What is Going on with UFC, Bud Light, and Mickey's? (Updated)
May 18, 2009
Last week’s edition of TUF had a subtle sponsor item that may have escaped the eye of most of those watching the telecast, but may speak to larger issues.
Mickey’s sponsorship of the tale of the tape comes after a long absence from sponsoring the UFC. The company was a major sponsor of the UFC, but was ushered out the door with the UFC’s signing with Bud Light. As noted in their press release at the time of the Bud Light signing, the Anheuser-Busch company signed on to be the exclusive beer sponsor for the UFC. With Mickey’s in, is Bud Light in, out, or somewhere in between? Many questions abound….
Is the UFC playing semantics with the difference between malt liquor and beer, and if so, at what cost to their relationship with Bud Light? The UFC has a deal with Tequila Cazadores to be the official spirits sponsor of the UFC, but the this represents another product category all together and wouldn’t be seen as a direct competitor to Bud Light. Not so with Mickey’s and Bud. In addition, Mickey’s is a MillerCoors company, which serves as the Pepsi to Bud’s Coke, so to speak. Trying to play off of both brands while having an exclusive deal for beer with one would be frowned upon. Even if Bud Light didn’t care to sponsor the tale of the tape, they would look to protect their exclusive rights with the UFC and have them pursue a non-alcoholic beverage sponsor for the TUF spot. I’m hard pressed to name any sports entity that is double dipping from both Miller and Bud Light. If the Bud Light UFC deal is still in effect, this kind of abrogation of the agreement would have to be run by Bud for an OK and their would likely have to be some kind of special circumstance instigating such a deal.
Which begs the question, does the deal with Mickey’s signal a strained relationship between the UFC and Bud Light? An noted previously on MMAPayout.com, Bud Light frowned upon Dana White’s recent blog rant commenting “The comments by Dana White were inappropriate, insensitive and out-of-line. We have spoken to Dana about the gravity of this issue and communicated that our company maintains a corporate commitment to zero tolerance for discrimination.” While they frowned upon Dana’s comments, they made no intimations that any kind of separation with the UFC was imminent. With the UFC hitting their demo wheelhouse, as loathsome as White’s comments were, Bud Light would be hard pressed to scrap their UFC deal. Industry sources have indicated to MMAPayout that Bud Light does have periodic outs in their UFC deal, allowing exits at specified times before the 3 year term of the deal is over. It should also be noted that Bud Light is still prominently featured on the UFC website, which suggests the relationship is seemingly healthy. Bud Light paid a premium to be an exclusive provider, have they scaled back their sponsorship? With the Bud InBev merger, one of the first areas mentioned for savings was the large amount of sponsorship dollars spent on sporting events. Is the UFC sponsorship becoming a casualty of this cost cutting mindset?
One possible explanation for the Mickey’s deal is the UFC meeting previous contractual obligations. The UFC severed their deal with Mickey’s rather quickly after signing with Bud Light. The UFC may be having to make good on their Mickey’s sponsorship that was shunted aside in the ushering in of Bud Light. Making good on an unfulfilled deal would be preferable to litigation, but again this is something that would have to be done in co-operation with Bud.
The Mickey’s sponsorship raises many questions, with few answers at this point. MMAPayout has e-mailed UFC VP of Sponsorship Sales Michael Pine, UFC Assistant General Counsel at Zuffa and Sponsor Czar Mike Mersch, and UFC PR Head Jennifer Wenk for clarification on this item, but have received no comment as of press time. We’ll let our readers know more when/if they respond.
Update: Bud Light responded with the following: “According to Bud Light’s sponsorship of the UFC, all official Ultimate Fighting Championship Pay-Per-View fights, the UFC Spike Fight Nights, and WEC on Versus are all Bud Light sponsored. Our sponsorship does not include The Ultimate Fighter broadcasts.” The one out in the contract looks to have been exercised by the UFC, but it should be interesting to see if this move is revisited come contract renegotiation time.