Friday, July 10, 2015

A Simple Plan to Get the New York MMA Bill Passed in 2016


Sheldon Silver arrested. Carl Heastie, an MMA supporter in the past, named as the new Assembly Speaker. A revamped MMA bill. More Assembly members on board than ever before. All of these things really made it seem like 2015 was going to be the year that New York State lifted its statutory ban on sanctioned mixed martial arts. But alas, it was not to be, and once more the fight will continue on for another year.

This time things will be different though. Because the one good thing about getting your butt kicked round after round is what it teaches you, and years of getting frozen out of the Democratic conference, killed in committees and suffocated by the process have finally taught us how to win. We just need a plan.

And here it is.

A Simple Plan For 2016

1. The Battle Before the Battle 

This last legislative session was when the Culinary Union more or less lost their grip on the Assembly, as evidenced by the heretofore unseen levels of "yes" votes the MMA bill garnered before time ran out. A total of 76 were needed for the bill to get a floor vote; we got 78. That's great, and it likely means that we're going to be entering the 2016 session in a good place, but...

...From now through January, the Culinary Union is going to be doing what they can to whittle away those "yes" votes, via meetings and calls and letters. And they're not the only ones. Given how much the MMA bill will radically change the entire combative sports landscape, the boxing establishment might have an interest in keeping the status quo as well. So right now, though it may seem like we've entered into the off-season, the fight is still being fought. It's being done quietly, and outside of the warm glow of media attention, but it's happening.

To Do: Keep making your presence felt to your local Assemblyman. Whether via phone, email, letter or social media, just reaching out once a month will serve as a reminder that, no matter what Unite Here or some yahoo promoter out of Schenectady says, the people of New York want MMA here.

When: Now through January

2. Keeping Your Aim True 

Some legislators have been against the MMA bill because of other interests, and others legitimately believe that the sport will bring about the end of civilization as we know it. No matter how many calls, emails, letters, tweets and face-to-face meetings you have with them, their positions won't change. On the flipside, there are ardent supporters of the MMA bill, and there are some who've been comfortably straddling the fence of indifference.

It's crucial to keep track of who is who, and to know the disposition of the Assembly member you're trying to sway. For example, it would be a complete waste of time to set up a meeting with Assemblywoman Margaret Markey - she thinks the sport is downright awful. The same holds true for Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, who refuses to vote "yes" for family reasons. Nothing will convince them otherwise.

To Do: There's a time when you need to preach to the choir and a time when you have to go out and win over new converts. Know your targets during those times. Keep your aim true.

When: January to April

3. The Great Social Media Push 

It was a thing of beauty to see the MMA community band together and inundate Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's office with calls, emails and tweets, and it came together via a plea by the UFC's PR team and a number of well-known UFC fighters calling for action. Though it's impossible to quantify just how much impact an avalanche of public support has, it does count for something. It was just too late for it to help this year.

In retrospect, the best time for a great social media push would've been just prior to the Democratic conference that yielded an inconclusive result on April 29. If you'll recall, the state budget was the first big task that was tackled in the legislative session. When that was finally hashed out, the Assembly went home for Easter recess, and the MMA bill was conferenced when the legislature reconvened. If there had been 76+ votes in the conference then, it's entirely possible (and maybe even likely) that MMA would've gotten done before the end-of-the-session crush. For the 2016, we want the issue to be addressed at that point - that's the sweet spot in the legislative timeline. We want the tidal wave of calls, emails and tweets to hit then, as it will likely force the issue.

To Do: A social media call-to-arms by the UFC and others, timed to coincide with the first Democratic conference after the state budget is done.

When: Immediately after Easter recess 

4. Plugging Holes in the Dam 

In the waning days of the session, an individual with a vested interest in keeping the MMA bill on ice spammed the Assembly with a letter that claimed the amateur martial arts community was against what the bill would do. This required a counter-letter to be sent to the Assembly, refuting the first one and reiterating why the bill was good.

There were also all sorts of cockamamie headline grabs by the Culinary Union/Unite Here, like the UFC being anti-Semitic and bad for women, and the sound bites provided by politicians on the "no" side were practically endless.

All of these things are like jabs, and they have to be defended against and countered. The MMA media as a whole does a good job of breaking them down for the nonsense they are, but in the crunch time that makes up the end of the session, you have to always be on your toes because they can come suddenly, and you never know which legislator they may have an effect on.

To Do: Watch for attacks against the sport. Respond. Whether it's through an editorial, a letter to an Assemblyman, or even just a comment on a BloodyElbow post, do it. It all matters.

When: After the Democratic conference until the end

When this battle was first engaged, it was really just the UFC versus the Culinary Union, and it took place in a legislature that was more enemy territory than anything else. But years of fighting have brought others into the fray - previously nonexistent constituent bases such as fight fans, amateur MMA promoters, and even just concerned citizens - and the battleground has become more even. It didn't happen for us in 2015, but we got closer than ever before. That means 2016 could be it.

We just have to stick to the plan.

No comments: