October 21, 2015
Reebok made a major faux pas when it rolled out its t-shirts for UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin, Ireland. A UFC shirt which depicted the country did not include Northern Ireland.
For ease of reference, below is a map of Ireland. Above is the UFC/Reebok shirt. Note Northern Ireland (in the top right hand corner of the map) is not on the UFC shirt as if it was erased in some way.
MMA Fighting explains the political undercurrent causing the outrage:
The Republic of Ireland and ‘Ireland’ have different meanings. The former is a term refers to the independent democratic country of Ireland whose capital is Dublin. The latter, or ‘Ireland’, is considered to be both the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland, one of the four countries which comprise the United Kingdom.
John Kavanagh, the coach for Conor McGregor among other Irish UFC fighters, issued a statement on the Reebok t-shirt and the reason behind the cultural sensitivity. Kavanagh, head coach of SBG Dublin, initially stated that he would sever ties with Reebok (or the UFC or both) if the shirt was not taken down.
An incredibly insensitive stupid divisive idea. Its removed by the end of the day or SBG is gone. I expect a sincere apology to Irish fans.
— Coach Kavanagh (@John_Kavanagh) October 21, 2015
One need only a basic understanding of European history to understand the cultural and political problems in Ireland. Moreover, why didn’t Reebok do its research prior to making the t-shirt? If it’s looking to expand its global footprint, perhaps the UFC and Reebok should spend some time learning about the globe it would like to expand into. If not for Conor McGregor, something like this t-shirt gaffe could have really turned off the fan base in Ireland.
October 19, 2015
UFC Light Heavyweight champion Chris Weidman has signed an individual sponsorship deal with Reebok and as a part of the deal he will get his own custom shoe.
Weidman was on The MMA Hour on Monday where he made the announcement and was presented with his own signature shoe by Reebok’s senior director of combat training Michael Lunardelli. Weidman’s ZPump model sport the stars and stripes and will be available to the public. The price point will be $110.
You can infer from the Reebok deal that Weidman is no longer with longtime sponsor Bad Boy. During the MMA Hour interview, Lunardelli explained that another deal for Weidman ended.
Weidman is not the only MMA fighter to have their own shoe. You might recall Jon Jones had a limited release Nike shoe. Other fighters such as Urijah Faber (KSwiss), Rampage Jackson (Reebok) and Georges St. Pierre (Under Armour) have had shoe sponsor deals.
Will you buy Weidman’s shoe? The Reebok deal seemed inevitable and as explained it was a matter of Weidman’s Bad Boy sponsorship ending for him to sign with the official UFC clothier. Overall, the sponsorship is a good thing for Weidman but the shoes seem like an acquired taste. Unless you are truly patriotic or a fan of Weidman, it seems very unlikely for someone to pay $110 for these novelty shoes.
September 23, 2015
MMA Junkie reports that Alexander Gustafsson is the latest UFC fighter to speak out about the Reebok apparel deal. Although Gustafsson chose his words, he advocated for more pay for the lesser-established fighters.
“Pay the fighters a lot more money,” Gustafsson told MMA Junkie. He also chimed in on the Reebok deal and while he did not criticize the deal, he believed that fighters that make less should benefit from sponsors to help those “pay the rent.” “I don’t have anything negative to say about it [Reebok deal]. I just think, why take away from fighters who haven’t established themselves in the organization?”
Gustafsson also stated that fighters starting out (that make minimal money) should be supported from local sponsors. He believes that this would help develop within the sport as being funded by sponsors would allow fighters to spend more time in the gym.
While Gustafsson wanted to make sure that he did not want to be negative about the Reebok deal, he does offer a critique of what he observes is occurring as a result of the deal. Without sponsors to help fund fighters, it inhibits those on the low end of the salary scale from dedicating the time to cultivate their abilities as most have to take on jobs to pay their bills. Of course, training for a fight also costs money. Thus, Gustafsson definitely sees the reasons why the deal does not help younger fighters. It’s good that fighters like Gustafsson are willing to speak out about the Reebok deal even though they may not be directly affected.
August 31, 2015
Khabib Nurmogomedov is the latest UFC fighter to receive an individual sponsorship deal with Reebok. Reebok announced the deal via twitter.
