(First they came for Affliction, and I did not speak up because I was not Affliction. Then they came for Full Tilt Poker, and I did not speak up because I was not Full Tilt Poker. And then…they came for me…and by that time there was no one left to speak up.)
A couple weeks ago we mentioned the UFC’s new stance on fighter sponsors heading into UFC 100 – particularly the part where they are now requiring certain would-be sponsors to pony up $100,000 for the privilege of paying a fighter to plaster “Condom Depot” across his ass – and we noted that since few of the smaller sponsors were likely to agree to this, it seemed like a real screw job for the fighters. But $100,000 only buys you six months worth of potential sponsorships in the UFC, so the real cost is $200,000 a year, and that’s before you pay a single penny to a fighter. And already guys are feeling the pain in their pocketbooks.
SI.com’s Josh Gross quotes one unnamed “veteran MMA agent” who says this new policy could cost fighters in the neighborhood of 35-40% of their sponsorship dollars, and cites one (again, unnamed) fighter who could stand to lose about $300,000 at UFC 100 if he doesn’t manage to secure another sponsor.
In other words, this move is going to prove costly for fighters, especially the guys on the low end. If you’re on the unaired preliminary portion of the card making six grand to show and six to win, chances are you’ve come to rely on the handful of small-time sponsors that pay a thousand bucks to get on your gear. Your struggling MMA clothing companies, your Buy Guns/Sell Guns, your local car dealerships – there’s absolutely no way they can afford to pay the UFC $200,000 a year and still have anything left to give the fighters.
So they’ll bow out, which leaves the heavy-hitters and the “official” sponsors like Harley-Davidson and Bud Light, who went through the UFC and not individual fighter agents/managers in the first place. Fewer eligible sponsors means less competition, which, when combined with the cash those relatively few sponsors are already paying to the UFC, means smaller sponsor payouts to fighters.
Now that we know who’s winning (the UFC, official sponsors) and who’s losing (everyone else), the question becomes, is this ethical? The UFC would argue that it is, because they are the ones providing the platform, the exposure, and the means of communication for sponsors to get their message out. It’s their house, they built it, so they get to make the rules.
At the same time, the UFC is essentially taking money out of fighters’ pockets, and they know it. If they can convince all sponsors to go through them and not fighter agents, they will have turned a fighter revenue stream into a UFC revenue stream, while at the same time gaining more control over both fighters and sponsors.
Maybe the only option now is for sponsors to pay for a fighter shout-out in the post-fight interview. The UFC can’t control what comes out of a guy’s mouth when Joe Rogan shoves the mic in his face…or can they?