Someone sent a letter to The News' sports department the other day. He was pretty angry.
In fact, he said he was cancelling his subscription to the newspaper because of its lack of coverage of Mixed Martial Arts fighting.
I'm not sure what anyone else's reaction to that letter was, but mine was "whoa."
On one level, he's certainly right. We really don't cover MMA events. There's a pretty good reason for that, though. It's very, very difficult to get information on that sport. The Associated Press rarely has stories on MMA bouts. Basically, if we don't get an article, we can't print it.
Is there much of a demand for articles, besides our one MMA friend? That's tough to say. It's certainly the first complaint I've heard in this particular area. My guess is that our audience (and let's expand that to the readership of newspapers in general) skews a little older than the population as a whole, and I also would guess that MMA bouts appeal to a younger crowd.
That might not be the whole story, though. Let's start with the fact that newspapers are facing declining amounts of space for stories. In Buffalo, we already have more or less sacrificed NBA coverage on a regular basis; you have to study the box scores on the scoreboard page to keep up with Koby and LeBron. It's a little tough to try to add MMA to the mix, except for the odd feature story on a local athlete who is competing for a championship. You could argue that other sports usually associated with the X Games are in the same category as the MMA, although at least ywe get stories on competitions like the halfpipe event in the Winter Olympics.
The MMA doesn't really have any internal advocates in our building, either. Heck, boxing's coverage has declined in the past several years. That's in part because Joe Mesi ran for office instead of climbed in the ring, but also because Tim Graham and Tom Borrelli are no longer on our staff. Many of the remaining staff members don't like boxing that much, and MMA is a step beyond that in many ways. It's not like anyone in our department grew up with mixed martial arts, either.
Here, then, is the problem: Do newspapers try to alter their coverage in an attempt to win new, young readers, or do we stick to proven formulas in order not to drive away the people currently buying the publication?
The answer comes down to some sort of balance, but it's going to be tough to keep everyone happy in such arguments. And if you haven't noticed, when it comes to decisions like this for newspapers and their plunging bottom lines, the stakes are rather high because the meter is definitely running.