MMA Takes Floor in NY on Wednesday

By Loretta Hunt Nov 11, 2008
The fight to legalize MMA in New York State gears up for round two on Wednesday, when legislators, regulators and promoters convene for an informational hearing in Manhattan.

The open-to-the-public session, spearheaded by New York Assemblyman Steven Englebright, will also be attended by members of the State Assembly’s Tourism, Arts, and Sports Development Committee, which voted down a bill last June to amend current legislation that bans the sport in the Empire State.

Englebright authored the bill that would have amended existing verbiage to allow for the New York State Athletic Commission to promulgate MMA regulations. Though the bill was met with both confusion and opposition last June and was ultimately shelved, there is hope a re-introduction of the bill in some form will pass through the committee this time when they begin their next fiscal session in January 2009.

New York is one of eight states remaining that has an athletic commission but does not regulate the sport, according to the UFC. The UFC cites 36 of the 44 states with athletic commissions currently recognize and regulate MMA.

Marc Ratner, vice president of regulatory affairs for the UFC, will be among the keynote speakers on Wednesday. Ratner, who served as executive director for Nevada State Athletic Commission for 14 years and was brought onboard to work exclusively on achieving regulation in the holdout states, will present the findings of an economic impact study solicited by the UFC to the tourism committee.

Ratner presented the study, conducted by economic development consulting firm HR & A, to members of the press in a conference call held on Monday.

According to the HR & A study, a UFC event held in Buffalo, New York, would generate $5.2 million in economic activity for the area, with $1.7 million of that total coming from direct event spending. A similar breakdown for a Madison Square Garden event proposed an $11.3 million gain for the state, with direct event spending garnering $5.3 million of that take. Figures were generated with proposed audiences between 16,000 and 17,000 spectators for each venue.

UFC representative Lawrence Epstein says the study wasn’t designed to play on the budgetary challenges New York and the rest of the country currently faces, though no one can argue that it adds an added incentive for legislators.

“We want to get the sport of mixed martial arts regulated in the state of New York as soon as possible and this is just one step in that process to convince legislators that what, in particular, the UFC brings to the state of New York will be a very positive thing when it comes to economics,” said Epstein during the Monday conference call. “In the context with what’s going on in New York and the rest of the country, I think it’s even more compelling.”

The meeting is a first step on a long road to seeing the UFC and other promotions hold court in New York, which banned the sport in 1997 under Gov. George Pataki.

If the re-introduced bill was to pass through the committee, it would then be presented to the Assembly as a whole for a vote. A companion bill would have to begin a similar two-vote process through the Senate.

If both bills were to pass, the amendment bill would be presented to the governor for passage and signing. The NYSAC would then step in to set up a system to oversee the sport. That process could take months, though the sport was dealt a favorable card in May when veteran boxing judge and MMA proponent Melvina Lathan was appointed chairwoman of the NYSAC, replacing a less sympathetic Ron Scott Stevens.

Lathan, who is expected to attend Wednesday’s meeting, would have little bearing on the proposed legislation, though she could ultimately aid in getting events up and running at an efficient pace.

Ratner is optimistic a bill could be re-introduced and voted on as early as January, when the state legislature reconvenes.

“I believe that the [New York] commission, as one of the top commissions in the world, will be able to regulate the sport in a fine way and I think they would be able to, if [legislation] passes early in the year, to have an event from the third quarter, from September on,” said Ratner.
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