February 9, 2011
First GSP, now UFC Lightweight Champ Frankie Edgar has split with his agent Shari Spencer. Spencer had represented GSP and Edgar at the beginning of the year, now both have left her agency.
Edgar sent out a press release which stated the following: “Shari did a fantastic job with handling my business affairs however at this juncture in time, we decided to go our separate ways.”
Interesting that GSP and Edgar decided to leave Spencer within a month’s time of each other. Bloody Elbow speculates that money may be the reason for GSP’s departure. It would be easy to believe that money was a reason for Edgar leaving as well. It was believed that Spencer was charging 20% of the deals that she brought to her clients. This charge seems very high considering agents in pro leagues (NBA, NFL) take on average 3 to 4% of the deals they broker for their clients.
The BE story states that Hollywood talent agency CAA helped facilitate GSP’s mainstream deals with Gatorade and Under Armour. Thus suggesting that Spencer did not get him these deals. Could we see Edgar following GSP’s example and sign on with CAA or another big talent agency and hire a confidant as his manager?
According to MMA Fighting, Spencer is evaluating her options in representing mixed martial artists. The news certainly says something about the state of agent representation in MMA.
January 20, 2011
Georges St. Pierre has split with his agent since 2007, Shari Spencer. A press release Thursday provided the news of the change in management and described the split as amicable.
According to the press release, “They (GSP-Spencer) felt they had a different vision for the future of Georges’ career and it was best to remain close personally but dissolve their business relationship.” (via MMA Fighting)
St. Pierre will remain at Hollywood talent agency, Creative Arts Agency. But, he will choose a new manager. It is rumored that he will hire a close friend to take over for Spencer.
Spencer, who runs her own company, continues to manage UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar.
In September we commented on GSP’s feature in the NY Times’ Fashion and Style section (definitely the work of Spencer) and wondered if he would become the face for the UFC. The article chronicled GSP’s foray into NY fashion week. An underlying theme in the piece was that GSP seemed uncomfortable with the mainstream New York scene…and perhaps his role as the spokesperson for the UFC. Spencer’s work had helped GSP obtain mainstream sponsors (Gatorade and Under Armour) as well as appearances on ESPN and non-MMA magazines.
Despite the publicity, the speculation is that the mainstream glitz was not his scene. GSP did not like selling himself to Madison Avenue and did not like the time that went into dealing with sponsors. GSP would rather dedicate himself to time in the gym rather than build his brand or become the face for the UFC. Will GSP continue to be a mainstream pitchman? If he does not want to spend time in building his brand through sponsors, his opportunities may be limited and relegated to what CAA can bring him. (h/t Robert Joyner via twitter)
GSP may be an introvert, or insecure about his place in celebrity, and retreating from being a pitchman may be his wish. Rereading the NY Times article and looking at some of the attempts at comedy GSP has done (see ESPN commercials), he tries, but seems grossly uncomfortable. From an athletic standpoint, concentrating on fighting is probably a good thing. But, from a business perspective, GSP is leaving a lot of opportunities on the table. This may be something that GSP may regret in 10 years.
January 16, 2011
Sherdog’s Tracey Lesetar and J.R. Riddell report that Zuffa received a boost in its lawsuit against Bellator Fighting Championships and Ken Pavia of MMA Agents as the United States District Court of Nevada denied Bellator’s protective order to stay discovery until the court decides Bellator’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.
The background of the lawsuit was summed up by MMA Fighting last summer:
The suit alleges Bellator and Pavia were conspiring to essentially steal trade secrets from Zuffa through the exchange of confidential documents in e-mails. Pavia, head of the MMA Agents representation firm, handles dozens of MMA fighters, including many under the Zuffa umbrella.
In its motion to stay discovery, Bellator requested the court hold off on the parties from having to conduct written discovery and depositions before the court decides on whether to dismiss Zuffa’s case. Prior to the motion for protective order staying discovery, Bellator took issue with Zuffa filing the lawsuit in Nevada. Bellator claimed that it had no ties with Nevada and, by law, Zuffa could not file a lawsuit in Nevada. Instead, if the lawsuit were to continue, Bellator would want it moved to New Jersey.
