Friday, June 5, 2015

(Sports) UFC: Why The UFC's Deal With Reebok Might Bring Them To Their Knees

If the true measure of a company is how it treats its workers then the UFC is seriously lacking as the MMA organization fails to address its chronic problem of making major decisions with, it seems, very little input or notification of the 600 plus fighters under its banner

The UFC is great at a number of things including marketing itself better than about every combat sport or organization and actually being able put on fights people want to see but the announcement of the sponsorship deal with Reebok and the recently announced introduction of a drug testing program has shown that the interest of fighters aren't considered.

The UFC's six year apparel deal with Reebok that will see UFC fighters wearing Reebok apparel during fight week. Fighters will be paid according to five tiered system based on fights fought with the organization which may benefit seasoned UFC campaigners such as Joe Lauzon, former WEC champ Urijah Faber and Donald Cerrone (all of whom could probably earn much more in sponsorship but it may screw 90% percent of the MMA organization's female roster and as well as new up and coming talent who are likely to populate the lower tiers.

Even those who may stand to benefit most from the deal have reservations as while they might be in the higher tiers and therefore earn more sponsorship money, many of them could earn more through securing their own sponsors than they would get when the Reebok deal takes effect next month.

Fighters are already losing money with sponsors ending deals with fighters because the Reebook deal ensures fighters can't promote other brands on their training or fight apparel. This means that regardless of where a fighter ends up in the five tier payment system, they lose money before and after the deal takes effect.

This has led to a public outbursts from a number of UFC stars who have revealed the earnings they'll lose out on because of the Reebok deal. Heavyweight Matt Mitirone, a 13 fight UFC veteran took to twitter to register his disdain for the Reebok deal quipping that the sports and fitness apparel brand secured a great bargain according to him "at the cost of the fighters".

In his interview with MMA Fighting, UFC fighter James Krause revealed that he lost $20,000 in canceled sponsorship deals and with the loss of income could find himself struggling to meet his commitments as he points to the fact that the fighters life is riddled with insecurity as every fight you have could be your last no matter how good you are. The insecurity is made worse as the UFC is not shy to cut a fighter from their roster that, in the words of UFC president Dana White, fails to "move the needle" even when they're a top ten contender as former UFC fighter Jon Fitch found out to his chagrin.

The UFC can cut a fighter as and when they please as technically, fighters under the UFC Banner aren't employed by the UFC as they're recognized as "independent contractors" which means they have little to none of the rights an employee would have. This also means that fighter contracts are ridiculously one sided in the favor of the UFC and gives the organization the power to literally make or break a fighter's career because of it. Under these conditions, can you blame the onslaught of fighters who are not sold on the Reebok deal? Krause, like you would expect from a UFC fighter, describes the situation pretty bluntly as he points out that "In the UFC, our contracts don't mean sh*t. For us, anyway. For them, they do. There's no security behind it"

The insecurity of the fighter's life in the UFC is why there has been talk about fighters banding together to setup a union but with none of the top stars (maybe with the exception of UFC champion Joe Aldo) or even a good deal of the mid carders in the mood to unionize, fighters collectively bargaining with the UFC over pay is a distant reality to say the least.

This is a shame as if fighters under the UFC banner unionized, it would instantly remedy the UFC's chronic problem of announcing initiatives, deals and policies with little to no consultation with the fighters, especially when it affects them directly. It's a smart bet that there wouldn't be this much public uproar on the part of the fighters if the UFC sat the fighters down and talked them through deal but, time and again, the UFC has pretty much streamlined changes that affected fighters with little to no opposition as fighters have no leverage or even representation to make demands.   

However, if fighters did set up a union to represent their interests, the UFC would have no choice but to listen to the demands and concerns of fighters as the UFC's worst nightmare are their fighters going on strike given its relentless fight schedule, sponsorship deals and TV commitments. A union would ensure that fighters have a seat at the table when moves are made that affect them but as things stand, the UFC will continue to have its way.

How the UFC runs its business is not necessarily wrong as they can run their business however they please under the purview of the law but with the Reebok deal set to take effect next month, the UFC may just find itself in a real pickle as the MMA organization could miss out on new talent as fighters realize that the UFC's Reebok deal will drastically effect their earning power when it comes to securing sponsorships and even cause them to lose money if they had fight apparel deals of their own.

While the UFC has the best talent and is so dominant in the MMA promotion business that the sport itself and the UFC brand is damn near synonymous, fighters in MMA and other combat sports are all too aware of the short space of time they have to capitalize on their talents and how one false move could end their career which means fighters will have to make a choice between joining other MMA organizations such as Bellator and the World Series of Fighting who have no apparel deals or join the UFC and lose out financially even if they succeed against the best talent the UFC has to offer.

In sum, The UFC is truly playing with fire forcing fighters to make this decision knowing full well sponsors is how fighters really make money and in some cases can triple their fight purse just from sponsorship income per fight. With the Reebok deal set to run for at least six years, the UFC could be brought to its knees in this time as competitors could be the real beneficiaries as far as we can see, the fighters hate the deal, new prospects will hate his deal and/or may avoid joining the UFC because of it, and, if they're not careful, the UFC will hate this deal when fans divert to other MMA organizations who will attract more sponsors and better talent than the UFC over time because of one deal they might live to regret.

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