CAA-GSP Partnership Has Potential to Change the Sport

October 6, 2008

The year of 2008 might well be remembered as the year of the domino in the MMA industry. Through October the industry has watched as a series of landmark dominos have fallen in its favor. From the first network television deal to the first major corporate sponsorship, MMA has experienced a relatively muted ascendancy in 2008 that doesn’t seem to be fully appreciated in an industry, outside of the UFC, that is suffering through its share of doom and gloom at the moment.

The announcement this morning that UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre has signed with CAA Sports is the latest domino to fall. It may not seem like much now, but in one year it could be remembered as a seminal moment in the sport’s development. CAA is the world’s largest and most respected talent and sports agency, the envy of its Hollywood counterparts, and has the resources to open doors scarcely imagined in MMA only a few years ago.

But the breakthrough deal didn’t happen over night. “Initially, there was some hesitancy, so it was an education process,” said Shari Spencer, St. Pierre’s manager. “I respect CAA’s thoroughness in evaluating whether they could deliver at the same level they had been able to in other sports – we spent a lot of time cultivating the relationship, establishing expectations on both sides.”

For now the firm’s commitment to MMA begins and ends with St. Pierre. There is no MMA team at CAA, instead St. Pierre finds himself as part of the firm’s Icon division, which includes NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson, skateboarder Tony Hawk, and volleyball’s Gabrielle Reece.

Spencer believes that the partnership with CAA puts her client in the best position to break into the mainstream with endorsement and sponsorship opportunities on par with athletes in other sports. “The name CAA opens a lot of doors on its own,” Spencer said. “So instead of reinventing the wheel on our own, we’re plugged into a relationship that exposes Georges to a lot of potential partners that might not otherwise be willing to consider MMA.”

Some fellow managers and agents in the industry question the wisdom of Spencer’s partnership, viewing CAA as competition to endemic representation and ultimately as a threat to Spencer’s position and perhaps their own. But Spencer isn’t threatened.

“My job is to do what’s best for Georges,” Spencer said when asked about the suggestion. “CAA has an extensive network of corporate marketing clients, not to mention being the best talent agency in Hollywood.  So in terms of pure deal flow, we anticipate that the relationship with CAA will provide accelerated access to opportunities that would take me, working alone, much longer to cultivate.  And working with an athlete who’s earning potential is limited by his body, unless he’s Randy Couture, so it’s in Georges’ best interest to position him with these opportunities sooner rather than later.”

If the deal lives up to its potential, not only St. Pierre and Spencer will reap the rewards, but the whole of MMA. The day that GSP shows up in a VISA ad or lands a Ralph Lauren endorsement deal will be a breakthrough not just for the gentile French Canadian, but for the entire sport.

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