Commentary: The UFC's Cage Fighter Problem

October 30, 2008

With the recent banning of the Cage fighter brand, one has to question what is at the heart of the embargo on the MMA apparel line? From this perspective, the UFC’s push towards getting its fighter to sign the newly instituted merchandising agreements is playing a large role in the UFC’s moves toward blocking the ascension of Cage Fighter.

The main selling point of the the merchandise agreement to the fighters is the unmatched marketing power of the UFC machine. Heretofore, only the UFC or one of its surrogates (TapouT) would have the marketing strength or distribution channels to properly sell merchandise on a national level to a mass market. With the Cage Fighter brand making in roads with Wal-Mart, the fighter is faced with a viable alternative to signing the UFC’s merchandising agreement. The Wal-Mart deal offers a distribution channel unmatched in retailing, and would allow the fighter to maximize his marketing dollars while not signing away his rights in perpetuity to the UFC.

The terms of the UFC’s merchandising agreements have been discussed before as being remarkably one-side in favor of the company. Media outlet MMAFA Blog has discussed the agreement in great detail, going over the pitfalls of the contract for the fighter. The MMAFA blog details the draconian terms of the agreement. The UFC’s merchandising agreement looks attractive only in the absence of any viable alternatives. Cage Fighter and its deal with Wal-Mart is the first step in such a viable alternative being available, and as was much the case with other fighting promotions, the UFC looks to counter-program.

It should be interesting to see what form the Wal-mart deal takes for MMA Authentics. With the Cage Fighter or associated brands not being allowed in the Octagon, the next logical step would be to offer athlete branded merch. The UFC can impact your brand if it doesn’t allow Cage Fighter in the Octagon, but a shirt that also brands the fighter on an equal level with the company would be much less vulnerable to such moves. The UFC will ban a Cage Fighter shirt, but a shirt branded with say BJ Penn’s name on it would be much harder to impair. The UFC has to push Penn, with his status as Lightweight champion and Top 5 P4p’er.

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