Couture Reiterates: No Signing Bonus, Not About Money

October 27, 2007

Randy Couture spoke exclusively with Josh Gross of Sherdog.com for what he said would be his last public comment. Couture addressed Dana White’s statement to Yahoo! Sports “that not only did he receive a signing bonus, he cashed the check on Jan. 30,” White went on to say, “I’m holding [the check] in my hand right now.” Couture also reiterated that the dispute is not about money, while discussing almost exclusively money.

Couture told Sherdog.com that the check White alluded to was an advance of his promised $500,000 post-fight locker room bonus check.

“I’m giving you the same shower room ‘off the book’ bonus that I gave you after the Chuck fight, which was the same amount. I’ll give you half of that money up front and the other half after the fight,” Couture said White told him during negotiations.

“I remember clearly the conversation with Lorenzo (Fertitta) about the signing bonus and all that,” Couture said. “If they’ve gone ahead and somehow made that a signing bonus then I guess, technically, I misspoke myself. But I’m not sure if that’s the case. I only know what I discussed with Lorenzo and what I know the facts were as far as I know.”

Couture went on to tell Sherdog.com:

“This is the last statement I’m going to make. Those guys know the truth. Dana knows in his heart of hearts what’s gone on. I’m not gonna sit and debate every time they want to spin something their way. It’s not about money. They could offer me $5 million — I’m gone. I know how I feel. I know what’s what. I’m tired of it.”

MMA Goes Hollywood: TapouT Signs with CAA

October 26, 2007

This week’s Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal reports, in a front page story, that Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the leading Hollywood agencies, recently reached a deal to represent TapoutT in areas including licensing and entertainment. Co-President of CAA Sports Howard Nuchow said, “TapouT has done an amazing job becoming the premier lifestyle brand synonymous with MMA.” CAA Sports represents many star athletes and recently signed a deal to represent the New York Yankees.

In addition to CAA, other Hollywood firms have recently entered the MMA industry. Endeavor represents the UFC and negotiated the company’s recently announced extension with Spike TV, while the William Morris Agency represents the IFL.

TapouT is expected to produce $25 million in revenue this year, up from $6 million in 2006, as it expands into 6,000 retail stores including Tilly’s, Hibbett Sports, Hot Topic, Champs, Pac Sun and No Fear among others. In addition to fight gear, it’s product line now includes men’s and women’s apparel, bottled water, and TapouT magazine which has 32,000 paid subscribers. The article states that the company sponsors more than 100 fighters.

PEMGroup, a private equity firm with $1.5 billion of assets under management, recently extended a multimillion-dollar credit line to the company. PEMGroup President Andrew Shayne cited the CAA deal, the company’s profitability, and its involvement in a sport that he believes will “grow precipitously into the future” as reasons PEMGroup was interested in working with TapouT.

TapouT President Marc Kreiner said that the company received interest from a number of private equity firms before choosing PEMGroup. The company has also received interest from Wall Street bankers interested in taking the company public and large companies that wanted to buy it.

The article notes that the ESPN Sports Poll, which tracks interest in various sports, has began tracking MMA this year. In August, 35.7% of the population ages 12 and older identified themselves as fans of the sport. Mark Fein, Senior VP of Programming and Production at the Versus network said:

“This space is hot… [The CAA-TapouT partnership proves] “that the sport is around to stay when CAA says let’s look at various spaces and MMA is the space we want to get into… With all the different assets of CAA on the sports and entertainment sides, they will be able to weave the TapouT guys [into major, mainstream events] whether it’s a movie premiere or it’s with some of their sports clients at a sporting event… It’s great for us to have CAA take them to another level.”

UFC Pay-per-view Bonus Scale Goes Public

October 26, 2007

The bout agreement distributed by Randy Couture at yesterday’s press conference included the UFC’s pay-per-view bonus scale. A picture of the agreement can be found here. The bonus scale is as follows:

  • 100,000 – 175,000 buys – $1 per buy
  • 175,000 – 300,000 buys – $1.50 per buy
  • 300,000 – 330,000 buys – $2 per buy
  • 330,000 – plus buys – $3 per buy

Based on Couture’s stated belief that his fight with Tim Sylvia did roughly 520,000 buys, that would amount to a total contracted payout of $1,142,500, representing a $250,000 downside guarantee and a $892,500 pay-per-view bonus, in addition to a $500,000 locker room bonus check presented to Couture following the fight. It is believed that Couture has never earned more than $1.75 million for a fight.

Based on the bout agreement, in order for Kevin Iole’s reported figure of $3.25-3.75 million per fight, to be correct, Couture’s fights would need to draw 1,222,500 pay-per-view buys. The 520,000 buys for the Sylvia fight represents the largest buy rate Couture has ever drawn. Yahoo! Sports stands by its story and has noted that the bout agreement was unsigned.