The issue being fought over is a basic Civil Procedure question involving jurisdiction. The papers even include a reference to International Shoe (a famous case for those that have attended law school). The court ruling means that Zuffa will agressively pursue Bellator and Pavia with discovery. This will range from written requests to depositions. It is likely that there will be many skirmishes between the parties about the production of documents and other information. The discovery deadline for the parties is set for the end of June.
As Sherdog points out. this case may serve as a model on how non-Nevada promotions and MMA companies will be treated in the future. Basically, can the UFC and other Nevada companies sue promotions in Nevada if those promotions have minimal contacts with the state.
(h/t: MMA Supremacy)
October 1, 2010
Donald Trump, Vince McMahon and Matt Mitrione. All three have publicly fired people. In his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan at UFC 119, Mitrione fired his agent, Malki Kawa.
Even after he had time to cool off, Mitrione affirmed that the firing was real. In a backstage interview with MMA Fighting, Mitrione further explained the Kawa firing citing the fact that Mitrione would only receive $5,000 from sponsors for his fight against Joey Beltran. In addition, Mitrione was upset with the fact that he did not receive his fight shorts in time and that Kawa disrespected his wife.
Malki Kawa had the opportunity to clear the air on The MMA Hour Monday show to respond to Mitrione’s comments and gave some insight into the agent’s role for a MMA fighter.
Kawa spoke with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour and covered the Mitrione comments. He also gave some insight on his background and business. Some of the highlights:
- Kawa, a former NFL football agent, decided to represent MMA fighters after he realized that it takes a bankroll to compete in the football agent business.
- He picked up Mitrione as a client 4 weeks from UFC 119.
- Kawa indicated that Mitrione’s former sponsor, Hitman Fight Gear, had certain contractual roadblocks with sponsorships which precluded Kawa from negotiating with other sponsors. It sounded like there was an exclusivity clause in Mitrione’s sponsorship contract with Hitman.
- The Hitman buyout caused a delay in the delivery of Mitrione’s fight shorts. According to Kawa, there was an issue in getting the shorts since the warehouse had moved with the buyout.
- Kawa denied disrespecting Mitrione’s wife.
- Kawa keeps financial information about his fighters confidential. Only when a fighter tells him it is fine will Kawa divulge information about a fighter’s pay.
- Kawa indicated that someone already was working sponsorships with Mitrione when he first began to represent him. He stated that Mitrione’s Hitman deal would make him more than the $5,000 he claimed he would receive for the fight. However, Mitrione’s point is that he expected Kawa to get more than $5,000 for his fight.
- Kawa stated that some fighters still owe him money. Apparently, when sponsors pay a fighter, the check goes to the fighter and then the fighter pays Kawa.
- Kawa has yet to be paid from Mitrione for UFC 119.
Kawa appeared on Inside MMA on HD Net and added additional facts:
- Three weeks prior to the fight, Mitrione’s family representative told Kawa that they did not have any other sponsors (aside from Hitman) and asked Kawa for help.
- A lot of the communication occurred through texts. As a result, Matt Mitrione’s wife misconstrued a text sent by Kawa in which she thought Kawa disrespected her.
- Kawa stated that Hitman sponsored shirt and shorts paid Mitrione about $7,500. Kawa negotiated another $5,000 in sponsorship for his shorts. In total, Mitrione received $12,500 in sponsorship in addition to his fight salary and bonus.
- On a preliminary card, the average sponsorship range would be $10-$20K depending on the fighter.
- Kawa referred to a report on Bloody Elbow regarding sponsorship money.
- Kawa said that Mitrione was sick a week before the fight so he could not meet Mitrione in person.
Kawa came off as a well-reasoned person that understood the business and wanted to explain his position. On the MMA Hour, he wished Mitrione the best even after the breakup. For Kawa, it gave him a chance to promote his company and his fighters including up and coming fighter Jon Jones (who appeared on Inside MMA with Kawa). His response to Mitrione’s comments was necessary and the professional “high road.” Kawa had to protect his business and appearing on television with his star client helped elevate his agency.
If you believe the context Kawa provided, there was a miscommunication of expectations between Kawa’s representation and Mitrione. Was it clear to all parties, that the previous Hitman contract would prevent Kawa from seeking sponsors? Did Mitrione identify all of his family representatives and what Kawa could tell them?
