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Quarantine Routine is a regular feature that asks political, business, sports and entertainment power brokers how their daily lives have changed -- and how they're still doing their jobs -- during the coronavirus crisis.
As Americans stay indoors to help slow the spread of COVID-19, White has emerged as a prominent advocate for using sports to provide a source of diversion and entertainment in lockdown -- even though it has rankled some of his critics. When ESPN executives asked White to stand down on holding UFC 249 on April 18 following pushback from lawmakers, the longtime executive got to work on his backup plan.
That plan will be on display beginning May 9, when a rescheduled UFC 249 pay-per-view event kicks off as the first of three fight cards within an eight-day window. All three events will take place as closed shows, without fans in attendance, at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Florida.
President Trump named White, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and several other top sports executives to an industry advisory group as part of his task force to explore a reopening of the U.S. economy in the coming weeks. Several states have already begun to relax shelter-in-place orders.
White spoke to FOX Business about his weeks-long battle to get UFC events back on track, his conversations with the president on the return of sports and how he unwinds in his rare moments of downtime.
FOX Business: How has your daily routine changed since social distancing measures began?
White: The last couple of months, we were trying to put on a fight, and every day, all the rules would change. We’d literally work all day, get into a good place, wake up the next day and they’d change all the rules on us. So we had to figure out a whole new plan. We did this for probably two weeks straight, right up to that last event that ESPN asked me to stand down from.
You’re gonna think I’m a twisted sicko here, but it was actually fun. I like the challenge.
FOX Business: What are the biggest challenges in doing your job during this crisis?
White: First of all, I don’t like not talking face to face. I’m a very face-to-face type person. I hate phones and all the new technology, so that was a little tough for me. But my crew, my tight-knit crew that I work with every day, we were still getting together through this whole thing. We’ve still been getting together. I mean, these are people that I’m with all day, every day anyway. Literally, we work so close together, it would be like if you just said, ‘I’m going to social distance and stay away from my family.’ You know what I mean? Which isn’t a reality, it’s not going to happen.
The other thing is that I have 350 employees and over 600 fighters who have families to take care of and depend on me. You just can’t roll over and disappear when something bad happens. This is actually the time that those people need you more than when everything’s great, the world is normal, everybody’s making money and everything’s great. Now is the time when people need you more. I think just disappearing and doing that is not an option.
FOX Business: What do you miss the most about how you did your job before this began?
White: As far as the business goes, I miss the whole team being here and us pumping out events every weekend. Personally, I miss going to dinner and doing other fun things I used to do. I miss playing cards, that’s for damn sure.
FOX Business: What surprised you most about how life has changed?
White: I can’t believe that the Las Vegas Strip is shut down. I mean, in my lifetime, I never thought I would see that happen. If you think about Las Vegas … it’s funny, because I was just talking to another guy who just made a good point. Casinos don’t even have locks on their doors because they never close. They’re always open and you’re always welcome in a casino. They don’t close on Christmas, they don’t close on Christmas Eve. They’re always open, restaurants are always open in there, their stores are always open. For Vegas to be closed down, it’s almost eerie.
FOX Business: How do you blow off steam?
White: Listen, I’m very lucky. I have a really nice house (laughs) and I’m actually getting time to enjoy it, which I haven’t since I built it. I’ve been having a blast. First of all, my oldest son is graduating high school this year, and then he was supposed to report to [University of San Diego] football July 4th. California’s one of the hardest states right now with this whole thing as far as shutting everything down and not doing anything.
So I’ve had unbelievable time with my kids. I’ve been spending time with my kids, I’ve been working out. I’ve been doing all the things I said that if I had the time to do, I would do. Me and my daughter have been going on these bike rides that are incredible. Listen, I could do this forever. It’s almost like being retired but I’m not. It’s been awesome. There’s two different ways you can look at this. You can be completely negative about it and say, "Oh, my God, I can’t do this, I can’t do that." Or you can say, "Oh, my God, I can do this and I can do this and I can do that."
FOX Business: President Trump named you and several other top sports executives to his advisory group on reopening the U.S. economy. Anything you can share about those conversations?
White: I’m not just saying this because he’s my friend, but I think the president did a great job with these calls. What a unique, cool experience. I actually let my kids, my two sons, sit in on the call. You had the head of all the sports leagues giving their opinions on what’s going on, what they think we’re going to need to get back open, concerns, ideas. I thought the call was fascinating. I thought it was very helpful and a very cool thing to be a part of.
[Trump] says I think we need to get sports back. Sports need to come back first, if anything, for people to have something to keep them from losing their minds at home, because lots of other things are happening right now with depression, anxiety and all these other things.
Let’s get sports back first and then we can start figuring out how do we get people back to work, how do we get kids back to school, which is what I’ve been saying since day one. Instead of panicking, freaking out and hiding, some people need to stand up and figure out solutions. How do we fix this? I don’t know if normal is ever going to be normal again, but let’s get back to some type of normal. I think that was really the feeling of the call.
The president is saying, listen, we have to be conscientious, we have to be safe and we have to figure it out, but there’s a way to do this. You had all the biggest and the brightest and the most powerful people in sports kicking around ideas and opinions and concerns and things like that. It was a very cool call to be a part of. I thought it went really well and I felt like it was very productive.
FOX Business: Based on the discussions you’ve had, when will UFC and other sports leagues get back to holding events with fans in the stands?
White: I think what we’ve seen with this thing going on, how fast these guys have been able to come up with different types of tests, whether it’s the test for COVID-19, whether it’s the antibody test, I think the testing thing is moving really quickly. The president told us on a call that they’re close to having this test where it’s a tab, like a tab of paper, and you lick it and it tells you whether you have it or not. If testing gets that good, I think that’s when you can start having fans come back again.