UFC hires law firm to investigate Johnson incident

August 20, 2015

The UFC has released a statement on the alleged incident between Anthony Johnson and a female gym patron as a result of a social media rant by Johnson.  The organization has retained a law firm to launch an investigation into the matter.

Via UFC.com

“UFC is aware of the situation involving Anthony Johnson. We take these matters seriously and have commenced a formal investigation by a third-party law firm. We will act accordingly once we gather more information.”

Johnson posted, then deleted (and later apologized) a Facebook rant regarding a woman that was in his way at the gym.  In his post, he stated that he threw her yoga mat.  Johnson confirmed an incident at the gym when responding to someone on twitter.

Johnson’s past is the likely reason that there is a third-party investigating this recent incident.  In late 2014, Johnson was suspended by the UFC after domestic violence allegations from the mother of his children.  However, he was reinstated after a civil temporary protection order was voluntarily dismissed.

It appears that the alleged confrontation and not the social media rant is the focus of the investigation.

Johnson is scheduled to fight at UFC 191 on September 5th against Jimi Manuwa.

Payout Perspective:

The ills of social media rear its head again.  For all involved, it’s probably fortuitous that this happened as it sheds light on a potential problem that could have escalated into something more.  The UFC did the right thing in investigating this incident as it is protecting its contracted fighter from possible liability.  There are two sides to every story and it’s interesting that we haven’t heard Johnson’s side especially since he wrote about it on social media.  With Johnson’s fight coming up soon, we will see if the UFC takes any action against Johnson if it is determined that there was any wrongdoing.

Sports sponsorships on the rise but who is benefiting?

August 20, 2015

The International Business Times wrote a feature on the state of sports sponsorships in smaller leagues including the UFC.  Overall, it provides a good overview of the current state of sports sponsorship using the UFC’s recent deal with Reebok as anecdotal information.

The article leads with Stitch Duran’s dismissal from the UFC and includes an explanation from the UFC’s Lawrence Epstein later in the story.

The article addresses the issue of sponsorship clashes between athletes’ personal sponsors and the official sponsors of the leagues and organizations in which they participate.  The most recent example involves track and field athlete Nick Symmonds who was left off the US roster for this month’s 2015 World Championships in Beijing.  Symmonds, a middle-distance specialist won a silver medal in the 800 meters at the 2013 World Championships and is a two-time Olympian.  Yet, the U.S. Olympic team is a Nike sponsor (a reported $500M deal with USTAF) and Symmonds has an individual sponsorship with Brooks Running among others.  As a result, he was left off the team to the consternation of Symmonds.  He estimates that his income is 3 percent from the U.S. Track Team with 10 percent coming from prize money, 10 percent from personal appearances and the rest coming from corporate sponsorships.  The New York Times detailed the sponsorship spat between the runner and the U.S. team as the chasm between the athlete and organization highlights the current push/pull of the business of sports.  It indicated that an athlete like Symmonds could draw $250K-$350K a year which is still below the wages earned by NFL or NBA players.  But, Symmonds’ earnings are probably more than a lot of UFC fighters.

Similar to the UFC-Reebok outfitter policy, the U.S. Olympic Track Team allows for its athletes to wear non-Nike gear but requires them to wear it during designated times (i.e., competitions, ceremonies and other official functions.)  As we know, UFC contracted fighters are allowed to wear other sponsors but cannot wear them during fight week and/or other times where it is promoting a UFC event.

IBT notes that Nike and Adidas (and Reebok since it is owned by the 3 stripes) are spending more money than ever on sponsorships.  Per research firm IEG, in North America, corporate sponsorship spending across all sports jumped 21 percent from $12.38 billion in 2011 to a projected $14.98 billion in 2015.

As IBT outlines in its article, “small leagues” like the UFC and U.S. Track and Field, there is a disparity not readily made up through earnings.  The article notes that the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL negotiate sponsorships and athletes obtain 50% of the revenue via the league’s collective bargaining agreements per sports management professor Dan Rascher.  Of course, the four leagues have unions which represent the players of the league so that there is some facet of representation when leagues enter into these types of agreements.  Any problems with the sponsor deals, the athlete can contact a union rep.

