It is perhaps one of the most coveted of laminated cards a person can hang around their neck, and its presence alone assigns its bearer a modicum of legitimacy, a glimpse behind the veil and free passage to a world unseen, a world where few are permitted to go. I’m talking about the press credential, and as topics go, since Zuffa took over Strikeforce’s media relations it’s become something to talk about. At issue is the denial of certain reporters press credentials. So what’s the big deal if someone no longer has the cageside access they’ve grown accustomed to? There’s no big deal, really, as it happens in nearly all other major sports. Plus, the access a press credential grants is a privilege – not a right – and outlets like Sherdog.com (among others) have for years been making do with reporting from outside the sacred perimeter. But you should judge for yourself, and for additional color, here’s some info gleaned from the 180 or so events I’ve been credentialed for, including 17 UFCs and a number of Bellator, IFL, BodogFIGHT, EliteXC and Strikeforce shows.
– A typical press credential at a national- or international-level show (the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, etc.) grants access to the floor and certain places backstage such as a designated press room and post-fight presser staging area. Locker room access is often prohibited. Seating for the event is assigned, and depending on the promotion (and the mojo of the reporter), it can be anywhere from cageside to the rafters.
– At a regional show, a press credential can be anything from a card on a lanyard to a wristband, and usually, access is total. Want to see a fighter vomit in his dressing room after the post-fight adrenaline dump of his bout? The only thing stopping you is the desire not to get puke on your shoes.
– As the tenet “freedom of press” does not apply to the private sector, there is no Constitutional provision that dictates that media members have a right to be credentialed for an MMA show. A promotion is free to pick and chose who it gives press passes to using any criteria it chooses. A reporter who covers a UFC from press row does so at the pleasure of Zuffa.
– In the fall of 2005, Zuffa began aggressively denying Internet-based MMA newsites credentials, and has since remained stringent in their policy. Their criteria is based on such factors as the breadth and scope of the media outlet, the outlet’s reach, and its penetration in the market. Are there longstanding members of the media on the “no fly” list? Sure, but it’s the UFC’s party. They can deny entrance to anyone.
– Prior to Zuffa’s 2005 policy shift, the MMA media generally had unfettered access to everything and everyone. Unfortunately, lax screening of applicants sometimes led to some less-than-serious “journalists” in press row. At UFC 42 in Miami, a trio of credentialed wannabes downed beers and heckled fighters; a stated ban on the press drinking alcohol was initiated soon after.
– In terms of free food backstage, the UFC remains the undisputed king with its buffets. A close second would be BodogFIGHT’s expansive spread. Strikeforce had a much smaller selection, EliteXC dished out hotdogs and free sodas, and the IFL ordered for the press room a stack of pizzas. Apparently, the truism about the stomach being a way to a man’s heart also applies to the press.
– How do media members still manage to cover events when they fail secure press credentials? Some purchase tickets and attend events as audience members, while others watch from the comfort of their own home. As for interviews with fighters, it’s easy to stake out the fighter hotel and wait in the lobby for them to return. Like all good reporting, it just requires some legwork.