The new Minnesota Combative Sports Commission’s executive director has a lot of challenges to overcome as he takes the helm of the fledgling commission.
In October, RD Brown was tabbed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to replace the retired Scott LeDoux as the executive director of the commission. Brown, 64, has served as one of the commissioners for the past three years, including a term as chairman of the board this past year.
With the current state budget crisis, Brown, from St. Paul, knows the commission is facing the risk of disbandment if it is not self-supporting by this summer. Brown said the most important thing the commission must do is find new revenue streams in order to keep the commission afloat.
“We can’t make it on just plain license revenue and event revenue and we don’t want to raise those fees,” Brown said. “Even if we raise them, it wouldn’t bring in enough revenue to keep everything going, so we need to figure out another way of doing that.”
During the 2009 legislative session, the commission was allocated $80,000 from the state for fiscal year 2010 with the mandate it must be self-supporting by the end of that period or face dissolution.
“You figure we get about $46,000, maybe $50,000, from license fees. Maybe another $50,000 from the event fees,” Brown explained. “That goes into taking care of the licensing, making sure people are at the events and so forth, making sure we check on the fighters' records and all those types of things. All of the administrative stuff that goes on.”
At a recent special meeting, the commission met to brainstorm a couple of suggestions for the Legislature on how it could come up with additional funding, including a possible tax on UFC and boxing pay-per-views purchased within the state, or the raising of event fees. Currently, promoters pay a $1,500 fee to put on an event with professional boxers or mixed martial artists, or $200 for an amateur show. One suggestion was to raise the fees on amateur events to $500.
“To be quite honest, I think the promoters get off (compared to the fees other states charge), especially on an amateur show. They are a still charging (admission) and not paying anybody, except they are paying judges and so forth, but they’re not paying fighters, and they’re not paying us $1,500. They are paying us $200, and so they make money,” Brown said. “There is no promoter in the business that is not making money. They may not be making as much as they would want to, but they are not suffering either.”
“So I don’t feel bad about the money we are charging them,” Brown continued. “I think it is very reasonable for what we are giving them and what we are doing, I think it is very reasonable rate.”
The commission continues to struggle with a lack of support staff as well. While Wisconsin has assigned four people to its department of licensing to oversee boxing and MMA, Minnesota has just an executive director and one office administrator that do all of the work to oversee 40+ events each year.
“We started from the ground floor with nothing. We didn’t have any help in terms of office staff. Truly, Scott (LeDoux) and his wife Carol were doing this all on their own. You go to Nevada where they have a full crew of people. You go to other places where they have a four or five people, we only have one and now two.”
Brown said that under his oversight, the commission’s main focus will be on fighter safety.
“You want to make (bouts) safe. You want to make sure that every time somebody steps into the ring or the cage that you’ve done everything to make sure they are safe before they go on,” explained Brown. “The commission really is here to insure the safety of the fighter. That is paramount.”
Brown believes that the only way for boxing and MMA to grow is if promoters put on better fights that people want to see, and not continue to book mismatches. He’ll make that a priority of the commission under his direction.
“Our job is not to have one fighter move up the line. Our job is to make sure that every fight is an equal fight as much as possible, and that the fans will get a good fight out of it,” Brown said.
As for why the commission should continue to exist, Brown said that without a commission, he believes cities would start to ban MMA again, like many did before the commission was given the authority to oversee the sport in 2007.
“I think there are a number of jurisdictions that allow MMA simply because there is a commission. If the commission was no longer in existence, there would be some backlash within the communities about having it there. There is a ton of people who don’t like it,” Brown said.
According to Brown, one example of this was at Olmeca Night Club in Burnsville, which had a couple of events last year.
“Olmeca was having problems, and the council was saying ‘they are doing MMA, I don’t even like that.’ But because there is a state commission that oversees it, they sort of sat back and said ‘as long as you guys are going to do what you guys are supposed to do, we will allow it,’” explained Brown. “As long as there is a commission, they can come to the commission and the commission will take the heat for all of the things going on. Without a commission they would just begin to ban it.”
One of the issues the commission has faced this past year was the handing down of disciplinary punishments by the board. Previously, the commission had not handed down anything but medical suspensions before 2010.
Duluth boxing promoter Chuck Horton was given a six-month suspension for holding unlicensed exhibition fights at a bar in Duluth last April, but later had the suspension stayed for two years on appeal to the commission.
“I think the idea was not to sort of punish Chuck but to get the message to him. Chuck was suspended and couldn’t do anything for four months. I think the message there was if you do we’ll continue to do this, but next time, since you’ve done it before, we’re not going to back off and let it go after a few months.”
In addition, a fighter who had been suspended for six months for fighting with an expired license had his suspension reduced on appeal as well. Brown said that will have to change.
“I think we have to be firmer in what we do. If we say we are going to do it, we have to do it. I think that is going to be on the commission. We don’t want to hurt people and we don’t want to ruin the sport. But if you have a rule, the rule is there for a reason,” Brown stated. “If we don’t like the rule, we need to get it changed, but if we have it, we have to enforce it. You don’t have to like it, you just have to enforce it.”
For more on Brown, his thoughts on the amateur MMA scene and much more, the entire hour long conversation has been posted on the Minnesota MMA news page, which you can find here.