If the media won’t take part, McGregor will take over

Conor McGregor’s hand is raised in victory following his epic battle with Nate Diaz

Last week, an Irish athlete won one of the most epic contests ever seen in his chosen sport, and yet for a variety of reasons, it barely caused a ripple in the media consciousness.

In a bloody battle that raged for the full 25 minutes, the initiative ebbing and flowing between its two protagonists, the Notorious Conor McGregor finally emerged victorious.

In doing so, he avenged his March defeat to Nate Diaz and put himself once again at the pinnacle of mixed martial arts, redeeming both himself and the somewhat erroneous reputation of the Fighting Irish.

This is no longer a niche sport, confined to dingy hotel function rooms and fight clubs – it is a $4 billion business that is only going to get bigger.

For me, McGregor’s win beat Barry McGuigan’s victory over Eusebio Pedroza, and even eclipsed Steve Collins’ run of wins at super-middleweight back when he, Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn struggled for supremacy in boxing.

It was one of the most exhilarating sporting events I have ever seen live, if not the most exhilarating.

But with Pat Hickey behind bars and a myriad of other sports to cover, plus a nine-hour time difference from Las Vegas, it seemingly got lost, slipping through the cracks and never really getting the credit or coverage it deserved.

Considering the fact that, together with Joe Callaghan, Petesy Carroll and a select few others, I was responsible for spreading the news about one of the most remarkable victories in Irish sporting history, it might seem strange that I am bemoaning the lack of coverage.

But it’s worth looking a little more closely at how one of the big global sports stories of last week – one that over a million US TV viewers paid almost $70 each to watch – was covered.

Petesy is a stalwart of the Irish MMA beat – enormously knowledgeable on every level, well-connected, he wrote for a variety of websites and contributed to Newstalk, among others.

Joe was kept busy writing for the Irish Independent, the Irish Examiner, and the RTE website.

As the elder lemon, I was tasked with bringing the fight game to the mainstream, writing for the Irish Times and the Reuters news agency (I also filmed the weigh-ins and the press conference for the latter), and covering the event on radio for the BBC and RTE.

The coverage of the build-up cannot be faulted – the pitched battle at the David Copperfield Theatre in the MGM Grand ensured the headlines there – but it was the aftermath that felt abrupt and unsatisfying.

It would be understandable if the fight had been a turgid, clinch-heavy affair with little drama, but with Diaz downed early in the first and McGregor seemingly out on his feet at the end of the third, this was a fight that you couldn’t take your eyes off.

Though pretty much everyone in the arena (or at least everyone who wasn’t from Stockton, California) gave the win to McGregor, there was still a sense of nervous anticipation as the results from the judges’ scorecards were read out.

McGregor won, and the subsequent press conference, which he entered on crutches, was an emotional affair, his voice cracking as he revealed how important the fight and the result was for him.

Strange, then, that there was little interest in the video I had of the post-fight press conference, and indeed the lack of post-fight discussion in some of the major media outlets.

I did contribute a report to RTE Sport, but the more wide-reaching Marian Finucane show, which had me on for the guts of half an hour after the March defeat, didn’t seem to cover it at all, aside form a couple of questions as a preview late on Saturday.

Nor did RTE come looking for the video. Neither did Reuters.

Why is this relevant? Because it tells us a lot about how editorial decisions are made, what influences them and how budgets are spent.

Mixed martial arts still hasn’t gained the acceptance enjoyed by amateur boxing, or the genteel respect of golf.

But how many world champions does Ireland have at anything?

How many sports can boast a stable like the Straight Blast Gym, which had two winners on Saturday night’s card and which is teeming with prospects for the future?

MMA is a sport fervently followed by young to middle-aged fans, many of them urban working class males.

In other words, the very class of people most often denied access to the airwaves and the pages of our finer publications.

The class of people from which McGregor himself emerged.

In our burgeoning media culture of interns and working for “exposure”, it is a class of people who are an endangered species in our newsrooms.

But whereas once upon a time McGregor and everyone else would simply have to accept that fact, that is no longer the case, as demonstrated late in the week.

Having fallen out with the UFC, McGregor launched his own media channel, The Mac Life, and the publication of a remarkable behind-the-scenes video from UFC 202 instantly made other media redundant.

This is nothing new. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of many footballers who uses an app to communicate directly with fans, and plenty of athletes and personalities leverage their social media presence to boost themselves, but McGregor has taken it to a new level.

Combining his enormous social media reach with more traditional media such as the “Man’s Work” short doc, he will get his message out there to his fans, whether more mainstream outlets help him or not.

But at a time when they are struggling to remain relevant, the more traditional players need to question their editorial decisions now more than ever, lest they be left behind in a changing landscape.

This doesn’t just apply to McGregor either – from news to politics to sport, new players, new issues and subjects are emerging, as are new ways of disseminating them.

The new voices that are so badly needed to round out the discourse will make themselves heard, one way or another.

And the media house that doesn’t recognise that what once was a one-way broadcast business has now become a conversation with media consumers has a very dark – and short – future ahead of it.

 

 

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