The UFC-Reebok deal is less than a year old. It’s been implemented for less than four months. In that short span of time, however, the deal has already produced enough missteps and miscalculations for the entire six-year term. At each turn, the deal seems like it couldn’t get any worse…until it does. How did we get to this point? Let’s have a look!
July 2009 – The origins of the UFC-Reebok deal go all the way back to the summer of 2009 when the UFC institutes a sponsorship tax. The UFC, as reported by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, begins charging potential sponsors $100,000 for the right to appear on UFC broadcasts for a six-year term. Some companies are rumored to be exempt from the sponsorship, but the overall effect reduces the of number of parties willing to sponsor fighters. By extension, the total pool of sponsorship money shrinks.
December 2, 2014 – The UFC announces its partnership with Reebok. The UFC did not release financial terms of the six-year deal, though reports surface pegging the deal at $70M. Certain features of the deal are announced: fighters will no longer be permitted to feature sponsors on clothing during UFC events; the “vast majority” of money from this deal will be paid out to fighters; and fighters will receive a 20 percent of any merchandise sold bearing their likeness. In addition, it is announced that Reebok pay will be determined by rankings on the day of the fight.
April 20, 2015 – After criticism of the rankings-based system, the UFC announces it will switch to a tenure-based model. Compensation amounts aren’t released, but the structure is based on five-fight increments up to a max-tier of 21 or more fights.
May 6, 2015 – Compensation amounts are released. Fighters with five or fewer fights receive $2,500. The following tiers receive $5,000, $10,000, $15,000, and $20,000. Title challengers receive $30,000; champions receive $40,000. The numbers don’t seem to add up. Matt Mitrione is not happy.
May 17, 2015 – Dana White appears on TSN’s Off the Record and mocks UFC fighter Brendan Schaub’s claim that he was making six figures in sponsorships in his recent fights:
“Brendan Schaub is claiming he makes over $100,000 dollars a fight with sponsorship. These are some of his sponsors: Big Rentals Construction Company, KeepItPlayful.com, The Rain Training Center, Box N Burn Gym, Alchemist Management. This is true, this is no joke, NOHO Hangover…. I’m sure this guy is making over $100,000 dollars a fight. These guys get a little crazy every time something changes.”
June 30, 2015 – Reebok officially unveils the new UFC
uniforms kits. The event is a disaster and includes misspelling the word “flexibility”; a soundtrack that fits neither the UFC nor its target demographic; the phrase “UFC fight kit” repeated ad nauseam; poor lighting; and some strange mashup of Brüno and Tommy Wiseau. The base design of the kits are monochromatic, robbing the athletes of any semblance of in-cage personal branding. Following the presentation, Reebok begins listing UFC merchandise on its website. The product is littered with inaccuracies and misspellings, including “Giblert Melendez.”
July 21, 2015 – After an interview in which he reveals cut men also lose out on sponsorships, Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran is fired by the UFC. Duran claims the UFC told him he was released because of his comments on the Reebok deal.
July 23, 2015 – UFC President Dana White insults fans on Twitter in wake of the Duran news.
July 25, 2015 – On his podcast, Chael Sonnen claims that Conor McGregor refused to wear the official Reebok kit during the UFC 189 weigh-ins. He quotes McGregor as saying, “I’m different, I’m not like those other guys. I’m not wearing it.” McGregor winds up wearing his own exclusive Reebok shirt at the weigh-in.
August 10, 2015 – Tim Kennedy gives an interview to The MMA Hour criticizing the Reebok deal. According to Kennedy, he made six figures in sponsorship money for individual fights in Strikeforce than the entire card made in Reebok pay at UFC Fight Night 73.
August 19, 2015 – UFC COO Lawrence Epstein tells the International Business Times that ‘Stitch’ Duran’s comments had nothing to do with the UFC letting him go. The UFC also issues a clarification that Duran “has not been banned” from UFC events and “is free to corner any athlete if they choose to pay for his services.” No other reason is given for terminating the relationship.
September 5, 2015 – UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson appears in the Octagon for the first time without an Xbox sponsorship. Microsoft does, however, get its Halo 5: Guardians game on the prep point and Octagon signage.
October 21, 2015 – Under a “Show Your Territorial Allegiance” tagline, Reebok releases a UFC Ireland t-shirt featuring a map of Ireland with Northern Ireland missing. Outrage ensues, including from Conor McGregor coach John Kavanagh, whose SBG Ireland gym recently signed a deal with Reebok. Reebok apologizes and removes the shirt shortly thereafter.