Quick, I want you to name the first three MMA fighters that come to your mind.
Got it? Ok, good.
I’m willing to bet one of the names you came up with was Conor McGregor. I’ll admit that I steered you in that direction with the title of this piece, but the message stands: Conor McGregor is a bona fide superstar.
Mixed martial arts experts constantly laud his strength, precision, and versatility as a fighter. He has all the tools he needs to “bounce heads off the canvas”, as he likes to put it, and his early success was undoubtedly the reason for his initial acceleration into the spotlight. But McGregor’s fighting prowess was merely a stepping stone which allowed him to do what he does best in front of millions of people: talk.
There’s a reason Conor McGregor is such a polarizing figure, and it has nothing to do with what he does inside the octagon. He is an elite shit talker and his arrogance makes Kanye West look insecure, if that’s even possible. McGregor showcases his electric personality every chance he gets, and people eat it up.
So what does Conor McGregor’s trash talk have to do with baseball?
The MLB has many players with explosive personalities, all of whom, like McGregor, have the innate ability to seize the attention of an audience. What these players lack is the freedom to entertain their fans outside of the white lines. When the lights turn off, the players disappear into the darkness and all baseball content is left in the hands of media personalities and news outlets. Often, the world doesn’t hear from the players until they take the field the next day.
This phenomenon occurs because the MLB, unlike any other professional sports league, silences its players. Due to a fear of being fined or suspended, players rarely take to social media to talk trash or complain about inept umpiring. They are animals in a zoo, and the MLB is ready to tranquilize them if they try to break out of their enclosures.
President of the UFC Dana White, on the other hand, has let his superstar free. Without a figurative cage to hold him back, Conor McGregor has built himself into an international icon using his speaking ability and masterful self marketing.
McGregor’s press conferences, social media presence, and entrepreneurial spirit have driven millions of viewers to the UFC. Many people love Conor and want to see him win, while others hate him and hope to see him get his face caved in. The bottom line is that Conor McGregor puts asses in the seats.
Let’s take a look at the UFC events with the top five PPV buys:
- McGregor vs. Khabib
- McGregor vs. Diaz 2
- McGregor vs. Diaz
- McGregor vs. Alvarez
- McGregor vs. Aldo
It’s no coincidence that one of the most controversial people in the history of combat sports has sold a record number of fights. Conor is worth his weight in gold.
But even with countless examples like the one above, the MLB fails to recognize that negative press is just as valuable, and sometimes more valuable than positive press.
The league is fundamentally afraid to have villains, and runs away from any opportunity to promote personal rivalries. Instead of hyping up the next battle between Muncy and Bumgarner, the MLB resolved the issue, made sure neither player was seen as “the bad guy”, and put the moment in the rear view mirror. If either player had called out the other on social media after the game, he would have been reprimanded by league officials.
The UFC, NBA, and NFL understand that people follow polarizing figures. They understand the concept that not everyone can be perceived as an angel, and they can capitalize on off-field shenanigans more than on-field action. While they utilize their top personalities to grow their brands, the MLB sits on its hands and wonder why the product on the field isn’t drawing millions of new, youthful fans.
Conor McGregor is one of the most electric athletes in the world, but only because he is allowed to be. The MLB needs to take a lesson from Dana White and set its most prized possessions free. It’s not enough to just let the kids play… you have to let the kids do whatever they want. If people don’t like that, let them tune in, hate from their couches, and boost your ratings.
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