NHL thirsts after the same blood and dollars as UFC

By Stephen Brunt

On April 30, mixed martial arts will produce the largest sports crowd and largest gate in the history of Toronto’s Rogers Centre, 55,000 customers dropping $11-million.

Slap an asterisk next to those numbers if you like. Point out that one of the clever marketing innovations of the Ultimate Fighting Championships – promoter of the event and the dominant force in the game – is that it has created a travelling audience of zealots who follow its events from place to place.

So it isn’t entirely a grassroots Toronto thing. It isn’t in itself evidence that MMA has captured the mainstream. It is more like a mass gathering of the faithful.

But ask yourself what other sporting event could draw that many people paying that much money in Canada’s largest market?

The correct answer would be nothing short of an Olympic Games or a World Cup or a Super Bowl, none of which is on the horizon.

Frame it any way you choose, but there is no denying that there is a strong and growing appetite for combat-as-spectacle right now, and don’t think that the National Hockey League hasn’t noticed.

Here is where we run into a rather stark cultural contradiction.

Never has there been more concern, more talk, more hand-wringing over brain injury in sport, whether in hockey or the National Football League or kids’ recreational soccer.


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