Lawrence Epstein was quoted in the IBT article.  He stated that despite lower payouts versus past individual sponsor deals, “companywide deals provide fighters with stable sponsorship money” as well as facilitate long-term growth for the UFC.  He indicated that 15 UFC fighters will have individual contracts with Reebok by year’s end which indicates that four more UFC fighters will have individual deals.  Currently, 11 fighters have individual deals.

He also stated that Duran wasn’t fired because of his comments about the Reebok deal.

Via IBT:

“Unequivocally, his [Duran] comments had nothing to do with him getting let go. I can’t be more firm on that. There are a variety of reasons that he was let go but nothing to do with his comments on Reebok,” Epstein said. “He’s trying to paint this thing as, he said some stuff about Reebok and as a result, he was let go. It’s just not true. That’s not the reason why he was let go. I can’t be more clear on that.”

Payout Perspective:

The IBT article is an interesting look at the disparity of earnings between established team sports and smaller counterparts.  What should be noted is that sponsorship spending is on the rise in sports which one might conclude that there are good opportunities for athletes to make extra revenue through sponsors.  The UFC, like U.S. Track and Field, have brokered sponsorship deals which include substantial exclusivity that forecloses out opportunities for its athletes.  The response by the UFC, as stated by Epstein, is that these deals provide stability for its fighters and will help the product in the long run.  This is great if most of the contracted fighters are still with the UFC in the long run.

As for the continued repercussions of the Stitch Duran fallout, it is becoming a he said/he said sort of battle.  Epstein contends Durant’s dismissal had nothing to do with his comments about Reebok yet he the timing of Durant’s departure is clearly not coincidence.  Furthermore, White’s “shifting the conversation” about the Stitch departure lends one to think it had to be about Reebok.

UFC to sponsor World Wrestling Championships

August 19, 2015

USA Wrestling announced that the UFC will be an official sponsor of the 2015 World Wrestling Championships.  The event will be held from September 7-12th at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The event is a qualifier of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Via USA Wrestling press release:

“We’ve had numerous athletes that have gone on from our National and Olympic teams to great success in UFC, including trailblazing athletes like two-time Olympians Dan Henderson and Daniel Cormier and Olympic champion Henry Cejudo. With UFC located in Las Vegas, it made a lot of sense for both organizations to partner on this historic event,” said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender.

According to the press release, more than 800 athletes are expected to compete in the six-day competition over three Olympic disciplines, Greco-Roman, women’s freestyle and men’s freestyle.

It will be the first time since 2003 that the United States has hosted a Senior World Wrestling Championship event and the first time in Las Vegas.


Payout Perspective:

The sponsorship makes sense based on the number of successful wrestlers in the UFC and the fact that amateur wrestling is arguably the most important discipline in MMA.  Clearly the UFC will be watching the event closely hoping to scoop young and upcoming wrestlers that might have transferable skills for MMA.  In the past, USA Wrestling has sponsored UFC events with octagon signage so this is a type of reciprocity.

Lesnar’s ESPN comments sparked by twitter query

August 19, 2015

Brock Lesnar is making the rounds on behalf of the WWE as it promotes the company’s second-biggest event of the year, Summerslam, at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York.  The biggest news to come out of Lesnar’s appearance was his comments that Vince McMahon is a better promoter than Dana White.

The statement itself is not that controversial.  The 38-year-old Lesnar signed a lucrative deal with the WWE and as he said he upon announcing the  re-signing with the WWE he gets paid full-time for working part-time.  So, for him to take the side of the WWE is not that extraordinary.

But the reason for the question by ESPN was based on a twitter back and forth between Dana White and a fan in which White stated that wrestling is “fake.”  Well, of course it is.  And there’s no dispute there.  Yet, we should probably go all the way back to the source for the response: some guy on twitter.  The question asked by the guy to White is to whether UFC PPVs should be priced at $9.99 like WWE PPVs.

