UFC responds to ESPN piece
January 16, 2012
The UFC released its response to ESPN’s feature on fighter pay. Dana White introduced ESPN’s full-length interview of Lorenzo Fertitta and called ESPN’s story “a piece of trash.”
The response video is what the UFC calls the unedited version of Fertitta’s interview which implies that ESPN edited its story to fit with what it wanted to portray. In the UFC’s response, Fertitta points out that some of the boxers featured on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights received $275 and that the UFC pays its lower tier fighters much more than that.
Seems like a good comparison but for the fact that the UFC and boxing structures are different. Also, ESPN’s role in its Friday Night Fights is not the same as the UFC’s.
Bad Left Hook sets us straight:
First of all, ESPN is not a fight promoter. This is an enormous difference. For a UFC card on FX, the UFC is pretty much in control of everything. ESPN just airs fights. They have the right to turn down a proposed fight, but that’s about it. Everything is really up to the promoters of the actual fight card.
Fertitta claims, and I’m sure he’s telling the truth, that someone fought on Friday Night Fights in a four-round bout for $275. What Fertitta doesn’t reveal — or perhaps does not actually know — is that anyone in a four-round fight that winds up on the broadcast, on TV, was positioned in a swing fight that was going to air only if there was time remaining in the two-hour time slot. There are no four-round fights purposely scheduled to air on ESPN’s series. A four-round fight is the lowest level of professional boxing, and frankly to call the majority of four-round bouts “professional boxing” is kind of a stretch; the fighters don’t often resemble what we’re used to seeing on TV, even from the middle-of-the-pack guys that get on ESPN or HBO or Showtime. It’s kind of like comparing high school football to the NFL most of the time.
Additionally, Scott Christ reiterates the sentiments I have had when the UFC-Fox deal became a reality:
UFC wants to play with the big boys in sports now. That means attention from big boy sports media, and that inevitably leads to criticism and a realistic assessment of their product and their business. The rah-rah days are dying, and it’s because of White’s ambition as much as anything else. He’s brought them here. Now they have to accept where they’re at and what comes along with that standing.
How much Zuffa revenue goes to fighters is another issue in the fighter pay debate. Dave Metzler points out that without the financial information the percentage of revenue going to fighters is a moving target:
In an attempt to use figures based on Zuffa’s percentage of an 800,000-buy show, which is the rough industry estimate on UFC 141, the $3.1 million live gate, using listed fighter pay, announced bonuses, estimates of unannounced bonuses, and percentages of pay–per-view revenue built into the main eventers’ contracts, give you a very rough figure of 28 percent going to talent. However, for the Jan. 7, Strikeforce show in Las Vegas, with a very small gate figure and a full roster of fighters to pay, that figure could easily have been in the range of 50 percent.
Metzler goes on to assert that pro wrestling, not boxing, is a closer business model to the UFC:
The closest business model to UFC is that of World Wrestling Entertainment, which is believed to pay in the range of 13-15 percent of its total revenue to its performers. While some will argue WWE is a form of performance art and not a real athletic competition – and thus the performers don’t deserve as much money – the dollars WWE derives from its performers, who take a legitimate physical pounding, is every bit as green as those which UFC makes.
I think the UFC response (minus Dana White’s usual pleasantries to opposition) is compelling but it obviously has some flaws. From a purely PR standpoint, its a good response to the ESPN piece. What would have helped the UFC in its response is if the UFC had some up and coming fighters state how much they are paid and agree that its great. Realistically, I think the UFC could have done this because I’m sure some fighters are just glad they are getting a shot. Having Serra, Liddell and Griffin talk is fine but they are all “company men”; well-established, past champions of the UFC.
If you didn’t read Metzler or Christ’s great piece over on Bad Left Hook, most people exposed to this debate would look at the UFC response and say, “Hey, that’s true. What about boxing’s pay?” But, its hard to compare the UFC to other sports league due to the difference in business models. The fact remains that with success comes scrutiny. ESPN, like every other TV investigative show, likely had an agenda when interviewing Fertitta. That does not necessarily mean ESPN is bad or “hates the sport.” But, it means that the UFC should be aware of the issues it now faces with more exposure.