Nurmogomedov was last seen in a brawl with the Diaz Brothers at a WSOF event at the Planet Hollywood in Vegas earlier this month. His last fight in a UFC octagon was in April 2014. A knee injury has kept him out of action since then. However, he’s slated to return to fight in the octagon in December against Tony Ferguson.
— Reebok (@Reebok) August 31, 2015
Nurmogomedov becomes the 12th UFC fighter with an individual Reebok deal. His deal is somewhat surprising considering he was involved in that brawl with the Diaz brothers and has been injured for a while. He’s slated to fight in December if he can remain healthy. The sponsor deal will help with the international appeal of the sport. But, unless the UFC has deemed that Khabib was not at fault in the melee at the WSOF event, what does this say about how the sponsor deals that are awarded. I realize that Reebok is the sponsor, but one would have to think that the UFC gives some input on which fighters the clothier should pursue for an individual deal.
August 27, 2015
Bellator lightweight Melvin Guillard had some interesting things to say about his previous employer in light of the Reebok apparel deal. Guillard, who was cut by the company, states that it will likely lose fighters due to the lost revenue by fighters from sponsors.
Guillard has not been with the company since his last fight in March 2104. However, he states in a recent MMA Fighting interview that some of the UFC fighters he trains with at American Top Team are “unhappy with how things went with the UFC.” Guillard stated that the “UFC is really just dropping the ball on a lot of guys. They’re going to lose a lot of talent.”
Prior to the UFC sponsor fee, Guillard stated that a fighter could make $50K to $60K per fight from sponsors. However, restrictions on sponsors which required they pay a fee to the UFC in order to sponsor a fighter curtailed many brands from sponsoring a fighter. The Reebok deal which went into effect this July, has received criticism from many fighters that have indicated it has cut their ability to earn money from sponsors. While some fighters have taken up the side of the UFC, there are many fighters that are put off by the new payouts from Reebok.
Guilard, who had a stint with WSOF, is now in Bellator and is set to fight this Friday for the organization at Bellator 141.
Guillard’s comments could be seen as a former fighter expressing his opinion after being let go by the UFC and thus feels free to say what he wants about the organization. Guillard’s comments about what his teammates are saying might be hearsay and might be a way that UFC contracted fighters are expressing their discontent with the new era of sponsorship revenue for fighters. Until there are actual numbers out there that he is making more money overall than he did when he was with the UFC, it’s hard to conclude that UFC fighters would jump ship to other organizations due to the Reebok deal.
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.
“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.”
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.
August 8, 2015
The MMA Hour recently interviewed Reebok’s Michael Lunardelli regarding its partnership with the UFC as its official clothing sponsor. While Reebok touts the relationship, it addressed some of the controversy arising out of the sponsor deal.
Notable in the interview with Ariel Helwani was Reebok’s response to the criticism that there were misspellings for some UFC fighters. Lunardelli, the head of Reebok’s combat sports division, offered a response with a subtle point of the finger back to the UFC.
Via MMA Fighting:
“The UFC came to us and asked us if we could do it [go live with every fighter’s jersey]. We said we could try. So, we were moving very quickly to get to that PR launch. The way it works is, we get a list from the organization. The organization provides the list. I don’t know who the 560th fighter is in the UFC. How would I know that? How would my team know that?
“The list was vetted out by the organization and passed to us in a very short period of time. They were moving quickly as well. Again, it’s a partnership. We don’t want to mess up anybody’s name, nor does the UFC.
Yet, Reebok did “mess up” names. While Lunardelli points out that no products were ever made with misspellings such as Gilbert Melendez’s name, the fact remains that there were glaring misspellings that fans, already annoyed by the deal, took note.
Lunardelli also indicated that Reebok had no input on the fighter pay scales and no say in the release of Stitch Duran after the cutman’s comments that the new sponsor deal did not cover cutmen. Lunardelli also indicated that the deal does not include the ring card women.
It was an interesting interview/explanation regarding Reebok’s side in the UFC deal. Despite the claim that the clothier was up against a deadline, it’s inexcusable to state that there was a reason for the misspellings. Simply no excuse. Either the UFC does not know the spellings of its contracted fighters or Reebok failed to double-check through another source. Either way, it’s something us “hobbyists” allegedly do which separates the “professionals” from the amateurs. As some commenter called us the other week, this must be “amateur hour.” It would be as if a journalist for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal were to write a 5,000 piece on a short deadline and tell the editor, “well I tried to spell most of the words correctly.” To which the editor tells the journalist, “ok, we’ll go with whatever you have.” As for its other explanations, just a subtle “don’t blame us” answer.
