Behind The Shirt

Behind the Shirt w/ Marc Wilson #3: Name Brand

By Marc Wilson

For those who know me, you will know that part of my everyday work involves representing one of the longest running MMA Brands in existence – Punishment Athletics . With it’s recent resurgence I thought that it would make a great story to talk about Brands started by athletes, their differences and why it works for some but not others.

Some brands are more open and evident about their founders; where some don’t advertise that the athletes may be involved in the process. Let’s start by discussing the different ways that athletes are involved in their brands.

The most direct is the aforementioned Punishment Athletics. Established in 1999 and founded by the auspicious “People’s Champ” Tito Ortiz. Tito started the brand, and was it’s main (sometimes only) sponsored athlete. At the time of it’s inception, the list of clothing companies marketing in MMA was very small and the brand was very easily accepted as a top brand with their top fighter. After almost 13 years it is safe to say that regardless of slow times, Punishment Athletics could be considered a great success. In 2011 they announced expansions in sponsored athletes more than they ever have before. We at Derailed Industries are glad to hear all of the news and expansion, especially with the release of the new Fall/Winter lines.
Another more recent example would be Urijah Faber’s FORM Athletics. As an original Founder of the company (with an Action Sports apparel legend) before it was purchased by footwear giant K-Swiss in 2010, Urijah attempted the concept when the MMA industry has already been bled full of brands. Other than sponsorship success, I would argue that the company has not seen the success that they expected. As someone who worked with FORM, I know that despite the great people they had behind them (and I still have great relationships with a lot of them) outside of the great octagon showings of the brand, they have not had the sales that would have liked.

Pros and Cons to the Founder …

PROS – If you can pull this off, the reward could be substantial. Consider this… If a company can pay an athlete thousands of dollars for someone to promote the brand that means that (you hope) mathematically the brand itself will profit off of the sales more than the cost of the sponsorship. Obviously, that isn’t always the case.

CONS – Other than the obvious costs and overhead involved in doing this, you also have to consider some important things. You are going to have to hire some talented people to pull this off because I would doubt that a fighter would have the time or talent to do everything it takes to run a clothing brand. Design, manufacture, print, market, promote, sell, ship, manage and maintain…

Not to mention, you have to be a certain type of person and have a popularity that would make people think “I would buy that persons brand” because design isn’t everything. Very few could pull this off, and in some cases those people that could may be better off being sponsored and focusing on something else. Let’s keep that thought in mind.

I use this example in the case of Dan Henderson and Clinch Gear, and it is an extrapolation of something I mentioned in my last article as well. Almost like a best case scenario for a sponsored athlete. There are lots of brands who offer shares to fighters, but in the case of Clinch this is a true Shareholder.

When Clinch Gear was a young, forward thinking company, they sponsored a well-liked, young wrestler named Dan Henderson. Part of the sponsorship payout was based on a type of Shareholder potential. As more fights came and were won, the shares that Dan held in the company were a major source of income. Dan was smart enough to see that what Clinch Gear was doing was setting a new standard in MMA Gear. Henderson then took over a large enough portion of the company to be the primary shareholder and have a hand in the decisions of the company. This isn’t to say that Henderson is running the company, in fact since Clinch had been doing such a good job prior to his takeover the company stayed in tact and continued on as they were doing. Both parties are not as open about Dan’s involvement as a company like Punishment does, but most people are aware of the situation. Even Henderson made jokes about it when he fought Clinch’s other major sponsored athlete Fedor, chaffing “I guess in a sense, I’m paying him to fight me.”

Pros and Cons to the Shareholder…

PROS – In most cases this is done by an existing brand and your job is to expose the brand in every way possible. Not to hard, but keep in mind everything you say and do will effect your payout. This is a very good scenario for a popular fighter who is good at what he does, but may not have the talent or time to run a business.

CONS – Unless you are like Dan, you may not have control over what the company does and where it goes. If the company goes under, your shares that you took over the immediate money isn’t going to go far.

A major con for this is that some companies will use this as a tactic to sponsor a major fighter that they could not otherwise afford. This often means that unless you are able to drastically change the popularity of the brand it can mean that the company may still not be able to afford you.