While not confirmed, it is believed that this bonus structure is consistent across the board for the top fighters who receive pay-per-view bonuses.

White: Couture Did Receive a Signing Bonus

October 26, 2007

Dana White spoke to Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports in response to Randy Couture’s statements at today’s press conference, specifically his statement that he was not given a signing bonus:

White attempted to take the high road and initially declined comment when contacted by Yahoo! Sports after Couture’s news conference. But later, White changed his mind and said Couture had not told the truth.

Couture said during the news conference that he said he asked for a signing bonus prior to signing the four-fight agreement that is in effect. He said he was flat refused and that part of his anger stemmed from the fact that he believed other fighters were receiving signing bonuses.

White, who said that by speaking about his promotional agreement and bout agreement that Couture was violating a confidentiality clause, flatly denied that.

“Randy Couture said he didn’t receive a signing bonus, but not only did he receive a signing bonus, he cashed the check on Jan. 30,” White said by telephone from his office. “I’m holding it in my hand right now. The check was dated Jan. 15 and he cashed it on Jan. 30.

“I’m not going to debate Randy in the media,” White continued. “I understand he’s not retired. So, fine. He’s in the best fighting shape he’s ever been in and so I’ll put a fight together for him in February, because Randy is under contract with the UFC.”

The he said-she said nature of the entire Couture-White dispute attests to the fact that transparency is still the answer.

Couture: "I Get No Respect"

October 26, 2007

Randy Couture formally addressed the media for the first time since his resignation from the UFC today at a press conference (full video at Sherdog.com) in Las Vegas. Couture repeated the theme that he sounded in his resignation letter and subsequent comments, namely that his departure was because he felt under appreciated and underpaid. “I’m just another fighter and I get no respect from the organization and I’m tired of swimming upstream.”

Couture cited his failure to receive an undisclosed locker room bonus for his last fight with Gabriel Gonzaga as one of the reasons for his resignation. Off contract, locker room bonuses have long been rumored to account for a significant portion of UFC compensation. Couture also cited his failure to receive a signing bonus as other fighters have as an example of the disrespect shown by the company. Fighters such as Matt Hughes are rumored to have received significant seven figure signing bonuses.

Couture revealed that he was offered $3 million to fight Fedor Emelianenko by Bodog earlier this year. Out of loyalty, he took the offer to the UFC at which time he was offered the Tim Sylvia fight. It is not clear whether or not Couture was subject to the UFC’s standard matching clause at that time. Standard UFC contracts contain a matching clause that gives the promotion the right to match offers made to fighters for one year after their contract has expired.

The most dramatic moment of the event came when Couture addressed a report by Kevin Iole that his contract was worth between $13-15 million. Couture personally presented bout agreements, although reportedly unsigned, to Iole demonstrating his pay, less pay-per-view bonus which Couture said would amount to around $500,000 based on past bonuses. Last week when Couture’s agent, Matt Walker, publicly challenged the report Iole stood by his story.

Regarding his future in the sport, Couture said, “I’m saying I simply left the UFC. It would be silly for me to say I’m going to retire again. Nobody’s going to buy that anyway.”

UFC & Spike Extend "Strategic Partnership" Through 2011

October 26, 2007

UFC President Dana White announced a three year extension of the UFC’s “strategic partnership” with Spike TV in a conference call this afternoon. The agreement provides for four more seasons of The Ultimate Fighter (in addition to two more seasons under the current contract), twelve live fight cards (four per year), two seasons of a new weekly live fight series, and thirty-nine episodes of Unleashed (thirteen new episodes per year). The press release notes that Spike TV will remain as “the basic cable home” of the UFC, however, White reportedly specifically left the door open to working with ESPN in addition to HBO on the conference call.

Rather than merely a television partnership, the announcement uses the term “strategic partnership” which is a much more accurate description of the nature of the relationship between the UFC and Spike. As detailed here, Spike is much more than a television partner to the UFC, and the UFC is much more than merely another television property to Spike. Each company’s recent success can be attributed directly and in large measure to the other.

The most important feature of the deal is the transition from The Ultimate Fighter to a new weekly live fight series in 2010. As discussed before, the rigors of producing weekly live events are very demanding. This signals two things: the first is a recognition of what many people have been saying and the ratings have demonstrated, The Ultimate Fighter is not a sustainable television property; the second is that the company is not currently in the position from an organizational standpoint to produce fifty-two more live events per year. The delayed start date for the new program will allow the company time to adequately prepare for this vast undertaking.