We’ll see if Reebok does any better as this partnership progresses.
August 3, 2015
Welcome to another edition of Payout Perspective. This time we take a look at UFC 190 taking place at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro.
Rousey ends Corriea in 34 seconds
Ronda Rousey showed her dominance once again by knocking out Bethe Corriea in just 34 seconds. It was not the most technical of fights, but Rousey showed power in her hands by flattening Corriea. While many are calling for Cyborg, it looks to be the trilogy with Miesha Tate this December.
It was billed as a rematch of one of the best fights in Pride that occurred 10 years ago. The 10 years took a lot out of each as the first round had a lot of action and slowed considerably over the next two rounds. Many fans thought that a failed guillotine attempt would have won the fight for Little ‘Nog but Rua pulled out the unanimous decision once again. Both will continue to fight but I am not sure if that is the best idea for each.
Although announced as a sellout, UFC 190 at the HSBC Arena drew 14,723. As seems to be a constant with Brazilian cards, a gate was not announced.
Prior PPV events at HSBC Arena
UFC 142 – 10,605 (Aldo v. Mendes)
UFC 153 – 16,844 (A. Silva v. Bonnar)
UFC 163 – 13,873 (Aldo v. Korean Zombie)
Demian Maia, Shogun Rua, Antonio Rogierio Nogueria and Ronda Rousey. Maia and Rouse yearend Performances of the Night while Rua and Little Nog earned Fight of the Night. Each earned $50,000
Promotion of the Fight
The UFC Countdown show offered a little more than usual as Ronda Rousey talked about her father after Bethe Corriea’s comments regarding Ronda committing suicide when she beat her.
Rousey also gave an insightful interview during an Embedded feature.
There had to be some concern about the promotion of this fight since it would be in Brazil. Rousey still did Jim Rome and some other U.S. outlets but not as many as if she were here in the states. Yet, it appears to have done well.
The Octagon sponsors included Budweiser, Fram, Sports Authority, Reebok, the movie, “Straight Outta Compton,” Tai-Chi Panda, Brazilian outlet Combate and TNT Energy Drink (like most Brazilian events) had the center of the Octgaon.
Tai-Chi Panda is a video game. A commercial and its web site featured Ronda Rousey. The UFC women’s bantamweight champion also wore a Monster Energy logo on her Reebok kit. Rousey also had a new MetroPCS commercial which featured her mother and the horsewomen.
“Straight Outta Compton” had the fighter prep point and the trailer was shown prior to the Rousey fight.
Odds and ends
Placing the TUF Brazil Finals on the main card was not the best idea. A lot of discontent from fans and people tuned out. People seemed mad that the Ronda fight did not start until past 10pm PT.
The TUF Brazil contestants wore generic UFC shorts except for a panel which included sponsor TNT Energy Drink. One might assume that this was a deal brokered by TNT and/or TNT paid for the spot on the shorts.
The UFC Fan Voting was shown after each fight as it is another way that the UFC can engage fans during the PPVs.
A lot of tweets from mainstream stars in support of Rousey displayed throughout the night and on Dana White’s twitter feed.
The WWE sent a thank you to Ronda Rousey after she dedicated her fight to Roddy Piper.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) August 2, 2015
Corriea had a good gimmick with stating that she wanted to beat all of the Four Horsewomen including Ronda. But, we all know that Rousey is so much better than her other stablemates. The award for the worst tweet of the night goes to Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza for continuing a trend of leaders of an organization badmouthing another promotion’s event.
Great matchmaking, UFC. Four main event fights, two minutes total. Can’t wait to buy the next one.
— Stephen Espinoza (@StephenEspinoza) August 2, 2015
The award for best tweet of the night goes to the WWE’s Seth Rollins for responding to a tweet from Dana White who was badmouthing (or perceived to be) another promotion’s product.
Guys, cut @danawhite some slack. I mean he’s had a million matches, so his opinion is super valid and should be taken as gospel.
