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Old 02-22-2011
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Default "Memo to MMA fans: Save the $800, watch UFC 129 on TV"

Memo to MMA fans: Save the $800, watch UFC 129 on TV

By Cathal Kelly


I can think of exactly one thing I’d pay 800 bucks to see in this town: Me, being awarded a cheque for a thousand bucks.

Eight hundred dollars to watch anything is beyond my ken.

Eight hundred dollars to watch a UFC fight at the Rogers Centre beggars my limited imagination.

Well, in fairness, $50 to watch UFC 129 strikes me as $51 too much.

Here’s the thing about UFC. The action takes place in a fenced cage the size of your living room.

Fences and fenceposts, by their inanimate nature, frustrate the act of seeing. Something about electromagnetic waves bouncing off them back to your brain and saying, “Can’t see. Fence in the way.”

Never mind the ref and the camera guy perched on the apron. This is gonna be like arriving late to a police takedown, and having to watch the beating through the third row of the crowd.

Boxing has the same problem, except that in boxing the combatants don’t spend long stretches intertwined on the mat, where they are invisible to those watching from the floor.

That’s the best-case fan-viewing scenario.

Up in the rafters, you’ll want to bring a telescope just to locate the cage on the floor below. Whatever’s going on in the cage will be a total mystery to you.

“Hey, which one is he?” your seatmate will ask.

“Who?”

“The one in the trunks.”

“Where?!”

“Beside the other one in the trunks.”

The pair of you will be doing a gory Abbott and Costello routine all night long. The fighters could be wrestling shaved bears for all you’ll know.

Even competitive ping-pong has fencelessness going for it, and you don’t see them greedily filling baseball stadiums.

No, aside from the photosynthesis, UFC is probably the least viewer-friendly live event ever conceived. Nevertheless, 55,000 people have tickets to the April 30 fights. All 55,000 will watch the action on the scoreboard.

One presumes the reason they all spent so much money has nothing to do with the fighting per se. They’re going there to be part of an “experience.” An experience filled with “atmosphere.”

The cleverest invention in sports marketing history is Gatorade. No. 2 is the idea of atmosphere.

At the recent Super Bowl, I noticed that there are luxury boxes built slightly below field level at Cowboys Stadium. In order to see what’s happening on the field, the people in those boxes must stare through the team benches and several dozen very large men. I did not notice Superman in the crowd.

The field-level suites were filled throughout the game. Everybody in them was turned away from the action, watching the game on television. Just like you did. For many thousands of dollars less.

This illustrates a sports viewing axiom — high-definition TV was designed specifically to make sports viewing awesome. High-def doesn’t make soap operas any better. It does make darts watchable. On the first weekend I bought a high-def TV, I spent an hour watching a fishing show. An hour! I felt like St. Paul on the road to Damascus. It was like experiencing real life for the first time.

If they’d had high-def in 1914, there wouldn’t have been a World War I. Everybody would’ve just stayed home and watched the Kaiser and George V fight each other in a fenced cage.

This is not to disparage UFC in particular or the idea of live attendance at a sports match in general. It is to disparage the pricing model of those two things put together.

Eight hundred dollars is ludicrous. Two hundred dollars only slightly less. The result of that price point is that it removes the live experience from the reach of average people. You know, real fans.

And real fans tend to add to the atmosphere.
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