UFC and Reebok officially announced their partnership this afternoon, being sold as a landmark deal in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. It’s really difficult to be able to gauge how good or bad of a thing this deal will be in the end, but what we do know is that it will add some more uniformity to UFC’s already impossible-to-distinguish-from-each-other shows. While the deal has been announced, it’s almost impossible to know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, which means for now we are going to have to see it as somewhere in the middle.
The UFC will give each fighter at the beginning of the week of their fight a “sponsorship kit” that will allow them to somehow customize their gear and tweak it a bit to their liking. This stuff will then need to be worn to all official UFC events, meaning press conferences, media days, open workouts, weigh-ins and fight nights. No outside sponsor logos or gear will be worn during these, but fighters aren’t exactly barred from having these sponsors.
Fighters can have their own sponsors, but those sponsors exist outside of these official UFC events. What is clear is that for apparel brands like TapouT, Affliction, Dethrone and everyone else, this is more or less the apocalypse for them. This is very, very different than the UFC and MMA has worked up until now and leaves a lot of the marketing for sponsorships up to them now. They can still exist and sponsor fighters, but their stuff can only be worn at events that they set up or in ads that they themselves produce.
This doesn’t have to be the end of the world, but will drastically change how sponsors do business and who they choose to sponsor now. Some no-name undercard guy is going to be a lot less palatable knowing that there is only so much space for them to advertise or have fighters make live appearances for them and that a younger, up-and-coming fighter that doesn’t have a big name isn’t going to sell a lot of merchandise for them and isn’t going to be seen on a main card or cable TV prelims any time soon.
As to how the money for these “blue chip” sponsorships that the UFC receives will be distributed, nobody really knows. They claim that they’ll pass on the “most of” money received from sponsors to the fighters, but no percentage was given. They also said that how much money each fighter receives will be dependent on their place in the rankings. The main problem with this is that those rankings are made by the media and a lot of the media that they ask to be involved are barely informed.
The other way they can make money is by moving merchandise that the UFC and Reebok make for them. The example used during the telecast earlier today was Cain Velasquez. Cain Velasquez will have a signature t-shirt made for and sold by the UFC. He’ll wear that to the ring with him and he’ll make 20% of the sales of said t-shirt. I’m not sure that kind of thing helps fighters not at the very, very top level, though, because I doubt the UFC is going to be making t-shirts for guys like Dennis Siver or Jim Miller.
This could, in theory, work out great for a few guys, it could also, in theory, work out incredibly poorly for others. We just don’t know yet. What I do know is that this is an attempt to appear to operate more like the NFL, NBA, etc., but the truth is they are still far from that. As long as fighters are still paid on a per-fight basis and not a regular salary this deal doesn’t make much sense.