I am going to use Georges St-Pierre in this example because it also hearkens back to what I told you to “keep in mind” at the beginning of the article. GSP has a “Signature Line” from Affliction and Under Armour. Although there was a few years (when Affliction was in the “Doghouse” with Zuffa) that GSP was not with Affliction, they have always had a “Rush” line of clothes, but they were often just similar designs to what Affliction was already doing so I will use Under Armour in this example. UA creates a whole line of “GSP” branded clothing that makes up a small market of their huge corporate makeup. Lots of fighters have ongoing signature lines. Jakt Apparel started lines for Wanderlei Silva and Brittney Palmer. Sinister used to have a “Spider” line for Anderson Silva (Anderson is attempting to do what Tito has done and has moved onto his own company… good luck). Dethrone launched a “KOS” line and are working on a lot of others, and we can go on and on.

When I mentioned that there are very few people who could pull off “Founding” a company, GSP was one that I had in mind. The reason why I say it is not for everyone is because someone who is not so outgoing and in the media like GSP, would not be a great person to promote his own brand. Not only that, unless we are watching his training vids, pre/post fights, and in the octagon GSP is known for wearing expensive Armani suits. So a GSP athletic brand would not be properly promoted. Maybe GSP suits? Not to mention when you reach a certain level of popularity a large brand will pay you more than you could ever develop with your brand in profit. Even if you could, it would take years of hard work. Tito didn’t have that option when Punishment was started.

Pros and cons of the Signature Line…

PROS – Unless you’re Brittney Palmer and designing your own clothing often the companies will do all the work for you and you just have to approve the designs. Unlike the shareholder in most cases the athlete is paid upfront to use their likeness which can be much more financially rewarding in an immediate sense.

CONS – You better hope people like you… Not to mention, in order to get anywhere with the signature line you want a popular brand to be the parent company. There would be nothing more embarrassing than a signature line from a brand that nobody likes.

Now, as a service to athletes and fighters here are some tips for all of these styles:

  • Don’t have your name in the company name. Remember Iceman clothing? No? Exactly!
  • Don’t bank your sales on one person. Popularity can change fast.
  • It’s not always a good idea to have names all over a walkout shirt. You narrow your market, and if it was a cool design it could be wasted on people who don’t like the fighter or someone elses name on the shirt.
  • 20% of zero, is still zero… So make sure your product is selling and/or you’re doing what it takes to get sold.
  • Making clothing is not as easy as it looks. Hire someone how has done it before.
  • You can’t do everything. Yes, employees cost money but you can’t be in more than one place at a time.
  • Don’t over spend on sponsorships and marketing and have a sub-par product. Make a good product and then market after some success.
  • Think of your market. MMA branded jeans is a stretch for the best of companies.
  • Don’t do what others have had success with. It could have taken them 10 years to get that success, and you don’t have that kind of time. In ten years that’s not going to be cool anymore.
  • If you are taking a “long term” sponsorship, make sure the company is going to be around “long term”.
  • Paying a ton of money on one fighter can fail miserably. Thousands of dollars won’t be repaid when your fighter gets knocked out in less time than the walkout.

I could go on… and on.

Smart athletes and smart brands will always have ways to benefit each other, and there are lots of other ways to have athletes involved in the business process. Look at the skateboard industry, most of the best skaters have their own brands or both of these scenarios. In a sport where you as an individual control your destiny it will always be a great way to keep your name relevant long past your prime. Look at Rob Dyrdek and what he has done for his own name. DC Shoes, Rogue Status, DTA, Wild Grinders, TV Shows, Celebrity Status and even helping launch his cousin Drama’s line Young and Reckless.

I compare MMA to this industry a lot, the only thing to keep in mind – MMA as a mainstream sport is about 20 years behind Skateboarding, so imagine where Fight Fashion can go from here.

Marc Wilson
Owner – Derailed Industries

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Jeremy Brand started up this lovechild called back in 2009. It began as a hobby project and has turned into much more. In his spare time, you can find Jeremy on the mats, as he is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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