The UFC’s exclusive sponsorship deal with Reebok does not go into total effect until July of this year, but the move already has fighters and sponsors alike anticipating its impact. Some are excited to see an apparel brand’s association with the UFC to give MMA an official look. Others are weary of the way that sponsorship money will be distributed to the athletes of the promotion. Whatever side you’re on, a major monetary change is coming to the octagon’s fighters. If the sponsorship deal can’t provide the sponsorship funds that the athletes need, will they have to move on to other promotions?
The UFC’s official statement on the tiered level of compensation reads,
“The tiered compensation levels for fighters, based on the media-selected rankings system, will reward champions of the respective divisions the most. Other tiers will reward fighters ranked 1 through 5 (Tier 2); 5-10 (Tier 3); 10-15 (Tier 4). Unranked fighters will be compensated at a Tier 5 level and those non-ranked fighters will receive the same compensation.”
“Whether you’re at the top of the heap or the bottom,” Dana White said, “you know every time you step in there, you’re getting paid. You have a sponsorship.”
While the athletes will get paid from Reebok for association with their brand, the question of how much? And is enough? are huge. From the “top of the heap” to the bottom, whatever Reebok pays UFC athletes in sponsorship dollars is going to be put side by side by what athletes used to make with previous sponsors. It’s important to note that athletes can still be sponsored from other brands other than Reebok, but they cannot be associated with any UFC events. So while the athletes will still have that outlet for sponsorship, they can’t be shown on the main stage for brand exposure.
The tiered system of pay seems fair based on performance, but is not without it’s hiccups. The compensation method falls on the shoulders of the up-and-comers in the organization that are not even ranked in the top 15 of their division. As veteran Joe Lauzon points out, the new fighters to the promotion aren’t the only ones who should be concerned about the “Tier 5” level of pay.
“asked them, ‘I’ve had 17 fights in the UFC – am I going to be the same as someone on their first fight?'” Lauzon told MMAjunkie. “And they’re like, ‘Yes.'”
“trains at my gym. He was on The Ultimate Fighter, had a couple of (UFC) fights. He’s technically unranked; I’m unranked. But I make a lot more sponsors than he does,” he continued. “Looking at the new system, we’re going to be on the exact same page, which is pretty crappy.”
For unranked fighters, the biggest question surrounding the deal is will it be enough? Sponsorship deals are a vital resource for competitive athletes in combat sports. In a sport where your sizable paydays are dependent on your success, sponsorship money provides a more stable source of outside earnings.
The deal as we understand it looks to restructure the promotion from top to bottom. Faced with the gauntlet of climbing up the rankings, will the deal force fighters to seek out other promotions without sponsorship constraints? The UFC pays big fighters big money, but if the prospects and unranked veterans can’t make enough from Reebok as a sponsor, what other alternative do they have?