Fightin' Words spoke with State Assemblyman Bob Reilly on Tuesday afternoon for his comments on a column running in this Sunday's Newsday about legalizing mixed martial arts in New York.
Reilly (D-Colonie) has been the most vocal opponent against the sport's legalization here. He's the go-to guy for a quote about it, much the way UFC president Dana White will happily speak in favor of bringing MMA events to Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, etc.
Reilly has repeatedly said he's morally against the sport, citing its violent nature and that "violence begets violence."
That's a fairly inarguable standpoint in the sense that if he thinks it's violent, then he thinks it's violent. No harm in thinking that, just as there's no harm for those who don't mind the inherent physical nature of a combat fighting sport. And the comparison to boxing, football and hockey has been, to use a poor pun, beaten to death.
But it was Reilly's point about the economics that had me somewhat flummoxed.
Put aside that economic study by HR & A Advisors that said a UFC event in New York City would generate $10 million in economic activity (an upstate event would bring in $5 million) and $23 million statewide when all events are grouped together. Reilly told Newsday, and he has said this publicly elsewhere on plenty of occasions, that he thinks it would actually take money out of the state.
Here's the example he used: A UFC event brings in a $4 million gate, and $3.5 million of that goes directly to the UFC and its parent company Zuffa LLC. (These are hypothetical numbers, mind you.)
“The net effect would be money going out of the state rather than money coming into the state,” Reilly said.
Confused? Right. That would still leave $500,000 for the state. Where's that going? The money you spent on a hotel for one to three nights, where's that going? That $100 you blew at the bar? That's not leaving the state, either.
Yes, it's far more complicated than that, and there's other money in the mix, such as broadcast rights and pay-per-view dollars. But in its simplistic, hypothetical form, this economic argument is far weaker than his violence platform.
Reilly then went on in our conversation to point out that no sales tax is collected on tickets sold on the secondary market through sites such as StubHub, TicketsNow or eBay. Well, same can be said for tickets to Yankees games, Knicks games, Broadway shows, concerts and any other sporting event. In fact, when New York first voted to repeal its ticket scalping laws and allow for a free market in 2007, Reilly voted in favor of it.
Reilly said that he doesn't believe it when the UFC says it sells out in a short period of time. (UFC 129 in Toronto last April sold 42,000 tickets via "presale" to its fight club members in less than a day.) Reilly said he thinks the UFC holds back tickets and puts them on the secondary market on its own. He offered no proof of that, though.
"Those allegations are absolutely false and unfounded," UFC spokeswoman Caren Bell said in an email to Newsday. "With overwhelming passage in the Senate and our bill on the agenda in the Tourism Committee, this is just our opponents desperately looking for any possible rationale, no matter how false, to fight regulation of the sport. We would never jeopardize our privileged licenses by failing to pay our taxes. We are an organization and a sport that has sought and gained regulation in 45 of 48 states with athletic commissions and around the world. And we have brought significant economic gain to every city and state we visit. New York would be no different."