Last December, Ultimate Fighting Championship announced that it had signed a six-year, $70 millon deal that would allow Reebok to be the exclusive outfitter of the UFC. Starting in July, all UFC fighters will wear Reebok uniforms and training apparel, and no other sponsors will be allowed to advertise with the fighters. We didn’t know how well Reebok would compensate the athletes in lieu of outside branding. Now we know. It doesn’t look good.
Last week, UFC announced that fighters on UFC contracts would be paid based on how many fights they’ve fought under Zuffa, the parent company of UFC and a handful of now-defunct promotions. Here’s the breakdown, with some commentary from our friend Jonathan Snowden:
Snowden doesn’t seem wrong here. The UFC pays most of its fighters peanuts, but until the Reebok deal, they were at least able to bolster their incomes by selling real estate on their trunks, tops, and hats. That’s over now. Brendan Schaub is a decent heavyweight who has fought 10 times in the UFC. He’ll never be champion, but still hauled in six figures in each of his last six fights from sponsorships. The next time he fights, he’ll make $10,000 from the Reebok deal.
Mike Roberts, who represents fighters including Anthony Pettis and Paige VanZant, told MMA Fighting that “85 to 90 percent” of his fighters are losing money.
“This Reebok deal is not going away,” Roberts said. “It’s just not gonna go away. It’s gotta be fixed. It’s gotta be tweaked, because everybody is not worth the same.”
There’s still some chance for the athletes to earn some money. From ESPN:
As part of the deal, athletes will be eligible to make additional compensation on apparel that is sold bearing his or her likeness. Fighters are also able to keep sponsors outside of UFC-related functions, if able to do so.
Certain athletes have already publicly stated that the impending Reebok deal has cost them sponsorships outside of the cage. UFC president Dana White said the promotion is only now falling in line with what has been standard practice in other professional sports organizations for years.
Fighters Jessica Eye, Alistair Overeem, and Michael Chiesa came out in support of the new deal during a UFC Q&A, saying that it gave the promotion more prestige. Chiesa said the change made him feel more like Tom Brady. That’s fine, but so far, at least, it looks a lot like the UFC and Reebok just conspired to funnel sponsorship money away from the fighters. To make up for it, they will likely have to take more bouts, more often, and try to extend their careers as long as they can. Looking clean is cool and all, but making a fraction of what other elite professional athletes make probably isn’t worth the five or even six digits these fighters will forfeit every time they step into the cage through 2020.
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