Bellator MMA founder Bjorn Rebney says he spent two years putting together a group to organize fighters into an association. Last week the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association debuted, with Rebney as an adviser. The group, which currently includes Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Tim Kennedy, TJ Dillashaw, and Donald Cerrone has several goals.
The group aims to form a fighter association solely in the UFC, that would negotiate with the owners. The stated aims are to increase the fighter’s share of gross revenue from a reported 8% to 50%, a benefits package similar to that enjoyed in the NBA, NFL, and a settlement to compensate current and former UFC fighters for revenue that in the MMAAA’s eyes they rightly should have earned.
The group says their initial goal is not to form a union, as it could take years to get fighter’s reclassified as employees rather than independent contractors. Rather they seek to form a players organization and negotiate. The potential for a strike was floated, but multiple fighters were adamant that that was some far off possibility, and not under any discussion at present.
It cannot be entirely coincidental that four of the five fighters have the same agent at CAA, arch rival of UFC owners WME-IMG. But the oddest part of the effort is Bjorn Rebney, who, unlike his successor at Bellator Scott Coker, was not a progressive or well-like promoter. It’s like ebola coming in and asking to help out malaria patients. UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, who is no friend of UFC management, has some suspicions.
However, in an interview with the tremendous Amy Dash for Bloody Elbow, Rebney said he is simply trying to right some wrongs. He wants to start with a players organization so that things can be accomplished within say two years. However, he further believes that the UFC will not come to an agreement with the fighters unless there is an anti-trust exemption, like that enjoyed by the NFL, and that requires a union.
“Once they’ve agreed to our demands and we’ve reached an agreement, they are gonna want that and they would deserve it at that point,” said Rebney. “At that point we would become a union.”
With a union and an anti-trust exemption, the MMAAA would have blocked one of the central goals of the MMAFA, and outcompeted the PFA in their central goal.
However, in the meantime, associations cannot legally strike. So Rebney’s plan for exacting a 600% fighter income is via other means, including a media campaign directed at making future television contract negotiations problematic. There was a many-years-long media campaign by the Culinary Union to discredit the UFC countless way, and it ultimately accomplished nothing but the occasional delay. Rebney believes his plan would be extraordinarily more effective, as it will be coming from the inside.
The executive noted that the UFC has to increase revenue and profit to realize a return on the four billion dollar investment, and that increase will be driven largely by more lucrative deals in domestic US television, international television, and Pay Per View television.
“The decision-makers who will ultimately decide if they’re able to increase those three revenue streams are television executives,” said Rebney. “When television executives are buying live sports programming, what are the things they want to be absolutely sure that they protect against? A labor issue. So if you have three quarters or one hundred percent of the athletes in a given organization or league outspoken against the league, based on the grievances they have that are all substantiated, you have a labor problem.”
“WME-IMG’s ability to effectuate three or four-fold increases in television licensing agreements both here domestically and internationally will be very substantially hindered by a situation where you have GSP, Cain Velasquez, T. J. Dillashaw and Tim Kennedy and hundreds of other fighters voicing their substantial displeasure with how they are being treated.”
“It’s a very ugly fight, it’s just gonna progressively get uglier and uglier that’s a major hindrance to the ability that WME-IMG’s gonna have to be able to effectuate the level of increase that they are gonna need. I know full well that if I’m going to a buyer and saying ‘please pay me a premium for this content’ and simultaneously that buyer is going online and seeing the biggest stars in my organization say ‘I’m extremely unhappy, I have no protection, I have no safety net, I have no pension, I’m not being paid fairly,’ over and over again. That will serve as a huge detriment, huge detriment to my ability as a seller to be able to effectuate top dollar.”
“The lack of fairness here is shocking, the lack of protection here is in a word … disgusting.”
The problem here is not so much the content, as it is the source. A large number of figures have indicated that they felt Rebney’s running of Bellator was in a word … disgusting. Rebney knows exactly how important impressions are, he intends to leverage impressions to multiply fighter income by six times over. So he must appreciate the impression it gives when it is him talking about promoter wrongs.