) in this note. I could write something similar about nearly everyone I’ve covered.

The larger issue is the UFC’s insistence on vindictive bans against Hunt, Gross, Sherdog (off and on), etc. It actually puts those of us who are “in” the UFC media circle in a tough spot. We seem compromised. I see people accuse credentialed reporters of being UFC mouthpieces all the time, and it’s usually unfair.

In that context, it probably doesn’t help that Botter’s note went public. People with an unflattering view of the UFC’s media relations may see it as a guide to genuflection toward Dana White and company. But it’s nothing more than a reasonable piece of advice for dealing with an oft-unreasonable community.

UFC contracts laid bare, marginally fair

Ever see something that used to be top-secret, then wondered why it was so secret?

That’s what happened today when Bleacher Report flexed its investigative muscle (No, I don’t mean that sarcastically — they’re making progress) and came up with a UFC fighter’s contract. Then they got comments from Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC general counsel Lawrence Epstein, fighter agent Juanito Ibarra, Randy Couture and labor law professor Zev Eigen.

The result is well worth the read. But as with a lot of good journalism, it should start the discussion, not end it.

With that in mind, here are a few slide-by-slide thoughts:

(By suggestion, this has been edited to give more context.)

SLIDE 1 (overview): The comparison to the Yankees falls flat. How many people do the Yankees pay? How many in UFC — fighters, marketing, TV crews, Octagon crews, etc.? Lorenzo says 1,000 at any individual fight. (I’m assuming that the value of the Yankees does not include minor-league clubs, though it would include rights to some of those players.)

SLIDES 2/3: Ancillary rights (merchandising, fight reruns and so forth) are where the UFC arguments fall flat. Actors make money — not much, but a little — off reruns from their shows. Why should Zuffa be the sole profiteer on future runs of its fights?

The lawsuit to watch in terms of owning rights in perpetuity: O’Bannon v. NCAA. (That said, fighters are certainly in better shape than college athletes when it comes to video games and other ancillary rights. If O’Bannon loses, you have to wonder if fighters would have a chance.)

SLIDE 5: This includes the “champions’ clause,” in which the UFC maintains your rights as long you have the belt. All due respect to the expertise of Zev Eigen, but let’s save the “slavery” argument for unwilling workers, shall we?

SLIDE 6: As I read this, in the event a fight can’t happen, the fight still owes Zuffa a fight — and Zuffa still owes the fighter a fight. Not really surprised.

SLIDE 7: Juanito Ibarra: “Who is the genius that decided to pay an athlete less when he loses? Boxers don’t do that. No other sport, basketball or football, does that. They may have bonuses, sure, for making the All-Star team, but the foundation is built on guaranteed money.”

Is Ibarra seriously arguing that a boxer doesn’t get paid less when he loses? If I get paid $2 million to fight Manny Pacquiao and he knocks me out in the first round, am I getting $2 million for my next fight? Or is he arguing that bonuses are bonuses in the NBA, but bonuses aren’t bonuses in MMA?

SLIDE 8: This part is specific to Eddie Alvarez, and it has to do with his bonuses for each pay-per-view sale for his fights. Ibarra and Eigen are arguing here as if Eddie Alvarez is the only reason I paid $55 to watch a pay-per-view. That’s not the case in the UFC. Most cards are sold on the strength of several fights. Some fighters are exceptions who can sell cards by themselves — Eddie Alvarez isn’t one of those.

The better argument on UFC fighters’ behalf is actually farther down the card, where guys are making $6,000. There’s no argument to be made for Eddie Alvarez to receive Floyd Mayweather money.

SLIDE 9: This one shows what the UFC pays for travel for fighters and corner crew, and it’s surprising. UFC fighters generally rave about the treatment they receive when they travel to fights. I would have thought the UFC would have paid for two corner people for every fighter.

SLIDE 12: If you lose, the UFC can cut you. Harsh, perhaps. But that’s the nature of sports, as much as Eigen and Ibarra would like to claim otherwise. A lot of NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed. A lot of NBA and NHL contracts are short. And I’m covering a women’s soccer league in which a lot of players can be cut at any time.

SLIDE 13: The UFC asserts matching rights at the end of a contract. Again with the slavery argument? For a clause that says the UFC (the world’s biggest MMA promotion) can match the terms of a contract offered by someone else? Eigen isn’t helping his credibility here.

SLIDE 15: “Fighter acknowledges risks,” etc. Here, Eigen’s input is valuable. Fighters aren’t alone in signing contracts that say they understand the risks — even executives have to sign such things. Maybe journalists should sign them. “Journalist understands that Journalism is a soul-crushing activity that is hazardous to mental health and often leads to poor sleep and diet, resulting in further health issues …”

SLIDE 16: Limits on fighters referring to their UFC affiliations. This one just seems petty on the UFC’s part, and I’m surprised none of the Zuffa executives commented. Frank Mir can’t bill himself as a former UFC champion? Harsh. Maybe if it were “former UFC champion Frank Mir recommends Bill’s Underground Explosives Shop,” sure, but don’t other clauses in this contract limit such usage?

SLIDE 18: Commercial identification. This is a tricky one. Seems pretty obvious that if Bud Light has spent a zillion dollars to sponsor a fight card, a fighter might not want to walk out with a Miller Lite logo on his shorts. Beyond that, we hit a gray area.

SLIDE 19: Confidentiality. I don’t get this one at all. In most states, fighter pay IS disclosed. What is NOT disclosed is how much money they’re getting from sponsors. They may also get some locker-room bonuses, and I’m not sure it’s in the fighter’s best interests to see that money disclosed.

All of these discussions are worth having. But we’re still not much closer to the larger question: Are UFC fighters paid well enough? In other sports, athletes get maybe 40-50 percent of the revenue. The UFC, though, does much of its own TV production.

So take the total UFC revenue, then subtract the TV production costs. Do fighters get 40-50 percent of that? If yes, then a lot of the questions raised above go away. If not, then you have to wonder why Zuffa is nickel-and-diming these guys.