Last month (2011.05.11), I wrote Tom Wright, director of Canadian operations for UFC, the following letter.
If, as UFC’s marketing campaign has relentlessly told reporters to say, the company considers Toronto some kind of Mecca for the sport, let me strongly suggest that UFC do something that would never occur to gentle, unassuming Dana White: Market to the gay community.
Of course I mostly mean gay males. The whole idea will be counterintuitive for any straight male or even any actual gay or lesbian person under 35, who just can’t imagine how the two worlds could overlap. Nonetheless (and let me get the edge case out of the way first), quite a few lesbians are found in the female component of the audience.
Of greater interest are the guys, who, very much like straight males, are looking for something resembling a masculine cultural outlet. I am personally not wild at all about mixed martial arts; I’m Dana White’s worst nightmare for a dinner date, a gay vegan pacifist. But I understand the appeal. UFC and its derivatives are the culturally-acceptable expression of mainstream masculinity, whether anybody likes it or not. That means you’ve got a responsibility to include everyone. That’s what we do here.
I would like to see three things happen.
Out gay contestant on The Ultimate Fighter. Yes, I – we – watch the show. Your pickings are slim: I know of only two remotely qualified candidates, both of whom are American and have curiously similar names (Shad Smith and
[REDACTED]). Someone, however, is out there.
Now, forgive me for letting my imagination run wild for a moment, but I envision a scenario in which this out gay contestant puts up with a lot of verbal abuse from the other guys in the house, who (let’s be honest) are all from the wrong side of the tracks. I imagine Dana White pulling our contestant to the front of the room and giving the whole house ferocious shit that UFC is meant for any men who can do it, including gay men, “and if anybody here’s got a problem with that or got a problem with this guy here, then they’ve got a problem with me.”
For this to work, White would have to believe what he’s saying. I told you it was imaginary. Still, a place to start.
Advertise in legitimate gay media. I mean spend real money – full-page ads in Xtra, commercials on OutTV. Everything has to be customized for that readership; it can’t be off-the-shelf.
A gay night at a fight, the sort of thing MLB and the NBA do all the time, is another strong option. Nobody here is naïve enough to think there won’t be loud lusty booing from the audience. Do it anyway.
Make Nick Ring a spokesmodel. Almost forgotten from two (or was it three?) seasons back, this Ultimate Fighter scrapper is a raging hetero but has exactly what the gay audience wants and needs – self-awareness and a sense of humour. (Seriously, [re]watch “Did Your Dizzle,” among other episodes.) And he’s just out in Calgary.
Is Canada really a UFC Mecca? Well, Muslims don’t like gays, so the parallel is not apt. But Mecca serves all Muslims. UFC has to serve all its fans. I assume your guys are tough enough to sell to gays.
At this point I assume I’m never going to get a response.