Obviously, the agent-client relationship depends on clear communication. Texting is probably not the best way to work with a client, especially a new client relationship like Kawa-Mitrione. It seems like the issues could have been clarified with a telephone conversation.
As it relates to Mitrione’s fight short sponsors, after reviewing his match, it looked as though Mitrione’s most prominent sponsor was local business Fort Wayne Orthopedics. He also had Blowout Cards, Tapout and Argpower as sponsors on his shorts.
Mitrione’s firing of Kawa should not hurt Mitrione’s brand as a fighter. Since his nickname is “Meathead”, the firing goes along with his perception. Perhaps the firing helps feed his reputation as a loose cannon. In the nature of the agent business, I doubt that Mitrione will have problems finding another agent even after this episode.
The Kawa-Mitrione relationship was bound to fail based on the miscommunication on both sides. It appears that Mitrione had certain expectations that were not made clear by Kawa. For his part, Kawa could have spoken to Mitrione or his wife about why they would not be receiving as much money in sponsorship as they had expected. Also, as a matter of client relations, it would have been helpful if Kawa would have shown up to see Mitrione fight. As Cagewriter points out, Kawa was hanging out with Jon Jones the night of UFC 119.
August 2, 2010
Josh Gross at Sports Illustrated reported last week that MMA manager Jason Genet has consented to final judgement in his case with the SEC over alleged “pump and dump” common stock maneuvers. Genet represents notable MMA fighters like Shane Carwin, Ben Henderson and Efrain Escudero.
The suit, filed last September in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York, alleged that from at least 2004 through 2006 Genet helped China Energy, a now defunct company, falsely obtain a listing on the Nasdaq National Market System; engage in unregistered distributions of securities; and enter into “secret arrangements to give away China Energy stock to persons who agreed to purchase China Energy stock in the market, and thereby created the false and misleading impression of active trading and interest in China Energy.”
Per the terms of the final judgment, Genet neither admitted nor denied the allegations. However he is required to pay a civil penalty of $130,000, disgorgement in the amount of $1.7 million (representing profits gained as a result of the conduct alleged in the complaint), plus interest to the tune of $697,745.57. Genet was also barred from participating in any offering of a penny stock for a period of five years.
The “Pump and Dump” manipulation takes place when an individual or group of individuals distribute false or misleading information to make a stock appear more valuable (pump) than it truly is. Then once the stock price appreciates those responsible for the bad information immediately sell (dump) their shares on the market to claim their premium. Typically when all these new shares hit the market, supply outstrips demand and the stock price falls back down again.
Genet refuses to admit to any guilt, but the fact that he’s consented to pay disgorgement and penalties related to the case implies something very different. In fairness, this happened nearly five years ago - it’s possible that Genet has turned over a new leaf - but it’s still hard not to question whether he’s got the best interest of his fighters at heart after seeing something like this.
I hate to pile on even further, but I definitely wasn’t a big fan of how Shane Carwin’s camp handled the media leading up to UFC 116. Shane acted on poor advice in thinking that he had any sort leverage to demand the media visit and source his website for article information and quotes. He had the reputation of being a quiet, respectful and intelligent fighter, but often came off as disgruntled and sarcastic.
The opportunity to gain a new following, win or lose, was largely squandered; and, he probably didn’t help his standing with the UFC, either.
If Shane wanted to build his website as a source of information and social networking destination for fight fans, perhaps a better idea would have been to do as much media as possible (under his stated constraints with family, a second job, etc.), but swap the exclusive content for promotion of his website.
The great thing about the MMA community is that the network of blogs and fan sites has become a highly efficient distribution system; new and compelling content spreads like wild fire. Shane could have capitalized on this distribution to maximize the immediate exposure of his website; instead his camp tried to cut corners and send people to a site they’d really never heard of (and largely without a great reason to visit in the first place).
I don’t think you can blame Genet for this entirely, but it’s definitely something that a manager influences.
April 20, 2010
Don Muret of the Sports Business Journal reports that French sports agency Lagardere has established an MMA division as part of its larger goal of breaking into the North American sports market.
Lagardère Unlimited principals see an opportunity to carve a niche representing competitors in a fragmented sport that has drawn big crowds to its live events and done well with pay-per-view, but has no formal union looking out for their best interests, Silverstein said. “We are the first worldwide agency launching a full-scale division with real negotiating power to move the needle for these guys,” he said. “There is so much room for growth. MMA is an emerging market and the last frontier in sports for representation.”
