UFC left off of ESPN salary list for lack of information

May 3, 2012

Earlier this week, ESPN released its list of highest paid athletes in sports.  Notably, the list left off the sport of MMA and specifically the UFC due to the fact that it could not confirm salary data.

MMA Fighting wrote that Dana White is right and wrong with not releasing fighter salary data.  It states that White is right to withhold salary info because it is private.  Presumably, it protects the privacy of its fighters by not telling everyone how much they make per fight.  However, there is a reason to release salaries:

Football, basketball and baseball are mainstream because they’re big business. And part of the reason we know they’re big business is because players salaries are made public.

It then argued a reason to make salaries public is to entice up and coming fighters.

And make no mistake, there are plenty of possible MMA stars who are on football fields. In many parts of the country, football and wrestling work together to create quality athletes. But then what happens? As the athlete progresses, he starts thinking about his future. And where is there a better chance for a future? Of course most, if given the opportunity, will move on to football. Why? Because long-term, there is a chance for a windfall payday. Even if it’s remote, there is a chance.

It uses the Jones brothers as an example.  Two of the Jones brothers are now in the NFL while Jon is probably the most famous as the UFC champ.  This example is flawed considering there is no evidence that Jon Jones was good at football  (or any other sport) and chose MMA instead.

Payout Perspective:

MMA Fighting’s argument that the sport of MMA could lose out on potential athletes because of the lack of salary information is improbable.  Most likely athletes will choose their profession based on the best possible chance of making it in the professional ranks of the sport.  There are examples of athletes choosing a sport and then reversing course.  (NFL First Rounder Brandon Wheedon played baseball a couple years before going back to play college football and getting drafted.)  But that example is beyond the scope of the theory that someone will actually choose a sport based on how much you could make. There are instances of former football players taking up MMA after their pigskin career is done. But, that is after their first career is over.

Moreover, it’s not plausible to think that someone would choose a career in MMA over a career in NFL because money in MMA is not as good as that in professional football. Even without knowing the salary structure in MMA, one need only look to the salaries that NFL rookies will make to assume that if you had a choice to play professionally or fight in MMA, one would choose the NFL.

Transparency of the UFC’s salaries lends credibility to the sport based in part on the fact that the other sports are willing to reveal the way it pays its athletes. For the UFC to say “it’s none of your business” makes it seem that it is hiding something rather than protecting the privacy of its fighters.  The ESPN OTL report builds on the premise that it is hiding something.  Like it or not, that is how it is perceived.

55 Responses to “UFC left off of ESPN salary list for lack of information”

  1. BrainSmasher on May 11th, 2012 3:57 PM

    I dont remember where it come out, maybe the SBJ. But it was mentioned that GSP makes around 5 million per fight. We do know what Overeem got paid and what his cut of the PPV was. His fight with Brock made him almost 1 million. Even if the PPV cut was the same for everyone. And those pPV buys were typical for all Brock and GSP PPVs. That means they both make atleast 1 million per fight. I would say their % is actually higher than Overeems for obvious reasons. Also Overeem only gets a cut of PPV buys over 500,000. I dont believe Brock or GSP’s limit is that high. Coutures was a sliding scale but he started getting big money after 250-300k buys. Overeem is also getting 1 million extra paid over his first 3 fights. So Overeem will make 2.5 million in his first 3 fights even if his next 2 PPVs tank and he gets no cut of them.

    Like i said before. Fighter pay is released. Some states dont release the numbers. For some reason NJSAC doesnt release their numbers. But every event the UFC holds in Las Vegas which is many. Those numbers are released. You can find those numbers as easily as going to Wikipedia. The only numbers that are not released is the few bonus’ the UFC gives privately and PPV %. But as i have shown above its not hard to guess who gets a PPV cut and who dont. We also have good guidelines on what that cut is. He get PPV buys estimates on each event. So Salaraies are know. We just dont know down to the last dime. But we know enough so fighters can figure out their market value.

    My arguement with your original post was you want to know the information and used many false information to back up your claims. Toney didnt make 1 million he made 500K. Couture didnt walk away with 100K he made over 1 million. A lot of Coutures money was dependant on PPV buys. Those buys largely depended on the name and hype of having a big name boxer like James Toney as an opponent. So its hard to argue Toney wasnt worth the money. He halped drive up the PPV rate so Couture got paid very well too.

    You also said this:

    “The whole point of disclosing fighter pay isnt to ruin the fighters privacy , its to make sure that the distribution of wealth is -if not equal- at least fair.”

    OK , you know how to get all the fighters salaries. Say you find someone who dones get what you think they should or someone gets to much. What can you do about it? Nothing! You cant do nothing about it. So “knowing” this info was pointless. You cant force a private company to do anything they dont want to do. There have been many champs in the UFC not get what they felt they deserved. They had a lot of hype and the UFC belt. The UFC still told them to take a hike. Jens Pulver, BJ Penn, Marilo Bustamante, Couture, and big name contenders like Tito and Brandon Vera all tried to force the UFC to give them more and couldnt do it.

