ESPN investigates UFC fighter pay
January 15, 2012
ESPN examined the question of fighter pay in an article published earlier this week as well as a piece on its investigative show, “Outside the Lines.” OTL ran Sunday morning as it discussed issues of fighter wages and whether the UFC is a monopoly.
Dana White has denounced the article and promised a response. As MMA Fighting points out, White will likely point out factual errors with the piece but some of those errors deal with the fact that Zuffa, as a private company, does not have to disclose financial information which would reveal how much revenue Zuffa generates. The number could show how much it shares with its fighters. The OTL feature compares revenues of other leagues (NBA, NFL and NHL) with the percentage it shares with its players. However, that information is not publicly known for the UFC.
The article specifically looks at fighter pay in the UFC. No other organizations are featured in the piece to compare or contrast. Notably, the piece takes issue with the relatively low pay that entry-level UFC fighters receive – $6,000 a fight. On the other hand, Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva make millions per fight with GSP making between $4-$5 per fight. Its not clear whether this amount is the base or (more likely) after inclusion of sponsor, bonus and PPV cuts.
The ESPN article also interviews an unnamed UFC Figher which revealed the following:
“Training expenses in an average year can run $22,000, and that’s with no travel. For a typical fight, you and your corner man share a room. You fly in on Tuesday and leave Sunday and get a $50 per day per diem. If you bring anybody extra, they take it out of your show money.”
He also indicated that locker room bonuses range from $5,000 to $10,000 although most are $5,000. These are the bonuses that are not included in the salary payroll or 3 bonus categories.
The article shows the difficulty in covering a very sensitive subject. In the ESPN and OTL feature, no UFC fighters would publicly comment with their name. As one fighter put it, “It would be the end of my career.” While ESPN does speak with a “Fighter X” no names are attached so Zuffa could still dismiss the claims made. Also, Ken Shamrock and Ricco Rodriguez have had past troubles with the UFC. Zuffa could easily claim their opinions are merely ones of spurned former employees.
Another issue to point out is that entry-level fighters still have training expenses such as gym, trainers, nutritional supplements and travel. These things are usually covered for top tier guys by sponsors or are written into their contracts.
Some interesting notes from ESPN’s interview of Lorenzo Fertitta:
• Since 2005, the first year the UFC became profitable, the company has paid more than $250 million to its fighters.
• 39 UFC fighters have become millionaires as a result of their earnings from the company.
• 29 fighters on the current roster receive a cut of pay-per-view profits.
• Since 2005, fighter pay has grown at twice the rate of revenue growth
MMA Payout will have more on the issue later this week. The story shows the great divide between entry-level fighters and the main event fighters. Its interesting that the question of a fighter union is not discussed more. Of course, if any fighter tried to put together an effort to unionize, they would be blackballed.
There is the argument that Zuffa is like any other private company. Entry-level workers start out with less pay while the best workers make the most. The company can decide how much (or how little) the worker is paid and what type of pay raise or bonus they may receive. The worker can take it or leave it.
With the UFC trying to move into the mainstream, we’ll see if this issue receives more scrutiny.