The growing corporate unease over violence in the NHL hasn't spilled over to another particularly violent sport - Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The UFC is about to hold its largest event ever in Toronto next month and organizers say they haven't felt any fallout from the controversy surrounding Zdeno Chara's spectacular hit on Max Pacioretty. While NHL sponsors Air Canada, Tim Hortons and Via Rail have called on the league to addresses player safety, UFC hasn't faced similar pressure.
"I haven't had any conversations directly with any of our sponsors on this particular issue," said Tom Wright, UFC's director of Canadian operations.
Wright added that sports leagues shouldn't bow to threats like Air Canada's announcement that it is considering pulling its sponsorship from the NHL.
"My initial thinking was that there's no way that a league or a property is going to change their policies in a sort of a reactionary mode to what a sponsor might do. That's tantamount to giving in to, you know, ransom demands from people who kidnap people," he said.
He also doubted the stance will do much for Air Canada's bottom line. "I'm not so sure that Canadians or anybody is going to make a decision to fly Air Canada because of their stance on hockey violence."
Wright said he had been in the United States when the Chara hit happened and media attention there had been "minimal at best."
"While obviously the issue is important and it's serious, it seems to be resonating much more deeply in Canada," he said. "That's not to say that Americans aren't worried about it, but hockey is not part of the culture like it is in Canada."
The UFC has a number of major global sponsors, such as Burger King and Bud Light. Other sponsors have included Harley-Davidson and Visa. Wright said organizers are still negotiating with local sponsors for the Toronto event, which sold out in minutes, and the issue of concussions and head shots has not come up in wake of the Chara hit.
Wright said the UFC is still educating potential sponsors about mixed martial arts. "We go to great lengths during those stages to talk about how our sport compares to other sports in terms of health and safety and what we've done to ensure that the athletes are protected," he said.
He added that he didn't think the issue will come up necessarily because of the Chara hit, "but it's not to say that it's something that we're not going to tackle head on … because it's something that we should talk about."
In a sign of where both leagues are at, NHL general managers spent Monday addressing growing concerns about concussions while UFC executives celebrated their acquisition of rival Strikeforce, solidifying UFC as the dominant player in MMA. "It's a great day for our fans," UFC president Dana White told reporters on a conference call. "We believe that this is going to be the biggest sport in the world."
When asked whether UFC has felt any fallout from Chara incident, White said: "Not at all." He added that unlike the NHL, UFC fighters who take very hard hits to the head cannot compete or train for three months to allow recovery time. As for any corporate unease over violence, White said: "You are always going to have people out there who don't like it. Don't watch it."