Lagardère Unlimited expects to announce further signings in the coming weeks, including a Brazilian ranked as one of the sport’s top fighters, Silverstein said. He declined to name the competitor until the deal is complete.
The opportunity is certainly there right now on the agency side to make a splash in MMA, but why hasn’t anyone done it yet? Agency on the sponsorship side of MMA requires a set of unique capabilities; not only must an agency have the brand contacts to get a deal done, but also a good working knowledge of the sport and the business.
The reason Georges St-Pierre has been able to close so many high-level sponsorship deals over the past few years is that his manager Shari Spencer has brought knowledge of the sport and business to the table, while CAA has contributed industry contacts and other agent skill-sets. It’s the perfect match.
It’ll be interesting to see whether a.) Lagardere can replicate its European success in North America in general, b.) whether it possesses the contacts in North American to be successful from an MMA standpoint, and c.) if it possesses the requisite knowledge of MMA and the business of MMA to make the right kind of deals for its clients.
February 12, 2010
Loretta Hunt over at Sherdog is reporting that Gegard Mousasi has split with his management team, M-1 Global, and has already secured new representation.
“After careful consideration, I have decided that it is in my best interest to part ways with M-1 Global,” Mousasi wrote in the e-mail. “During the time I spent under their wing, M-1 Global, as a promoter and management company, allowed me to achieve many great things. I appreciate all they have done for me.”
M-1 Global, based out of Holland and Russia, had guided the Armenian-Dutch fighter’s career to two championship titles in the last few years.
The company also represents Fedor Emelianenko, the world’s No. 1-ranked heavyweight, who has publicly stated that he has an ownership stake in the organization, as well.
“The business relationship with M-1 Global is over,” said company representative Apy Echteld. “It was a business decision, but not a personal one and there are no hard feelings.”
Echteld said he would continue to work with Mousasi apart from M-1, although Echteld will be staying with the organization. Echteld added that Emelianenko had expressed his hopes to train with Mousasi again in the future.
The rumor flying around for the better part of the last 9 months is that the UFC offered Gegard a contract, but M-1 turned it down in favor of a Strikeforce contract of lesser value (ostensibly as a favor to Strikeforce). However, Joe Silva of the UFC denied even offering Mousasi a contract last summer following the collapse of Affliction’s promotional unit. Mousasi’s split from M-1 is bound to re-ignite those rumors.
The Armenian claims to already have found representation, but refuses to disclose whom it might be. Fans hoping to see him in the UFC may have to wait as he’s got fights remaining on his Strikeforce contract, in addition to plans with the Japanese promotion Dream and its light heavyweight grand prix this year.
January 18, 2010
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR – GEORGES ST-PIERRE
St-Pierre had an incredible 2009 both in and outside of the Octagon. The UFC’s welterweight champion improved his record to 19-2 and established himself as a top sporting attraction with convincing victories over BJ Penn and Thiago Alves at UFC 94 and UFC 100, respectively. He also broke barriers for the sport of mixed martial arts by signing ground-breaking endorsement deals with the likes of Gatorade and Under Armour.
The native of Saint-Isidore, Quebec was again voted Rogers Sportsnet’s Canadian Athlete of the Year, in addition to placing second behind Sidney Crosby in the Canadian Press version of the poll.
PROMOTER OF THE YEAR – ZUFFA
Another year, another record broken. Zuffa’s Ultimate Fighting Championship smashed its previous mark for PPV sales in 2009 with nearly 8 million units sold. The organization also broke its record for live gate revenue with over $42 million generated from 20 events.
It was a year in which the company encountered immense success with its first champion vs. champion bout at UFC 94 between Georges St-Pierre and BJ Penn. Zuffa then continued to build momentum with the release of its UFC Undisputed video game in May and UFC magazine in July. However, the key to the year was the success of the UFC 100 weekend: a potent combination of unprecedented media coverage, a fan expo held parallel to the fight, and, of course, the title defenses of the UFC’s two most prominent fighters in Brock Lesnar and Georges St-Pierre.
