UFC Fight Card Amid Pandemic Could Pose Risk To Endeavor
UFC President Dana White insists that UFC 249 now is set to take place without fans "at a casino on sovereign tribal land in Central California," but parent company Endeavor is "taking a risk if the event goes ahead," according to Andrew Ross Sorkin of the N.Y. TIMES. Some fighters "have pulled out, and Endeavor's other businesses -- namely, its talent agencies -- may suffer a reputational hit if part of the company is seen as flouting stay-at-home orders." The "loss of sports programming because of pandemic lockdowns has hit Endeavor hard, with analysts fretting about the company paying down its debt load" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/9).
HOW CAN SAFETY BE PROMISED? In N.Y., Kevin Draper writes it is "unclear how White and the UFC could ensure the safety" around the event. The closest major hospital to Tachi Palace Casino Resort, located about 30 miles outside Fresno, is a 40-minute drive away, and a hospital spokesperson said that they have "not heard a word" from UFC. The Native American tribe that is providing the site "has previously sought help with fights from California state referees, judges and other officials, but the UFC is on its own now as it evades regulators who have told it not to proceed." Meanwhile, some legal experts "believe that county and state officials could step in" even though the casino is on sovereign land (N.Y. TIMES, 4/9). ESPN.com's Okamoto & Raimondi cited sources as saying that fighters and corner people "have been told they will be tested for COVID-19 on site." Sources added that the UFC also is "arranging for COVID-19 tests to be sent to the homes of fighters and corner people in advance of the card" (ESPN.com, 4/8).
HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD: In N.Y., George Willis wondered if White is "mad or taking a stand?" The incentive for the UFC to "stage the event is massive." It "would have the undivided attention of a sporting (and betting) public starved for live entertainment." ESPN+ "will live stream the pay-per-view card." There is "little question the UFC can pull this off," but with a pandemic going on, the MMA outfit "had better know" what it is doing. Willis: "Lives depend on it" (N.Y. POST, 4/9). CBS' Jim Rome said, “The one guy that I do not bet against is Dana White. I’ve seen Dana get stuff done. More than anybody, I know Dana gets stuff done” (“The Jim Rome Show,” CBS Sports Radio, 4/8).
IS THIS THE BEST LOOK? Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, whose cards are showcased on DAZN, said that White's plans are in "bad taste." Hearn said, "It's unbelievable. I'd like to think that in boxing, there's no one more roll your sleeves up and get on with it than me. But even I wouldn't consider staging an event right now. I'm not even thinking about options, not even on the radar." He added, "This is stubbornness. These are many of the things that make him successful but at some point you have to sit back and say 'white flag.' I'm quite surprised ESPN are going ahead with this, obviously they want ratings and money" (MMAJUNKIE.com, 4/8).