MMA study claims potential $67 million boost to New York

Rick Story, in black, fights Kelvin Gastelum in a mixed martial arts event. (AP Photo/Matt Strasen)
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ALBANY—The biggest mixed-martial arts league says legalizing the sport could bring $67 million in annual spending to New York, a point they'll make as they renew their annual push for enabling legislation.

A six-page study by HR&A, commissioned by the Ultimate Fighting Championship league, examined attendance at bouts in Ohio, California, New Jersey and Canada to estimate what percentage of New York audiences might come from out of state. The study concluded that roughly half of the spending would be attributable to out-of-state fight-goers; it assumed promoters would hold 70 events of different sizes in New York.

“The point that we're trying to make is pretty straightforward: New York is missing out on significant economic impact by not regulating the sport of mixed-martial arts,” said Lawrence Epstein, chief operating officer of Zuffa LLC, the UFC's corporate parent. “We're not seeking for New York to simply allow it and do nothing to ensure the health and safety of athletes and the security of athletes. We're advocating for regulation.”

While once on the pay-per-view fringe, mixed-martial-arts bouts have gone mainstream in recent years and are now legal in 49 other states. Fighters punch, kick and wrestle in an octagonal cage with the goal of forcing their opponent into submission. Saying they are excessively violent, New York lawmakers banned professional MMA bouts in 1997.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he is attracted to the economic potential of MMA, and both Republicans and Democrats in the State Senate have passed various bills to legalize and regulate the sport over recent years. Democrats who dominate the Assembly, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver, have refused to bring it to a floor vote. This year, there are competing bills pending in the chamber. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, a Rochester Democrat who has worked closely with the UFC, said he would soon meet with Assemblyman Denny Farrell to try and iron out compromise legislation.