The year may not have been without its challenges, but in the face of adversity Zuffa emerged from the year in a great position to repeat its success with not just the UFC but also the WEC. Indeed, with the UFC staring at a star-studded line-up of fights and a WEC PPV featuring Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo in Spring 2010, Zuffa will likely find itself right back here next year.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR – Shari Spencer
Last year Spencer made headlines with her less-is-more philosophy to MMA that saw her build the St-Pierre brand image with careful sponsorship selection that painted St-Pierre as a clean, strong, and reliable entity to which sponsors could associate their own brands. In 2009, her approach paid off as St-Pierre has become a top draw and marketable commodity for the UFC - evidenced by the major endorsement deals he inked with Gatorade and Under Armour.
Spencer will now look to do the same for Frankie Edgar in 2010 as the young lightweight from New Jersey is set to challenge for BJ Penn’s title in April.
INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL OF THE YEAR – MARC RATNER
Marc Ratner serves as the UFC’s VP of Government and Regulatory Affairs, and is the driving force behind the UFC’s effort to get MMA regulated in all 50 states. In 2009 alone he helped to open up Massachusetts, Tennessee, Michigan, and the City of Vancouver for MMA.
Ratner is easily one of the most well-respected individuals in the sport because of the way he chooses to do business on a daily basis. With a gentle disposition and calm demeanor, Ratner is engaging to all. However, he has also become one of the sport’s greatest proponents and defenders.
In 2010, you can expect New York and Ontario to be his two major priorities, but with a well of experience under his belt it’s only a matter of time before he locks down MSG and the ACC as viable venues for the UFC and the rest of MMA.
Penn rebounded extremely well following his loss to Georges St-Pierre in their blockbuster fight that began the year. The UFC lightweight champion defended his belt twice – both in convincing fashion – against Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez at UFC 101 and UFC 107, respectively.
The Prodigy earned every bit of his nickname not just with his performances, but also in the way he has slowly developed into the draw that everyone in MMA hoped he’d become. He currently leads the MMAPayout.com Power Rankings with money generated for his three outstanding headline performances in 2009.
Scott Coker’s vision is quickly becoming a reality as the veteran promoter landed his organization a network television deal, signed the best heavyweight fighter on the planet, agreed to a fighter-sharing alliance with Japanese promotion Dream, and formed a collaborative agreement with Electronic Arts that will showcase Strikeforce fighters in EA’s up-coming MMA game. Not bad.
Expect more from Strikeforce in 2010 as the promotion is planning to hold some 20 events and a very important return to CBS in April. Coker has also signed sports marketing guru Matt Levine to help develop a marketing strategy that will elevate the brand in the New Year.
The manager’s stable of fighters includes Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Jose Aldo, Antonio Rodrigo, Antonio Rogerio, and Junior dos Santos – it’s quite possible that by the end of the year Soares fighters will own 50% of Zuffa’s divisional hardware. Impressive.
Soares isn’t on the honorable mention list just because of the success of his fighters – he also happens to be one of the hardest working professionals in the sport. He signed his clients to numerous sponsorship deals in 2009 including a slew of agreements with breakout clothing company Silver Star. Soares also runs his own clothing company, Sinister.
Charles “Mask” Lewis:
The co-founder of clothing company TapouT regrettably passed away earlier this year, only having seen half of his life-long dream realized: MMA’s ascension as a legitimate and popular sport. While his brand has risen to the top of the MMA clothing ladder – generating an estimated $180-200 million in 2009 – Lewis’ spirit and determination will remain with the entire MMA industry as it pursues worldwide acceptance and popularity.
December 15, 2009
Tripp Mickle of the Sports Business Journal reports on Madison Avenue Sports & Entertainment’s latest acquisition of MMA agency, Maxum Royalty:
Madison Avenue Sports & Entertainment, the agency started by former NHL executive Ed Horne and defense attorney Joe Tacopina, made its first acquisition two weeks ago, buying a mixed martial arts agency that represents six fighters.
The acquisition of New York-based agency Maxum Royalty was a mix of cash and equity. Under terms of the deal, Maxum founder Jim Barry becomes a partner in Madison Avenue Sports and will work with agency partner Stuart Kudman, a transactional attorney, on the agency’s mixed martial arts business.
“The growth of that sport is nothing short of phenomenal,” Horne said. “This is a sport we see real opportunity in.”
