Gracing the center of the Octagon, Bud Light is the UFC's highest profile sponsor. But, for how long?
Anheuser-Busch, the parent company to Bud Light, appears to have taken exception to several issues and public remarks that have been linked to its business partner, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Last year, the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion hit a grand slam when it extended its landmark relationship with Bud Light thanks to a new multi-year sponsorship deal, guaranteeing that fans would see Bud Light logos plastered all over the Octagon at events for years to come.
It also brought legitimacy to a sport, as well as a brand, which still has most traditional advertisers reluctant to forge a similar pact because of the perceived violence and, perhaps, the unpredictability of it all. Bud Light, all things considered, stepped out on a limb and rolled the dice. And everything appeared to be on the up-and-up; however, as with all relationships, there comes a time when one party has to put its foot down and bring attention to an issue(s) that could reflect poorly on it.
In other words, guilt by association.
That seems to be the case today as Ad Age reports that Anheuser-Busch has warned the UFC that it does not appreciate or support any of the promotion's fighters, or its staff, making any type of derogatory, insensitive or discriminating remarks of any kind. And if the perceived problem isn't remedied, America's most famous beer brewing company will be forced "to act."
Feeling the heat from plenty of advocacy groups such as the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Anheuser-Busch recently spanked the promotion; however, it didn't exactly state what kind of action it would take if incidents continued. For its part, the UFC has appeared to crack down, even before this was all made public, refusing to condone any kind of derogatory remarks that people may find offensive.
That was ever so clear when the promotion axed Miguel Torres for making an inappropriate rape joke via his official Twitter account. Torres has since apologized and has been reinstated to the promotion. Forrest Griffin, too, has been cited for insensitive remarks, along with Muhammed Lawal, who was fired for calling a Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) member a racist bitch.
Let's not even get into Quinton Jackson. Although, it seems we might not have a choice because "Rampage" appears to be at the heart of the matter.
Check out what the brewing company had to say (via Ad Age), as well as a few specific instances -- Rashad Evans, Joe Rogan and even Arianny Celeste were all fingered in the non-legal indictment -- that caused the ripples:
"We've communicated to the UFC our displeasure with certain remarks made by some of its fighters, and they have promised to address this. If the incidents continue, we will act, (A-B) embraces diversity and does not condone insensitive and derogatory comments rooted in ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, etc."
The incidents were cited by the advocacy group, National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDV), in a letter penned to assembly member in New York, who urged the state to continue with its ban on the sport.To support its case, NCDV points out a video that another advocacy group, Unfit For Children, which cleverly enough uses the initials U.F.C., posted on its website of former Light Heavyweight champion Quinton Jackson telling a Japanese fan to say, "I'm a fag" in English.
Here is a brief statement that said letter from the NCDV contained:
"We believe that the UFC contributes to a culture of violence against women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Children, in particular, should not be exposed to the homophobic, misogynistic and violent language that has been permitted by the UFC."
Letters like that to New York assemblymen aren't exactly helping the promotion's push for the state to uplift its ban on MMA.
Rashad Evans' comments aimed at former Penn State University athlete Phil Davis prior to their bout at UFC on Fox 2 in which he referenced the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, didn't sit too well with the brewing company, either.
Another incident cited involved UFC color commentator Joe Rogan for his derogatory comments aimed at Yahoo! reporter, Maggie Hendricks, last year in which he called her "cunty." Rogan has since apologized for his comments. Rogan targeted Hendricks after she herself targeted Quinton Jackson for "motor-boating" female Karyn Bryant and telling her that she was making him "horny."
Another advocacy group, Alcohol Justice, put pen to paper as well, sending a letter to Anheuser-Busch shareholders explaining its concerns for sponsoring the UFC and stating that in doing so, the brewery was supporting, "delivering harmful content to millions of underage youth. At center stage is the ever-present Bud Light logo."
A Bud Light ad featuring Arianny Celeste lying semi-naked covered by limes, was also brought to Anheuser-Busch's attention, even though it only ran on the companies Facebook and YouTube channel and never on national television.
So what was the UFC's response to all of this?
"With over 425 athletes on our roster, there have unfortunately been instances where a couple athletes have made insensitive or inappropriate comments. We don't condone this behavior, and in no way is it reflective of the company or its values. Unlike most other sports leagues, we encourage our athletes to engage online. It is part of our company culture, and whenever you are at the forefront of a trend or initiative, it comes with its own pitfalls. We will continue to embrace social media while looking for better ways to stay in front of the issues. This includes a mandate for our athletes to attend sensitivity training and a seminar on proper use of social media."
UFC asked for mainstream acceptance, now it's high-time to act accordingly. It's all part of the territory, right?
On the flip side, would there be public relations and media backlash if a major National Football League (NFL) star or National Basketball Association (NBA) star -- two sports leagues that are also sponsored by Bud Light -- started telling reporters that he was "horny" or made a Japanese fan say, "I'm a fag?"
Granted, NFL and MLB stars have had their issues, too, let's not make them out to be saints. However, the difference is the NFL and the NBA have been around for decades, and at this point, Bud Light probably needs them more than what the NBA or NFL needs Bud Light. That, however, doesn't give their athletes free passes to do and say whatever they please, while the UFC -- as Dana White likes to say -- is still in it's infancy and its deal with the beer company is very fresh as well.
Even though the UFC would still prosper without the Bud Light sponsorship, it's pretty fair to say that the promotion would like to do everything in its power to keep the relationship alive and healthy. And it appears, at least on the surface, that the UFC is making an effort to clean up its act(s) outside the Octagon.
But, is it asking too much? Where does the line in the sand get drawn?
Are ring girls Arianny Celeste and Brittney Palmer going to be prevented from posing in Playboy magazine ever again? Is Joe Rogan now going to be told to take it down a notch (again) much like Fox officials asked him to do?
UFC President Dana White has often stated that he is not one to tell any of his fighters to not be themselves, but apparently, he is going to have to tell a select few to tone it down -- or at the very least think twice (or else) -- if he wants to avoid any further action from Bud Light. It seems that the more and more the UFC travels down Mainstream Avenue, more and more critics are going to surface.
And things apparently might be changing -- for better or worse -- depending on which side of the fence you're on ... if they haven't already.