Typically one of the less-featured items in the sport, sponsorship has worked its way into MMA events over the past decade. With the exception of major deals, including Anderson Silva’s with Nike, Demetrious Johnson’s with Xbox One and Jon Jones’ with Gatorade, the general audience is largely uninformed of the details behind sponsor arrangements.
While the elite fighters of MMA enjoy their lucrative pacts, which they are fully entitled to, it appears to be a different story beneath this tier.
On Saturday at UFC on Fox 9, Danzig’s bold message suggested the financial gain from sponsorship on prime cable and satellite television was small enough to waive. Only weeks prior, Mark Hunt detailed his experience with a sponsor who allegedly skipped paying a significant fee, revealing his unfortunate experience on Episode 208 of the MMA Hour.
These events echoed Chris Camozzi’s commentary on sponsorship bargaining power in the UFC. Speaking from his blog before facing Nick Ring at UFC 158, the TUF 11 alum noted a lack of collective fighter leverage and the UFC’s “sponsor tax” among the reasons for his bemusement with sponsor money:
PPV walkout tees have gone from a big payday for fighters to essentially non-existent…
What product has been commoditized faster than the UFC athlete sponsorship? Even just a couple years ago it was very possible to earn $10K for your walkout shirt alone being featured on the UFC main card yet in 2013 I turned down offers that were in the $3K range for my walkout shirt…
They paid five to seven figures for PERMISSION to advertise on us, shouldn’t the ads be worth more?
There appears to be a decreasing sponsorship value at the highest level of MMA. There are multiple theories behind this trend’s cause. Among them are the inevitable consequence of more fight cards, promotions taking too much of a slice through “permission fees” and certain agents’ inability to secure payment. These threats to fighter sponsorship in the UFC trickle down to smaller organizations, creating a problem across the entire industry.
MMA fights on Facebook do not appear to attract higher-paying sponsors either, despite the social media platform’s 1.1 billion account users.
Dana White’s reference to a fairer sponsorship format provides optimism for the financial well-being of future fighters. Until MMA’s dominant organization makes concrete progress, we must remind ourselves that most sponsors invest in professional athletes, not the organization. Consequently, the personalities of the sport are as responsible for nurturing their brands as anyone else.
In theory, a successful sponsor agreement attracts a larger audience. This in turn justifies more compensation for MMA talent.
With that said, next week I will post five suggestions that MMA athletes should apply, in collaboration with their sponsors, to improve the quality of their product or service endorsement.