Tacopina added, “It’s the wild west. It’s chaos, and chaos breeds opportunity for guys who are organized and can be trailblazers. This (acquisition) gave us entree into the business.”
Maxum represents six fighters headlined by lightweight Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro. Ribeiro signed a multifight contract with Strikeforce and will be on a card with former football star Herschel Walker at the BankAtlantic Center on Jan. 30.
Barry said that he chose to sell the business to Madison Avenue Sports because of the “brand credibility,” resources and support the agency offered. He will work out of the agency’s New York office on Madison Avenue.
The opportunity that Tacopina speaks of is the combination of the growth in the industry and the fact that most fighters are still only represented by their trainers, or other former fighters, that have very little business experience. At some point there may be a need for individuals with the ability to bridge the gap between the MMA world and the business world.
November 5, 2009
MMAPayout.com had the pleasure of sitting down with Shari Spencer, President of GSP Enterprises, earlier today to talk about George St-Pierre’s latest endorsement with apparel maker Under Armour.
KP: Looking at this deal between UA and GSP – there are so many sides to it: the GSP side, the Under Armour side, and the sport side – but I’d like to start with Georges. What does this deal mean for Georges in terms of his commitment, responsibilities, and the affect it will have on his lifestyle?
SS: Georges will be featured in Under Armour’s upcoming marketing campaigns representing their underwear and other specific products. His responsibilities are typical for this type of endorsement, i.e. service days for photo shoots, personal appearances, etc. As far as the effect on his lifestyle, I think you’ll see him sporting the UA logo a lot more during training.
KP: The Under Armour image fits perfectly with MMA in terms of being that aggressive, “we must protect this house” type of apparel maker, and for the longest time there has been this under-served, clean-cut and professional clothing market within the MMA industry. How might that affect the rest of the MMA clothing business?
SS: I personally think there’s room for both. We still have a deal with Affliction, and that is our fashion apparel brand. Under Armour is our performance or athletic apparel brand. To some degree, UA is already in the space through its athletic apparel for wrestlers – fighters are wearing their apparel as rash guards – even if UA is not calling them rash guards. Initially, they will be using Georges as the face of their underwear brand – I’m crossing my fingers that he’ll sell more underwear for them than David Beckham did for Emporio Armani.
KP: Are you managing any other fighters right now, and what sort of impact might this deal have on their future?
SS: I just signed a second fighter, Frankie Edgar. He’s been flying under the radar, so to speak, but people started to take notice of him when he beat Sean Sherk. He’s an exciting fighter who shows a lot of heart when he fights, but more importantly, he’s just a great kid. I went out and met with him and his father-in-law, who has been advising him business-wise, and getting to know him as a person was what convinced me to respond to his request for help.
Under Armour has a roster of athletes that it endorses, and it’s my understanding that they are starting with Georges in MMA and then going to evaluate from there where they sign other fighters.
KP: GSP is a pretty unique entity in terms of being French-Canadian, a P4P type fighter, and he’s got that GQ look. How does Frankie compare, and how will you go about marketing him?
SS: I’ve always recognized Georges’ potential to reach an audience outside the sport or those that might not be huge fans. Georges’ fanbase tends to skew a bit more female (not surprisingly), and he’s the fighter that many guys say they can get their wives or girlfriends to watch alongside them. As a result, there’s been a very deliberate strategy not to associate too heavily with fight-related brands, so that the public would see him as an athlete first and a fighter second.
I think that for Frankie he will reach a different demographic. I think that he’s more of a “guy’s guy” and he will resonate with a different group. Frankie’s already a family man with one child and another on the way, and so he can’t (well, at least he shouldn’t) be a ladies’ man. Frankie doesn’t have a French accent; he’s got a New Jersey accent. So, I’ll market him much differently.
Frankie is going to resonate with the guy next door. He’s everybody’s neighbour, and he’s got a very altruistic side to him that I don’t think has really been exposed. He’s done a lot of community work, a lot of giving back, and so my approach with him will be more “the lightweight fighter with a heavyweight heart”, with the obvious double-meaning on the word ‘heart’ – the heart he shows when he leaves it all in the Octagon, and the heart he shows by giving back to society.
Frankie’s a professional athlete with a champion’s heart and he’s a true gentleman – like Georges, I think he can also make great strides in representing this sport and hopefully changing the opinion of some of the lawmakers in the state of New York.