Obviously the second half of the tweet may be tongue in cheek as both White and twitter guy know its fake.

One might assume the question was based on whether the UFC should go to the WWE model of placing its PPVs on Fight Pass like the WWE has done or whether the UFC should charge its fans a discounted rate for PPVs that do not have big stars appearing on them.

White told the twitter follower that wrestling is “fake” and one might read into that response that based on its scripted finish the price point should reflect accordingly.  Still, the back and forth seems rather innocuous.

As with most of White’s tweets, it did not go unnoticed.  WWE Champion Seth Rollins chimed in with a response to White’s “fake” comments.

Fast forward to yesterday in which ESPN hosted Lesnar. The question which got MMA web sites to sit up at their keyboards and take notice was the now infamous White tweet that wrestling is fake.  Lesnar responded with perhaps an honest response in stating that McMahon is a better promoter than Dana White and explained the differences between UFC and WWE.

Payout Perspective:

I would argue that the UFC and WWE business models are similar but not the same. It’s clear that the WWE has taken a big step with its WWE Network as opposed to what the UFC is doing with Fight Pass.  The WWE received steep criticism from the outset with its plan as it essentially invested heavily into the over the top network while planning on moving its PPVs to the platform. Not only did this deteriorate its PPV business, it put off its previous distributing partners that received a revenue split from the PPVs.  The distributors still receive a PPV cut, but it is less than before.

The question about whether UFC PPVs should be $9.99 needs to be addressed because it’s such an illogical question from the start. The UFC business model is predicated on the success of its PPVs. While the company receives revenue from event gates, merchandise and Fight Pass subscriptions among other revenue streams, PPVs remains one of the biggest pieces of the UFC financial pie. Starting this year, it increased its PPV price point $5 to $59.99 which likely meant an increase in PPV revenue. To suggest it cut UFC PPVs by $50 so more people can afford it seems way off the business model. Yet, it’s not wrong for someone on twitter to ask. And perhaps White’s response was appropriate as he was making the point that its business of real fighting is different from the WWE’s.

But, as with anything on twitter, it exploded into more.  While most web sites, including this one, are picking up Lesnar’s comments, the underlying cause for the news is predicated on non-news.  A question from someone on twitter that escalated.  It’s an obvious commentary on the state of what is news nowadays.

ESPN picked up the twitter back and forth from White and asked Lesnar. Thus, what was an innocuous question about lowering PPV prices turned into Lesnar calling out White on ESPN. Of course, just a few months ago, Lesnar showed up in LA at UFC 184 with White and entertained thoughts of going back to the UFC. So, it’s unknown how personal White will take the slight. In the past, McMahon has taken swipes at the UFC with no response by White. One might expect nothing more to come of this since the WWE would like to have Ronda Rousey make another appearance at next year’s Wrestlemania in Dallas. Thus, a working relationship between the two companies is warranted for that to happen.

But then again, someone might ask another question of White on twitter which may once again be blown out of proportion.

Panel orders Pacquiao cases to California

August 18, 2015

ESPN reports that lawsuits filed as a result of the alleged fraud in the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight this past May will be sent to California.  Judge R. Gary Klausner will decide class action status prior to a trial date is set and the court may also decide whether to consolidate the 32 plus cases filed against Pacquiao for not revealing an injury prior to the May 2nd fight.

As you recall, Manny Pacquiao revealed post-fight that he was suffering from a shoulder injury and was denied a pain-relieving injection by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.  That piece of information was not revealed in Pacquiao’s pre-fight questionnaire or through any other means.  Thus, individuals that bought the $100 PPV claimed that the promoters misrepresented the fight since Pacquiao was not healthy.

Last Friday, a panel of judges decided that that claims filed in several states will be heard in the Central District of California (Los Angeles) where Pacquiao’s claimed injury occurred.  It is also where Pacquiao makes his U.S. residence.  The panel also discussed the possibility of consolidating the number of related lawsuits.

ESPN also quotes the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation which stated that Pacquiao’s rotator-cuff injury would require “significant factual, and possibly expert, discovery.”