White originally pitched a weekly live fight series to Spike, however, the network was insistent on a reality television program. Earlier this year, White stated that he didn’t think the company was ready to do weekly live fights. It will be interesting to see where the sport in general, the UFC in particular, and the television landscape specifically, are in 2010 when the series is scheduled to debut.

UFC-HBO Negotiations Post Mortem

October 25, 2007

Dave Meltzer recently performed an autopsy on the failed (at least temporarily) negotiations between the UFC and HBO. Among the most interesting notes:

  • While some had assumed that the firing of HBO President Chris Albrecht hurt prospects for the deal (since he was one of the few supporters of MMA at the network), the deal had actually never been closer to completion than in the past two months. The UFC booked two tentative dates for the HBO deal, December in Portland, OR and January in Montreal (both subsequently canceled).
  • As previously reported, creative control was the deal breaker. However, at one point this year White informed Meltzer that he had agreed to give up control of the broadcasts, but apparently had second thoughts.
  • Another point of contention was whether or not the sport would be treated on par with boxing. Originally, HBO wanted to broadcast the shows at midnight which would signal the UFC as a secondary brand to boxing. There were also basic differences in philosophies between boxing and the UFC, since HBO promotes its own boxing pay-per-views, whereas their would be little incentive to promote UFC pay-per-views.

Move Over Liddell-Silva, Zuffa-Couture Takes Center Stage

October 25, 2007

Move over Liddell-Silva, the most anticipated fight in the history of the sport now appears destined to take place not in the octagon, but in a court room. While Liddell-Silva once promised to crown an undisputed champion at 205 pounds, a series of high profile losses have took much of the luster off the bout. Zuffa v. Couture on the other hand has the potential to reshape the entire sport.

Tomorrow in Las Vegas dueling public workouts (also known as press conferences in more gentile circles) will kick off what is quickly becoming the most anticipated fight in MMA history. At 4PM in Las Vegas Dana White will officially announce a fight “seven years in the making,” Chuck Liddell v. Wanderlei Silva. And thirty minutes later Randy Couture will address the media publicly for the first time since he tendered his resignation to the UFC, officially setting the stage for Zuffa v. Couture, likely headed to a court room near you in the next six months.

The UFC press conference was officially called to announce the signing of Liddell v. Silva for 12/29, Brock Lesnar’s signing, a new television deal. White will joined by Lesnar, Liddell, and Silva. The press conference was announced late this afternoon, conveniently scheduled to start thirty minutes before Couture’s previously scheduled press conference. The shrewd move provides media outlets with very little time to plan and staff coverage of simultaneous events, likely forcing many to make a choice.

Couture will discuss his resignation in general and will specifically address a report from Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports! that his salary is between $3.25 – 3.75 million per fight. Couture’s agent Matt Walker strongly disputed the claim to Sherdog.com last week, but Iole stated that he stands by his story. The purpose of Couture’s public appearance seems to be to counter the UFC’s media strategy, which has been to attack Walker, by forcing White to directly confront and contradict Couture.

In the words of Big John McCarthy, “let’s get it on!”

M-1 Global Chairman Confident Fedor-Couture Will Happen; Eyes September '08

October 24, 2007

M-1 Global Chairman Mitchell Maxwell told Tomas Rios of Sherdog.com:

“We have a two-year plan, and if we’re fortunate we can get Fedor to fight Randy Couture in September of 2008,” he said. “If we’re fortunate for that to happen it would accelerate our program.”

The notion of such a fight taking place in M-1 immediately brings to mind the controversy surrounding the nature of Couture’s contract with the UFC. Claiming intimate knowledge of Couture’s contract situation, Maxwell exuded nothing but confidence when prodded on the issue of M-1 putting together the biggest fight in MMA history.

UFC 77 Payouts

October 24, 2007

The Ohio Athletic Commission has released its report on UFC 77. The event drew a sellout crowd of 16,054 for a live gate of $2,519,850 (U.S. Bank Arena record). The reported fighter salaries are:

  • Anderson Silva ($120,000) def. Rich Franklin ($45,000)
  • Tim Sylvia ($200,000) def. Brandon Vera ($100,000)
  • Alvin Robinson ($6,000) def. Jorge Gurgel ($7,000)
  • Stephan Bonnar ($44,000) def. Eric Schafer ($6,000)
  • Alan Belcher ($22,000) def. Kalib Starnes ($7,000)
  • Yushin Okami ($24,000) def. Jason MacDonald ($17,000)
  • Demian Maia ($10,000) def. Ryan Jensen ($4,000)
  • Josh Burkman ($20,000) def. Forrest Petz ($6,000)
  • Matt Grice ($6,000) def. Jason Black ($8,000)

Dana White announced $40,000 bonuses to Silva for Knockout of the Night, Maia for Submission of the Night, and Grice & Black for Fight of the Night.

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