Today, the UFC and Reebok announced an endorsement partnership that will see the apparel giant become the exclusive, official outfitter of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. You can ignore the flowery language in official press releases where both companies shower praise upon one another. You can ignore Dana White’s claim that the UFC “won’t make a dime.” off the new deal (c’mon boss..) Only one thing matters here, IS IT A GOOD DEAL FOR THE FIGHTERS???
At first glance, Yes.
The new partnership, effective in July, does appear to be advantageous for fighters, even guys lower on the totem pole like myself. Fighters ranked in the top 5 will make a certain amount per fight, 5-10 a tier lower, 10-15 lower still, and unranked fighters a flat rate. I have no idea how much that flat fee will be at the bottom, or how much the Ronda Rousey, Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones – type fighters will be given. I DO know that cash sponsorships are increasingly hard to come by, especially if you are not a main-card fighter. Any reasonable slice of the merchandising pie is likely going to be better than what most fighters are getting now. The Reebok deal effectively emulates the merchandising agreements of leagues like the NBA, NFL, MLB, where players get a pittance of the massive revenue generated by sales because of their respective collective bargaining agreements. Fighters don’t have a union or a collective bargaining agreement, and likely never will because it would force the folks at the top -in an individual sport- to share with the undercard rabble. Jon Jones would be an idiot to give me a piece of his pie, and I likely wouldn’t if I were in his shoes and he were in mine. The Reebok deal could have potentially been disastrous for the superstars of the UFC. Title holders and main-eventers bring in big sponsorship dollars and guys like Anderson Silva have deals with Nike…. NIKE!!! Obviously those deals are a thing of the past. It was announced today that to counteract this potential negative effect, twenty percent of revenue from merchandise bearing the likeness of a fighter will be awarded to that fighter. Let that sink in… TWENTY PERCENT… a full one fifth of money generated from the sales of Jon Jones Reebok shirts, or Ronda Rousey sports tights or Chris Weidman American Flag Reebok fight trunks will be awarded to the fighter whose namesake the product bears. That is massive. Sure, it’s a bummer that the energy drink company who sponsored a guy since his first fight might have to take a back seat to the new partnership, but 20% is worth it for those superstars. Peyton Manning would love to see that chunk of his jersey sales. Kobe would kill for it. In those leagues, their merchandise check is the same as the lowest guy on the depth chart. MMA is not a team sport, and as much as I wish Bones would share a chunk of his paychecks with me, it makes no sense for him to do so. On a surface level, this new Reebok deal appears to be a good situation for the stars, the rising stars, the journeymen, the card-fillers, and the brand newcomers.
It is also important for another reason. Reebok will outfit fighters with gear bag and fight wear similar to what you see with other pro leagues. They’ll lay the walk out jerseys and the fight shorts and the shoes and gloves and towels in the dressing room and get nice shots of the arrangement on camera for the broadcasts. They’ll make it LOOK like a big time deal, and in a sport that is still breaking into the mainstream, the importance of appearances cannot be overstated. Legitimacy in the sporting world is as much a product of perception as anything else. If Reebok makes it possible for you to walk into Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy a Jon Jones jersey off the same rack you’re getting your JJ Watt gear, but also gives back more of the profit than any other merchandising deal ever has, it really could be a win/win.
I say all of the above with one disclaimer. If the shares offered fighters are not sizeable upgrades than the realistic earning power of the current sponsor system, then all that’s been done is taking earning control away from fighters and their agents. I don’t see that happening though. The UFC still has a long way to go before fighters are content with the way their taken care of, but I think this is a big step in the right direction.
Next step… Fixing the MMA media… That justifies it’s own blog, but for starters, stop credentialing fanboys and momma’s-basement trogs.
(featured image courtesy Rafael Alvez)
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