The Tennessee Athletic Commission was set up in 2008 when the Tennessee State Legislature approved the “Tennessee Athletic Commission Act of 2008”. Now unless new legislation is introduced by February 12th the Commission will dissolve on July 1, 2015. On that day MMA and boxing events will be illegal in Tennessee.
Last June we reported that lawmakers were looking to pull the plug on the Commission due to it not being profitable and able to sustain itself financially. It is currently in “Sunset”. That’s the term politicians use when something is about to be obsolete.
In 2009 and 2010 the Commission reaped the rewards of having two UFC events and a Strikeforce show on CBS in primetime. The Athletic Commission is set up to get a percentage of the gate and television revenue and with two strong years early on it really set the bar for what was expected by lawmakers. But since then the UFC has only done one show in the Volunteer State. Jim Miller vs Melvin Guillard headlined UFC on FX 1 in Nashville on January 20, 2012. The show took place on a Friday and had a poor fight card drawing a disappointing 7,700 fans as opposed to the 10,200 that showed up the first time the UFC came to the Music City.
The Athletic Commission is set up to make the bulk of their money on televised UFC cards in Tennessee. There are some smaller untelevised regional shows in Memphis and Knoxville that do professional or pro-am shows every few months but the revenue generated is barely enough to cover the cost of having the Commission present at the shows. The majority of shows done in Tennessee are amateur shows which don’t have to pay as much to the state.
Just because there are some lean years for the state doesn’t mean we should cut and run. The UFC will come back one day and we have to wait it out. Five years ago the UFC did shows only in the United States and Canada. Now Zuffa is doing shows in Brazil, Sweden, Japan, and other foreign countries and Nashville has been put on the backburner. When the UFC does come to Nashville it will bring in a lot of money for the local economy. The UFC forecasted a $68 million dollar local economic impact for a show in New York at Madison Square Garden. I understand that Nashville is not New York City but if we drew just a quarter of that it would bring $16 million dollars to bars and restaurants in the Music City.
Memphis native Rampage Jackson is now back in the UFC so it is possible West Tennessee could expect a UFC event in the near future. The question is, are lawmakers willing to give the Commission time so the UFC can come back to Memphis, Nashville, or even Knoxville?
Last year I met with a prominent State Senator and the Governor’s Office to discuss the importance of the Commission and just how important it was to have MMA events in the state. Senator Mike Bell, who is the chairman of the Government Operations Committee did not want to support something that could not fund itself and didn’t have interest in adding fees for things like amateur licenses and other outside the box ideas that are done in other states to bring in revenue. In Kentucky the Athletic Commission regulates professional wrestling. In Tennessee we don’t. Pro wrestling regulation makes up 67% of their Commission’s intake.
The Governor’s office was helpful and we discussed a lot of different things concerning MMA, the commission, and ways to generate revenue. The problem is that they cannot introduce legislation to keep the Commission going. Their advice was to speak up as a constituent and get a legislator to sponsor a bill to keep the Commission in place. I recently reached back out to the Governor’s office and their response was the same. Except this time I was told that the bill would have to be introduced by February 12th, which was the last day to introduce new legislation.
The man who is the Executive Director of the commission in Tennessee is Jeff Mullen. He has been in place since day one. Mullen is highly regarded around the country and was a one of three finalist out of 350 applicants for the same job in Nevada when it came open last year. I reached out to him but he wasn’t at liberty to talk with me about the situation. He did say one thing though. “I can’t speak to what is going on with the lawmakers,” said Mullen. “But as things stand right now June 30 will be the last day the Commission will be in place.”
If no legislation is introduced by that date the Commission will be dissolved and MMA and boxing events will be illegal in Tennessee. Events could still be held illegally but promoters wouldn’t have to carry insurance and there would be no one regulating the card.
If you want MMA and boxing in Tennessee now is the time to reach out to your local elected officials. A sponsored bill needs to pass the State Senate and House of Representatives. If you don’t know who your local Senators or Representative are you can find it here. Reach out to them and let them know you want MMA in Tennessee. Call them, email them and have your friends and family do the same.
I reached out to my State Senator and Representative today and their staff had no idea what I was talking about. I spent roughly ten minutes talking to each of them explaining what was going on. If they didn’t know I really doubt other lawmakers understand what is at stake either.
If you would like more information I encourage you to read our originally story from last June.
Feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to know how to help keep MMA in Tennessee. Also check our latest post How to keep MMA in Tennessee for contact info for media members and politicians.