Payout Interview: Elie Deshe of VFD Marketing
March 8, 2013
MMA Payout had the opportunity to speak with Elie Deshe, a partner at VFD Marketing. Deshe and his organization represent several UFC fighters including Leonard Garcia, Travis Browne, Clay Guida and Nate and Nick Diaz. We covered a couple interesting subjects including the Diaz Brothers, agent regulation and working with sponsors.
VFD Marketing is based out of Miami, Florida. Deshe (the D in VFD) works on the marketing aspects of fighter representation including brand marketing and emerging technologies. Deshe also works with sponsors. SafeAuto Insurance (a company he previously worked for) and MusclePharm are a couple of the sponsorship deals Deshe and his company have brokered for their representatives.
VFD consists of 6 employees and the company actually has 3 arms with a sports agency, a modeling agency and a media agency. VFD manages several fighters and serves as marketing agent for others. One client is Nick Diaz.
The interview came at an opportune time as the Nick Diaz-GSP/UFC 158 telephone conference just ended. VFD Marketing secures sponsorships for the Diaz Brothers. They are working on deals for Nick for March 16th.
Marketing for the Diaz Brothers
“I don’t think people realize that they’re different people. They just get lumped in the same category. Love them or hate them, people have an opinion and so long as they are on people’s minds, it makes them marketable.”
Deshe added that it’s not hard to find companies that will work with them.
“All they do is train. They don’t care about the limelight or attention. They’re there to fight. It’s up to us (VFD) to show sponsors the differences between the two. There has been no scenario where a sponsor has said, ‘I like Nate but not Nick.’”
As for sponsors for next week, Deshe said that they will be working up until Thursday night to secure deals for Nick. Fighter shorts are turned in on Friday and VFD ensures that everything is in the right place. For Deshe, ensuring “everything is in the right place” may mean making sure the sponsor logos are in the right place on the shorts or banner to whether the logo looks good on television. “Sometimes we’ve said to sponsors to try a different logo to maximize how it looks on TV,” explained Deshe.
We asked what he thought of regulating agents that manage fighters. “It’s a very loose term. If the UFC had a vetting process of who is an agent and who is not, we wouldn’t have a problem with it. Some of the agents are friends of the guys growing up. Does that make them qualified? They may be good on their own merit.” Deshe stated that fighters could be hurt, “if someone is in it for the wrong reasons.”
UFC sponsor tax
“We get why it’s in place. But we put sponsors in a position to succeed unlike most. If it was like in the early days, (obtaining sponsorships) it makes a manager’s job easier, but makes it tougher to distinguish who is good.”
Negotiation with sponsors
Deshe stated that negotiating terms of a deal on how much their clients are paid is not the hardest thing. “The bigger part of it is getting the sponsors on board. Its about selling the sport to them. UFC is the best value in sports entertainment from a marketing perspective. Once on board, the budgets will work. It’s good to get money for one fight, but if they (sponsors) don’t see value, they won’t come back.”
Deshe commented that a part of working with companies is to ensure that the sponsorship is supported through social media and blog articles among other things. He also seeks out opportunities outside of the octagon. Four of VFD’s fighters have appeared in Safe Auto commercials. “Being in the ring is great, it can’t be the only thing to do for these guys,” said Deshe.
How much do sponsors pay
“Ranges are all over the map. Deals range in the mid to high 6 figures and we’ve done deals in the low four figures. We’ve done everything. That’s why we spend time working with sponsors. VFD has become a company sponsors want to come to.”
Deshe stated that VFD receives inquiries from companies that want to sponsor fighters and come to them to find out how. “They know we can get them on the right guys, make it look right, get social media support and add value.”
Fighter income between fights
We asked Deshe about how fighters maintain income after a fight is over or before their next fight. Deshe indicated that there are several ways fighters can supplement their income between fights. One way is negotiating deals with sponsors which would allow the fighter to receive a monthly payment from the sponsor. For instance, a deal may consist of sponsoring a fighter over the period of a year and the fighter would be compensated monthly.
There are also the usual opportunities to book appearances, seminars and autograph signings.
Deshe noted the limited time for their fighters to supplement their income. “There’s not a big window to do all of the things in between.” They maybe take a couple months off but are usually back in the gym training.