There are at least 32 lawsuits filed across the United States related to the fight claiming that the boxer should have, or perhaps had a duty, to report the injury.

Most of the lawsuits name Pacquiao and his promoter Top Rank.  Some also name Mayweather, HBO and Showtime.

Payout Perspective:

In addition to the antitrust lawsuits between Al Haymon and Golden Boy and Top Rank in the Central District, it looks like it will get the Pacquiao lawsuits.  Short of a settlement, we may see some interesting information come out regarding the factual information behind who knew what, when.  Consolidating the cases and class certification are different issues at this point but look to be addressed by the Central District of California.  Defense lawyers claim that this lawsuit is without merit.  We will keep you posted.

PBC on NBC Sports Network draws 362,000 viewers

August 18, 2015

PBC on NBC Sports Network drew a viewership rating of 362,000 viewers per Sports TV Ratings.

The ratings are an increase from July’s PBC on NBCSN’s event which drew 247,000 viewers.  The July event on NBCSN was the lowest reported rating across the networks that show PBC (excluding Bounce TV).

Notably, Friday night PBC on Spike TV drew 679,000 viewers.

In the main event on PBC on NBCSN Saturday Lucian Bute defeated Andrea Di Luisa.

Payout Perspective:

An NFL preseason game between Tampa Bay and Minnesota drew the biggest ratings on Saturday night as it drew 1.783 million viewers.  PBC which aired from 9-11pm ET did fairly well compared to its previous showing on the network.  The previous Saturday, a Barclays Premier League replay drew just 84,000 viewers (via Sports TV ratings) in the same time slot the week before.

PBC on Spike TV 5 draws 679K viewers

August 17, 2015

PBC on Spike TV drew an average of 679,000 viewers per Sports TV Ratings. It’s the second-highest viewership for PBC on Spike since its launch in March.

The event, which aired from 9:00-11:16pm ET, featured Antonio Tarver taking on Steve Cunningham which ended in a split decision draw. The undercard featured an upset as Krzysztof Glowacki defeated WBO cruiserweight champion Marco Huck.

PBC on Spike
869,000 3/13/2015
569,000 4/24/2015
772,000 5/22/2015
446,000 6/12/2015
679,000 8/14/2015

Payout Perspective:

If you considered that this is the first weekend for NFL preseason football and PBC went up against two NFL games which drew over 1M viewers each this is a very good rating.  Of course, the Little League World Series qualifying games and a Sportscenter also drew better than live boxing on Spike.

Checking in on Spike’s re-branded Friday night

August 17, 2015

On March 13th Spike TV re-branded its Friday night with a mix of Bellator MMA, Glory Kickboxing and Premier Boxing Champions on its network.  MMA Payout takes a look at how it’s done in ratings 6 months in.

“Friday Night Lights Out” began mid-March with PBC on Spike to promising ratings.  The inaugural event drew 869,000 viewers on March 13th.  Since its debut, PBC has aired on Spike TV 4 more times and has not drawn as many viewers.  Excluding this past Friday’s event, it has drawn an average of 664,000 viewers.

PBC on Spike
869,000 3/13/2015
569,000 4/24/2015
772,000 5/22/2015
446,000 6/12/2015

Glory Kickboxing has aired 4 times since March.  It has not done as well as you’d expect with just one show eclipsing 400K viewers.  In its 4 shows it has drawn an average of 320,000 viewers.

Glory Ratings Date
20 359,000 4/3/2015
21 488,000 5/8/2015
22 152,000 6/5/2015
23 284,000 8/7/2015

In comparison to Glory’s events on Spike during the same time period in 2014, you can see that Glory did better last year than this year.  In 3 shows from April 2014 to August 2014, it drew an average of 450,000 viewers.  We note that the last show in this time period was in June and Glory did not air another event until November 2014.  You might recall Glory was on PPV last June.

Glory (2014)
15 354,000 Apr-14
16 498,000 May-14
17 487,000 Jun-14

Bellator MMA has aired 6 times since March 13th and on the heels of its June tentpole event which featured Kimbo Slice and Ken Shamrock, it has averaged 820,000 viewers.

