Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Problem With Sponsoring Illegal Fight Shows in New York


This past week the New York City-based illicit boxing promotion BX Fight Club began hyping their upcoming September 15 show on their Instagram, saying how rapper 50 Cent will be in attendance and promising all the usual thrills their events provide. And BX Fight Club events certainly provide thrills - their March event was one of the best times I've ever had at an underground scrap, and I've been to quite a few. But in promoting their Tuesday throwdown, the promoters revealed that VICE Sports would be there to film a reality TV show.

That might have been a bad move.

If VICE is sponsoring BX Fight Club, if they're paying the promoters for the privilege of being there and having their VICE logo displayed, if there's even just any sort of money trail going from VICE to BX Fight Club, then VICE is on the hook for some serious legal liability. And make no mistake about it, unlike the above-the-board amateur MMA events that now take place with great frequency around the state, and the "underground" MMA events like the Underground Combat League and ManUp StandUp that have been going on for years, what happens at BX Fight Club is illegal.

As per the Combative Sports Law, amateur MMA is legal because of the competitors' status as unpaid amateurs. But the statute differentiates between combative sports (like MMA) and boxing, and boxing - whether it be pro or amateur - must be sanctioned. In other words, that amateur MMA loophole that's being enjoyed by so many nowadays doesn't apply to what goes on at BX Fight Club.

There's also the fact that BX Fight Club competitors are competing for high-value prizes. Not everyone gets them, but tournament winners get gold chains and cars (!) for their efforts.

How does this affect VICE, or anyone else providing material aid to the promoters of these kinds of events? The statute paints them as participants in the breaking of the law, and to see an example of this violation in action and how the state reacted, we only have to go back to 2005.

Back then, the hip-hop radio station HOT 97 was sponsoring "Smackfest", which had females literally smack each other for money and prizes. This drew the ire of the New York State Athletic Commission in a big way. As per a NYSAC press release:
Hot 97 Fined For Sponsoring Illegal "smackfest" Contests
Attorney General Spitzer and State Athletic Commission Chairman Ron Scott Stevens today announced an agreement resolving their investigation of slapping contests sponsored by a New York City radio station.
As a result of the agreement, WQHT (Hot 97) will pay the maximum fine of $240,000 for its illegal "Smackfest" promotions and fund an extensive anti-violence campaign, including a $60,000 payment to one of the city’s leading anti-violence organizations.
"This agreement should be a wake up call to all those in the entertainment industry who think outrageousness is a clever marketing strategy," Spitzer said. "The law establishes set boundaries that cannot be crossed to protect our community’s health and safety."
Chairman Stevens said: "This settlement accurately reflects the proper enforcement of New York State’s 'combative sports statute.' The intention of the statute was to ensure the public’s health and safety and this goal was met. I hope this matter sends the message that these types of dangerous events will not be tolerated in the State of New York."
The Attorney General’s Office and the State Athletic Commission began an investigation of Hot 97's promotions in March of this year. The investigation revealed that the station had sponsored 24 "Smackfest" contests between April 2004 and January 2005 in which participants, usually young women, took turns violently slapping each other. Winners of the contests were promised tickets to concerts and as much as $5,000 in cash. Video tapes of contests then were featured on the radio station’s website.
VICE may be a media giant with deep pockets, but that's a substantial amount of cheddar to dole out no matter how you slice it.

This post is in no way intended to mess with whatever deal BX Fight Club has with VICE. I mean, God bless them for monetizing a fun promotion and what is clearly a labor of love. But like Biggie said, "Mo' money, mo' problems." And problems could be looming. It might be difficult for the authorities to find the organizers of BX Fight Club, but VICE has nice offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - executing arrest warrants there would be easy.

No comments: