UFC and Reebok: Bad Business
I was refraining from commenting on the UFC’s Reebok deal. The deal was still fresh and I felt it was necessary to give the UFC some time to work out the kinks of the deal and iron out the details. But the events of the last couple of days have caused me to break my silence on the matter. The Reebok deal has been an unmitigated disaster. Every aspect about the deal, from the sponsorship purge, to the fight kits has back fired in every way. For those who don’t understand the extent of the damages to the fighters, here is a rundown of the events.
The UFC signed a six-year deal with Reebok that gave Reebok exclusive control of fighter’s uniforms beginning July 2015. The UFC wanted to pursue this deal as a way to legitimize themselves and make the fighters appear more professional with matching uniforms. Before the deal, in order for a fan to purchase a fighter’s shirt they would have to track down the specific website carrying it, now the UFC hopes that this deal will eventually lead to major stores and websites having an easy access to fighter apparel. This all sounds great on paper but in practice, the fighters will suffer under this deal.
There is a history of fighters complaints about paychecks and justifiably so. In the last event, Todd Duffee was in the main event and received a paltry $12,000. Some will state that $12,000 for a fight that lasted less than two minutes is accurate, but being a professional fighter is expensive. Fighters must pay for a lot of things leading up to a fight they usually have at least a six-week long training camp leading up to a fight. This means that they need to pay trainers for their time and facilities, travel expenses, medical examinations, and taxes (both domestic and international). Being a professional fighter is very expensive. In fact, many fighters have separate full-time jobs outside of the Octagon. To offset some of these expenses fighters would seek sponsorship deals, they would sell advertisement space on their shorts and pre fight banners in order to make some money and hopefully come out of the fight with a profit. This Reebok deal kills that. No fighter is allowed to have any sponsors outside of Reebok at any official UFC outing. Suddenly fighters are missing out on massive amounts of financial support. Fighters are still allowed to have outside deals but they can’t represent said companies in the cage, when all eyes are on them. How is that good business for a sponsor? Few fighters have the recognition to pull in major corporate advertisements outside of the cage. Top tier fighters, for the most part, can continue to make some good money, but the middle tier and lower tier guys will find themselves losing more money than they make in this business. Because the UFC is a privately owned company, many of their expenses and financial information are undisclosed, but it is rumored that the company is worth between $1-2 billion. Yet the grand total of fighter’s salaries is less than the $75 million salary cap of a single NBA team.
The deal kills fighter’s originality. Dana White, UFC president, stated that he wanted the fighters to look more professional with similar fight kits, doing away with the patchwork of sponsors on fighters’ shorts. The problem here is, the UFC isn’t a team sport. It is a one-on-one competition. Every fighter represents himself/herself and conducts themselves however they see fight. It is all about the individual in this sport, and fight kits are one way for these fighter’s to express themselves. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is synonymous with his cowboy hat and Budweiser sponsor. Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson came out with his lime green Xbox shorts and a matching mouthpiece. But with uniforms that’s all gone. Everyone will be wearing the same thing, and that’s not good for the sport. Casual fans use sponsors as an indicator of a fighter’s ability, not just anyone is sponsored by Nike or Xbox, and like the above examples, some fighters are identified by their sponsors. Some fighters design great shirts or logos, but now that creativity is removed in favor of a uniform with swappable colors, in a manner that Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo stated fighters look like, “Power Rangers”.
These points were the first flaws that fans and fighters instantly opposed when the fight kits were instated earlier this month. The initial reaction found here, is nothing short of disastrous, and now that fighters are taking a hit in their wallets, it was only a manner of time before more people started speaking out about getting shafted by this deal. Things culminated when legendary UFC cut man Jacob “Stitch” Duran stated that this new deal may lead to him having to do boxing events to supplement the money lost. The UFC fired Duran for his statements. Stitch, as he is called, has been with the UFC since its inception 14 years ago, he is widely considered the best cut man by many fighters. His mustached face and vest patched with badges from sponsors could be seen at every UFC event. But now he is gone, simply because he felt that he would have to seek outside work in order to make a secure enough wage. Immediately the UFC, Dana White and Reebok found themselves swarmed by fans tweeting their disdain for their actions. Fans called for a boycott of Reebok and UFC products and an explanation from the companies for the firing of a UFC legend, #fureebok and #fuufc began trending as fans voiced their outrage. The responses that followed were nothing short of incredible. Reebok tried to distance itself, stating that they have no say in the UFC’s employment decisions. And Dana White began attacking, shaming and ridiculing any fans that voiced anything negative about the deal. White’s actions even became a story for USA Today. For a man who wants his fighters to look like professionals he certainly didn’t act in that manner. The UFC finds itself in a very bad position, and the fans are fed up with dealing with what amounts to a group of bullies running a billion dollar organization.
The firing of Stitch brought about an interesting point that many didn’t bother to ask before this. What happens if a fighter does something that Reebok does not like? Stitch was a cut man, he was an employee of the UFC and didn’t fall in the same realm of employment as fighters. He voiced anti-Reebok sentiments and lost his job, but can the same happen to a fighter on a contract? With typical sponsorship deals athletes run the risk of losing their deals if they breach stipulations laid out in the contract. For example Jon “Bones” Jones was instantly dropped by Nike following his hit and run arrest. These things happen in all other sports, Tiger Woods and the cheating scandal, the examples are exhausting. But now with Reebok as the sole sponsor of all UFC fighters how will a similar situation play out? If a fighter repeatedly speaks out against Reebok will they find themselves out of a job? What if they commit adultery and Reebok doesn’t want to associate itself with their actions? DO they end up wearing a plain fight kit devoid of the Reebok insignia? We could end up seeing fighters doing whatever they can to get dropped by the UFC in order to join another fight promotion where they can secure sponsors and wages. Bellator MMA could become a haven for fighters that don’t want to associate themselves with the UFC or Reebok. The next few weeks and months are going to be interesting in the world of MMA.
Michael Gomez overs MMA for MyFantasySportsTalk, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelGom3
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