Bellator Ratings Date
135 607,000 3/27/2015
136 655,000 4/10/2015
137 594,000 5/15/2015
138 1,580,000 6/19/2015
139 764,000 6/26/2015
140 722,000 7/17/2015

This time period last year, Bellator MMA aired seasons with 10 shows from March 2014 to August 2014 with the last one in July 2014.  It drew an average of 642,000 viewers.  Bellator aired its first PPV during this time period.

Bellator (2014)
113 507,000 3/24/2014
114 711,000 4/1/2014
115 830,000 4/7/2014
116 572,000 4/11/2014
117 617,000 4/18/2014
118 701,000 5/5/2014
119 511,000 5/1/2014
120 PPV 5/1/2014
121 668,000 7/1/2014

We note that not every Friday has aired one of the three combat sports.  Below is a list of dates without a combat sports event on Spike TV.

March 20th

April 17th

May 1st

May 29th

July 3rd

July 10th

July 24th

July 31st

Payout Perspective:

So far through 6 months of its new revamped lineup there are a couple things to draw from the ratings.  First, Glory Kickboxing needs help.  One might suggest that the co-promoted Bellator/Glory event in September should help Glory.  Yet, for one reason or another, the sport is not gaining traction with viewers.  Secondly, Bellator MMA seems to be on the rise.  While we cannot conclude that Bellator MMA is substantially better under Scott Coker, the ratings suggest that it is drawing more viewers.  The last “season” of Bellator drew respectable ratings and this year it remains consistent.  Add the stable ratings to the quarterly tentpole event and you can see the room to grow for the brand.

As for PBC on Spike TV, the ratings are on par with Bellator events.  One might think that PBC is not as concerned with Spike ratings as it is on so many networks at this point.  The bigger fights are likely going to be on NBC or ESPN.  With the fights it is putting on Spike TV at this point, it is likely happy with the ratings.  We shall keep watch on how ratings continue on Spike TV Friday nights.

Cosmopolitan features Eye in article on body issues

August 15, 2015

Cosmopolitan recently ran an article featuring UFC bantamweight Jessica Eye where she talked about self-esteem issues with respect to their bodies.  Eye was featured along with Olympic gold medalists Sanya Richards-Ross and Natasha Hastings and fitness models Christmas Abbott and Massy Arias.

The underlying issue for the athletes was reconciling the perception of what a female bodies should be versus their athletic bodies.  The magazine is geared to women and the article addresses many issues that young women have with their bodies.  The overriding issue was the “body-shaming” most of those interviewed endured including people who believe that they are “too muscular” or “masculine.”

Eye talked about being raised like a tomboy as she was raised by her father and did not meet her mother until she was 16 years old.  She also revealed being bullied at a young age and through her early teenage years by her father.

Payout Perspective:

The article is great exposure for Eye and allows her to reveal a little bit about herself.  It also serves a purpose as not only is the interview good PR for Eye and the UFC it also speaks out about bullying and body issues among young women.  These are two initiatives that the UFC could capitalize on to boost the profiles of its women fighters as it moves forward.

Bellator MMA announces November tentpole event

August 15, 2015

MMA Fighting reports that Bellator MMA has announced a November tentpole event set for Saturday November 6th in Saint Louis.  It will be the fourth quarterly event since Scott Coker took over.

The event will feature a featherweight title fight between Patricio Freire and Daniel Straus.  Will Brooks will defend his lightweight championship against Marcin Held.  In addition, Michael Chandler and Bobby Lashley are expected to be on the card as well.

On September 19th Bellator MMA will cross-promote an event with Glory Kickboxing as the event will feature a cage and ring to accommodate both types of fights.

Payout Perspective:

The tentpole events for Bellator MMA have been an overwhelming success on Spike TV.  Last November, Bellator 131 produced the best ratings for the organization and was surpassed by this June’s tentpole event. We shall see if it will continue with the quarterly momentum with September’s cross-promotion and November’s Bellator event.

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