City cashes in on UFC pass

Premier Colin Barnett's perception of Mixed Martial Arts has been a gift to the Brisbane tourism industry, with UFC Fight Night 33 taking place at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Saturday in front of a live audience of 12,000 and an estimated worldwide television audience running into the millions.

Bouts in the Ultimate Fighting Championship take place inside an eight-sided fenced enclosure, the Octagon, which is considered the industry standard for safety in MMA competition, with traditional boxing rings considered dangerous due to the possibility a combatant could be thrown through the ropes.

Going against the advice of the WA Combat Sports Commission, Sports Minister Terry Waldron banned the use of a fenced enclosure in MMA bouts as of March 1, 2013 following a review of combat sports rules and regulations.

Premier Colin Barnett later revealed that he thought the perception regarding cage fighting was not something he wanted in Western Australia.

The fenced enclosure is banned in Victoria and Western Australia and legal in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

Queensland is a unique case; it is legal as the state has no regulatory body for combat sports, however having hosted the UFC on the Gold Coast and now Brisbane, the fenced enclosure is an established arena.

While the move has set back the industry on a local level, it has now impacted WA's tourism dollar, with Brisbane subsequently being selected over Perth as the preferred city to host the next Australian UFC event.

UFC Managing Director of Canada, Australia and New Zealand Tom Wright said following the ban that the UFC would not allow its events to take place without the Octagon, subsequently ruling out any UFC event in Perth.

He also revealed the UFC had placed a hold on a date this month with Perth Arena's management company, AEG Ogden, the same company that manages the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, among others.

Mr Wright confirmed that hold was taken off when the WA Government announced the ban, and said this Brisbane event effectively replaced the event planned for Perth.

"I asked for holds and as it turned out, those holds were unfortunately not necessary," he said.

"The Brisbane event has replaced that Perth event, absolutely, and every seat in the Brisbane Entertainment Centre is going to be sold, it seats 12,000 fully packed and there will be 12,000 there.

"The last time I checked, there were 37 tickets still left for the show.

"The Perth Arena holds 17 or 18,000 and I completely guarantee, when, not if but when, the UFC gets sanctioned in Western Australia we will fill the Perth Arena as well."

Mr Wright said he would like to see the ban overturned in order to ensure the health and safety of fighters, however he added there were additional benefits the WA Government did not seem to recognise.

"I think the WA decision is tremendously short-sighted in terms of the economic drivers," he said.

"I don't know of that many governments that turn away economic drivers. When people travel to UFC events they come for three or four days, they stay in hotels, they take cabs, they eat in restaurants and cafes...the economic drivers and the multiplier effect to these sorts of events is remarkable.

"We have provided all the government with economic impact studies from similar events in Vancouver and Toronto... it's not like we're picking numbers out of the air. Here are the numbers. They're significant numbers and in this kind of environment I don't know how you can turn your back on that."

One person who is well aware of the economic and tourism impact the UFC is having on Brisbane at the moment is Brisbane Entertainment Centre general manager Tricia McNamara.

She said that in crew accommodation alone, the UFC was having a huge impact and that ticket sales reflected the event was extremely popular with tourists.

"It's an enormous event," she said.

"When I had my initial meetings with them regarding this, we were talking about accommodation in December and I said to them, wow there's so much activity in Brisbane in December, I really want you to get your room nights booked early.

"I asked them how many room nights they would use and they said probably around 500 room nights, and that's just the UFC, just their production crew, the fighters, the administration, and the entourage around it.

"500 room nights alone, just for the UFC. That's staggering. "

"As it currently stands, local tickets, which include parts of Queensland, account for 57.98 per cent of tickets. Regional is 6.95 per cent. Interstate is 32.82 per cent and unknown is about 2.25 per cent, which will be overseas visitors.

"Four per cent of those interstate ticketholders are actually from WA so that's at least 400 WA residents prepared to pay for a ticket and fly over, that's a significant number."

The Brisbane show will be broadcast live not only in Australia but also in America, and Ms McNamara said the event would not only showcase fighters, but also the city, a view backed by Daniel Gschwind, chief executive of the  Queensland Tourism Industry Council.

"An emerging sport like the UFC is something that is attracting increasing attention," he said.

"It has a rapidly growing fan base and it's an international sport, importantly, which brings people to Brisbane and gives Brisbane exposure across a different market segment, a younger market segment that has a strong presence in Asia. It adds to the appeal of the city.

"The UFC boasts that it broadcasts to 800 million homes worldwide. If only a very small fraction of those people are more likely to come to Brisbane as a result it is an enormous boost in essentially free publicity, publicity you can't buy through advertising.

"Sporting events bring an enormous buzz into a city, it stimulates the economy through restaurants, cafes and pubs and that's a very real and very tangible factor."

Fairfax Media contacted Tourism Minister Liza Harvey regarding the potential tourism benefits of a WA UFC event but was instead referred to Sports Minister Terry Waldron.

In a statement, Mr Waldron did not address questions on tourism.

""The State Government has not approved the use of a fenced enclosure for MMA contests believing it is not in the best interests of the wider community to endorse and encourage participation of fighting in a cage," he said.

"The State Government is not considering reversing this decision.

"The UFC are free to hold events in Western Australia as long as they comply with the approved rules."

Tourism Council of WA chief executive director Evan Hall was not available for comment, nor was Queensland tourism minister Jann Stuckey.

Queensland Sports Minister Steve Dickson said the Queensland Government continued to monitor the development of combat sports like the UFC.

"As with many growing sports and codes, discussions around growth occur periodically between Governments, and the department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing is involved in national discussions to investigate consistent approaches to address some aspects of the combat sport industry."

Tom Wright said that he was hopeful the UFC could persuade the Victorian Government to overrule their ban in order to hold an event at Etihad Stadium, and said he believed WA could follow suit.

"The conversations with Victoria are progressing more consistently, largely because the WA Government flat-out banned it in March, and I didn't have any expectations that two weeks after banning it they would acquiesce," he said.

"The Government in Victoria seem to be more enlightened and appreciative of the safety and health aspect that are first and foremost in this decision and can see the economic drivers behind it.

"I suspect the ban will be overturned in Victoria before it is in WA and then I hope the WA Government looks upon the leadership decision in Victoria, recognises they've made the right decision and decided they should make the right decision as well."

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