Dana White (Sherdog)Taking MMA to New Heights, Part 2: The Power of Press Conferences Aidan O'Connor July 18, 2014 Spotlight Welcome back to the “Taking MMA to New Heights” series, where we examine the different genres of video content legitimizing the world of mixed martial arts. Up to now, the variety of video formats being produced by MMA organizations, media and fans in the public realm on free platforms including YouTube, Google Video and Vimeo have attracted new viewers, promoted MMA news circulation and profiled the sport as it grows. Following last week’s analysis of The Tommy Toe Hold Show, which waved the flag for the animated parody genre, today’s topic turns inwards towards the online press conference, a pre-planned public relations event where an entity presents new information to key stakeholders and members of the media. As MMA appears to make progress on a near daily basis, the press conference is a strong component of many promotions around the world, including the UFC, Bellator, ONE FC, World Series of Fighting and BAMMA. With roots in U.S. national politics and federal government dating back to former presidents Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the press conference format has for a long time been an access point that enables public insight. This tool has since migrated into the world of combat sports, where it has not only facilitated public engagement but also become a symbol of prestige and promotion. In the modern era of boxing, for example, the press conference has helped catalyze the intense unpredictability of Mike Tyson, the “Money” persona of Floyd Mayweather and the stoic calmness of the Klitschko brothers. Originally giving fighters, trainers and promoters an avenue to speak their mind, the press conference has been embraced and adapted by MMA entities for the better, encouraging both personal insight and public reaction among the sport’s most high-profile figures. This access breeds further coverage across media members who listen in, watch the videos or attend live in person, amplifying the promotion’s coverage and subsequent exposure. The versatility of the press conference as a communicative device lends itself to promoting a variety of different, newsworthy events for reasons ranging from immediacy (an upcoming or recently held event), to prominence (a new development for the sport in general), or human interest (hearing a talent express their opinion). The evolution of the press conference from an exclusively live event to a broadcast on mainstream television and up to the present day, where it is presented online for free, parallels the evolution of technology. Attentive to this change, key members of the mixed martial arts world are embracing new broadcast avenues to enhance their own product. With greater accessibility comes greater potential for exposure. With a solid infrastructure in place consisting of government regulation, a standardized rule set and protective equipment, the sport’s exposure opens it to new eyes without incurring the same volume of criticism and skepticism the sport attracted in its earlier years. Time and Location The outstanding benefit of the online press conference is its unprecedented accessibility. On the merit of mixed martial arts’ international presence across six of the world’s seven continents, and the success of MMA’s market leader, the UFC, in creating a globalized product, the online press conference enables 24-hour access regardless of location or time zone. Journalists working to tight deadlines can view the event live through the worldwide platform of the internet, while reporters with more relaxed timeframes can view the event quickly and easily at a time that suits their leisure. In recent weeks, the UFC has set a new precedent by hosting two shows, in different countries, on the same night. Meanwhile, promotions like ONE FC (Singapore), Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation (China) and EFC Africa have taken the sport to new territories, attesting to its globalization. Catering to the diverse needs of MMA, sports and mainstream media, MMA organizations foster a healthier working relationship by supplying accessible information that endears them to more frequent coverage. As a valuable tool that also engages MMA fans, the press conference conveys the energy and atmosphere ahead of an event. Seeing two fighters stand face to face after months of hard work and disciplined preparation adds a new element of electricity that can motivate curious outsiders to become invested viewers. Alongside or in lieu of produced promo packages and dramatic vignettes, the press conference is comparable to a movie trailer, inviting potential viewers to sample an event before investing in the product. Seeing the tension between Frank Shamrock and Nick Diaz build at the Strikeforce pre-fight conference sowed the seeds of a must-see contest in a world where personal disdain and trash talk create interest. Enforcing the Role of the Moderator A more subtle aspect of the online press conference and the wider viewership it generates by providing free and visually stimulating content is its potential to assert a figurehead as the face of a brand or promotion. Promotional leaders Dana White, Scott Coker, Shannon Knapp and Bjorn Rebney are four current or former operational heads who have used the online press conference format to establish themselves as the face of their respective promotions. Facilitating press conferences by speaking on behalf of the promotional brand, introducing speakers and mediating Q&A sessions, each individual has used these events to demonstrate their capabilities as leaders and spokespersons in front of the viewing media. Their aptitude, character and cadence allow these leaders to communicate key information about their company in a multi-faceted and nuanced way that cannot always be matched in a written press release. Controlling the Message Besides promoting an event, online promotional press conferences offer advantages in other contexts. The medium is also effective for addressing unexpected developments that might be counterproductive to a company or brand. Keeping the media abreast of events that occurred, the visual medium allows media and fans to see a company’s genuine bemusement as it reveals unfortunate news, while allowing the bearer to control the output of their message. Harping back to another Nick Diaz analogy, the online press conference format played no greater role in the lead-in to an MMA event than prior to UFC 137. Using the conference to announce that Diaz had been pulled from a scheduled main event bout with Georges St-Pierre for the promotion’s welterweight championship, UFC President Dana White used the event to justify his decision and dilute the negative impact of the announcement by announcing an immediate replacement in the form of Carlos Condit. In a similar fashion, the major news of St-Pierre vacating his title at the end of last year was presented to the world via an audio press conference also accessible online, where a bout between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler was announced straight away to deflect the negative impact of the news. By seizing control of the situation, reporting news in a swift and effective fashion via a press conference accessible to all via the internet, MMA promotions like the UFC assert themselves as professional and diligent entities. These qualities resonate to our wider perception of a brand over time in the same way that a lackluster approach to media relations may negatively impact our opinion of a company’s wider operations. As a result, an effective press conference can have wider implications beyond the news presented in that moment, affecting a company’s prestige and an industry’s credibility.