    There are many state athletic commissions who refuse to release fighter pay. They dont buy that bs of “insuring a fair market” either. That stuff doesnt exist in other sports leagues either. Your market value in the NFL and NBA, etc is only your market value within the limits they have set for everyone to go by. Lebron James didnt get what someone was willing to pay for him or what he was worth. He got what a team was allowed to pay because the league has limits on its contracts. NFL players dont get what they are worth. They get what a team can afford within the rules of the team salary cap. This is how sports works. Knowing how it works doesnt give you the power to change it.

  2. RiddleofSteel on May 11th, 2012 5:16 PM

    In regards to american sports leagues releasing their salaries, from article: “Football, basketball and baseball are mainstream because they’re big business. And part of the reason we know they’re big business is because players salaries are made public.”

    People don’t need to know players’ salaries to know the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL are big business; people know it because of the huge crowds, ticket prices, network coverage & contracts, absurd cost of Super Bowl commercial time, release of salary caps if applicable. One doesn’t need to know the salaries of every worker at Ford, McDonalds, Canon, Apple, etc. to know they are “big” business, same goes for sports leagues.

    All the leagues really need to do is acknowledge the salary cap & how close they are. The league doesn’t need to make the salaries public to facilitate their business (ex: trades, contract negotiates), that could be kept private to just the teams & players. Public salaries also helps beat back fans wanting player X, public knowledge makes it easier to say we can’t afford player X.

  3. Light23 on May 11th, 2012 5:25 PM

    It is interesting that Jon Jones probably made more in his last fight than his brother Arthur does in a year. He apparently renegotiated his contract after the Machida fight, and if UFC 145 did 700k buys he’d have made $2mil+, whereas Arthur gets like $500k (approx, can’t remember the actual number).

    Of course, Jon Jones is the new star in MMA (probably for years to come) whereas Arthur Jones position in the NFL is nowhere near comparable.

  4. RiddleofSteel on May 11th, 2012 6:27 PM

    In regards to the comments about the next great american heavyweight boxer is on the football field comes from many people in boxing expressing that opinion (especially Teddy Atlas, Emmanuel Steward). They aren’t saying that football players could easily transition to boxing after college or pro career, they’re stating that kids aren’t even going into youth boxing: With the growth of youth sport leagues & more accessible colleges over the past few decades fewer kids are pursuing boxing.

    Boxing isn’t the only sport feeling the drain from football, because of college scholarships, it hits most sports. For example college wrestling loses a lot of potential 174lbs to heavyweight wrestlers to football. Wrestling has about 76 teams & max 9.9 scholarships per team (many don’t offer the max, many don’t even offer half). Even with higher participation in high school football, #1 at about 1.1 million to #6 wrestling about 274k (#s from national federation of high school website), football offers more opportunities to high school kids that would be competing in the upper weight divisions: the vast majority of “smaller” football players aren’t even recruited while in wrestling that heavier guy is competing for a scholarship against the lightweights.

    So, not many 190lb+ kids are going to bypass a football full ride for a 1/4 scholarship to wrestle, play baseball, etc. let alone pursue boxing which has no college path and amateur wise lends little support to anyone outside of national team level (aka the top few guys at each weight).

    Below is football scholarship info, to see the reason why football helps to thin out upper weights.
    There are 120 FBS football teams each offers 85 full scholarships (except service academies, there are 122 FCS football teams & each can offer up to 63 scholarships (FCS schools can give out partial scholarships, FBS can only give out full) and the majority of the schools give out 63; a few conferences don’t allow scholarships for football or limit the #. 156 Division II teams & up to 36 scholarships allowed.

  5. Ed Stock on June 3rd, 2012 9:28 PM

    MMA fighter pay is often disclosed, and the disclosure is dependent on the state athletic commission rules. In states that require disclosure, it becomes part of the public record. I don’t know how many states have the requirement, but I believe Nevada is one that does. The only thing not disclosed is the private “locker room bonuses” that Dana hands out to guys who got a finish, guys who impressed him, or for whatever reason. The only thing the AC cares about is that the fighter is paid the contractual amount. There is a ton of this information out there, sufficient to extrapolate in evaluating the range of the pay scale.

    One reason UFC would prefer to keep the fighter pay quiet is that it helps them to keep the owners’ share of the revenue hidden. When ESPN did that show last year about UFC’s fighter pay Fertitta claimed they paid a percentage of the gross similar to that of other sports, which was clearly nonsense. On Brock Lesnar’s last PPV, which sold about 800,000 PPVs, the gross just from PPV was in the range of $40-48 million. Add in another several million in live gate. They probably didn’t pay out 15% of the gross to the fighters. (Compare that to the big percentages paid to NFL and NBA players.)

    UFC also wouldn’t want the pay numbers known because it becomes ammunition if the fighters ever decide to organize and seek a CBA. This is, of course, not likely to happen, although if the fighters had any sort of long range view they’d probably want to bargain collectively.

    And one other reason UFC wouldn’t want the pay figures public is out of concern for fighter resentment directed both at UFC and at other fighters. It’s common to see the fighter pay numbers include at least one that makes you scratch your head: a main card fighter who gets an amount far less than a guy with either an inferior record or who fought in the prelims. While this is a result of the contract that was signed perhaps a year or two earlier, a fighter who has moved into the top 10 in the rankings might not like making less than a guy who is 1-2 in his last 3 fights.

    Sorry, I didn’t read all the comments, so pardon me if any of these points were already made. Just my two cents.

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