KP: When I first heard about the agreement, I thought: a.) it was a major, mainstream endorsement of the sport, but b.) it also suggested that UA believes in the viability and profitability of MMA in the long-term – that they can make money in this industry. That’s a pretty big notch on MMA’s belt.
What’s your take?
SS: I agree on both counts. I believe that the explosive growth that the sport has experienced has caused most brands to sit up and take notice – MMA is growing too fast and resonating too well with that target demo of males 18-35 that they can’t ignore it. Yet I’ve frankly been a bit surprised at the continued reluctance to pull the trigger. So when a brand such as Under Armour, known for their high-quality products and cutting-edge approach steps up, I think it can only be a positive endorsement for the whole sport of MMA, not just Georges. I also think it exposes the sport to a broader audience and hopefully paves the way for endorsement opportunities for other fighters with more mainstream brands.
KP: Even CAA, I suppose, jumping in to help represent Georges.
SS: That’s right, he was their first MMA fighter. But even with CAA, there was an education process, frankly on both sides, of what the relationship would look like. CAA didn’t have experience representing fighters, so they had to get comfortable with representing an athlete in this sport, then get comfortable with Georges, and finally get comfortable with me. Over time a trust level and partnership has been established, and in a nutshell, they’ve given us accelerated access to mainstream opportunities while we’ve been educating them on the nuances of this sport. It’s been a great relationship so far, and while the endorsement deals still do not rival those of the major sports and challenges still lie ahead, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be making this journey with.
KP: You mention the sort of learning curve that CAA experienced, and I feel there’s still a lot more work to be done. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a few high-level people from ESPN over the last few weeks, and the feeling that I get is their concern is not primarily based on the viability of the sport in the long-term, but rather, will they alienate some of their current audience just to bring in a new audience? They’re just not sure whether there’s a brand fit.
SS: Together (CAA/myself) we’re still approaching brands directly, as well as ad buyers and the agencies that represent brands and decide that this guy should be your brand ambassador, and introducing them to Georges and try to help them understand MMA. Marketing Georges is the easy part – he has a great look, he backs it up with his performance, he’s got character, he’s charming -he’s got all those things. Our biggest challenge has been selling the sport and that continues to be an education process.
So while the UFC is progressing in their efforts to obtain sanctioning in all the Provinces of Canada and all the States here in the U.S., we’re having similar conversations with brand managers and ad agencies – it’s just a constant job of educating. And, if you were to look at me, I’m about as corporate as they come – I’m a former CFO (and still dress like one) and I speak more of the same language. I also pull from my experience as president of the Intermountain Section of the US Tennis Association and the governance of that sport in this country. Add to that my obvious gender, and I’m probably the last person you’d expect to be representing a guy who makes his living fighting in a cage. That anomaly, combined with the CAA partnership and arguably the most marketable athlete in the sport, and yet it’s still a challenge to present MMA in a way that they’ll understand the sport and want to affiliate with it.
KP: Right. Yeah, and so when I saw that UA was coming on board, I thought, “man, if there had to be an apparel maker to jump into MMA, they would be my first choice.” There is no conflict of brand image with UA, because the sort of aggression that MMA represents is right in line with their target market.
SS: I do tend to think that UA tends to appeal to a younger target demo, and that perhaps the other athletic apparel brands are a bit more established and conservative. UA seems to be more progressive and cutting edge in their branding. So, I do think it’s a good fit and it’s a logical choice.
This is pure speculation on my part, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this deal weren’t some sort of pre-emptive strike. I can just imagine UA executives sitting around the board room contemplating, something like, “OK, we’re all [UA, Nike, Adidas] looking at it [MMA], and we’re all probably going to get involved eventually, so let’s just be the first one and let’s throw the first punch. And, if we’re going to do it, who are we going to do it with?”
In my opinion, the “safest” way for a brand to enter an admittedly rebellious sport is with the most traditional guy – the guy that wears the gi, the guy that wears the suit to press conference, and the guy that doesn’t do the trash talking. So from that perspective, endorsing Georges is probably the safest way to dip your toes in the MMA water, so to speak, because he’s got one of the cleanest images of any of the fighters.
Well, thank-you for your time. I’ll let you get back to work.
SS: No problem. You’re very welcome!