— Seth Rollins (@WWERollins) August 2, 2015
The tweet from Rollins is in response to White telling a twitter follower that WWE is fake. Rousey had 6 million google searches over the weekend. YouTube highlights also did well:
Revised Google search total for Rousey on Saturday is 6M, so gigantic and unprecedented for MMA but not unbelievably epic.
— Adam Swift (@AdamMSwift) August 3, 2015
As far as extrapolating PPV business, 1M of the searches were “Ronda Rousey fight” which looks a lot like pirates trolling for the fight.
— Adam Swift (@AdamMSwift) August 3, 2015
— Carleton Curtis (@carletoncurtis) August 3, 2015
UFC 190 will tell us whether Ronda Rousey can carry a PPV. Rousey has not done as much media as she would have if the fight was in the U.S. But, it still received a ton of searches over the course of the weekend. It was the number one trending topic overall in the U.S. during the PPV. Certainly, the casual fan was searching the internet for the 34 second clip of Rousey winning. This may be a problem when it comes to future Rousey PPVs as fans might just wait to see the fight on Vine…or ESPN.
Notwithstanding the future ways of purchasing (or not purchasing) a Rousey PPV, Saturday’s event will be telling as to whether UFC 184 was just one good night. Corriea was not a strong opponent for Rousey despite the trash talk. The question is whether that even matters. It didn’t seem to matter for Conor McGregor at UFC 189.
Dana White indicated that UFC 190 was trending better than UFC 189. It’s hard to say what numbers he might be looking at although one might think pre-buys for the PPV might be one. Couple that with the perceived correlation that google searches equate to PPV success and UFC 190 might be a PPV hit. I was originally thinking that this PPV would do 400K-500K PPV buys. However, it appears that it may well have exceeded this. Anything above 700K would be outstanding considering there was virtually nothing else supporting Rousey’s fight.
July 30, 2015
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza has signed an individual sponsorship deal with Reebok. The announcement was sent out via Reebok’s twitter feed.
— Reebok (@Reebok) July 30, 2015
The middleweight contender’s last fight was in April when he easily submitted Chris Camozzi. He could be in line for a shot at Chris Weidman’s title after Luke Rockhold. He is currently ranked #2 in the UFC Middleweight rankings.
Interesting signing at this time as Souza does not have an upcoming fight announced. He is an under-the-radar fighter in the middleweight division and should be in line for a title shot soon. The signing probably helps the international market as he becomes the first Brazilian to be a Reebok-sponsored athlete.
July 23, 2015
Reebok is feeling the heat after the UFC let go of cutman Stitch Duran. The official clothier of the UFC sent out a tweet in apparent response to UFC fans outraged by his dismissal.
UFC fans: We have no input on decisions of UFC employment or fighter compensation. Our focus is providing the best gear for fighters & fans.
— Reebok (@Reebok) July 22, 2015
Not even one month into its official partnership with the UFC, it is feeling the brunt of criticism from the fans. The dismissal of Duran after he spoke out about losing out on sponsorship money due to the Reebok deal has angered the MMA internet community and Reebok felt compelled to respond.
MMA fans were not happy with Reebok taking over as the company’s primary clothing sponsor which eliminated many MMA brands from the octagon. It also angered fans and fighters when the UFC revealed payouts from the sponsorships which were below those that fighters received and now Duran’s departure has drawn the ire of many that follow the UFC.
For those that believe that Reebok is looking for a way out of this deal think again. Despite the harsh criticism, the brand needs the UFC as much as the UFC needs Reebok. Reebok is seeking to establish a niche in the fitness market and boost sales for its parent company, Adidas, in the U.S. The uniforms are a big deal for the brand even though public opinion seems to be negative overall. If nothing else, Reebok can say it is an official outfitter for one of the biggest female athletes today, Ronda Rousey.
As many know, Adidas is owned by Reebok and there was speculation that it wanted to sell off Reebok due to poor profits. There were earnings warnings in 2013 and 2014 for Reebok and shareholders were concerned. Add to that, Adidas has fallen for the first time to number 3 in the U.S. sportswear market behind Nike and Under Armour. Even the creator of Crossfit made it known in a ’60 Minutes’ segment this year that Reebok should be sold to “someone young, fresh, excited and willing to enter into the modern era of things.”
However, it appears that profits have turned around in 2015 for the brand and the future of the fitness market is looking bright. According to a report by CBS Marketwatch earlier this year, Adidas indicated that it would not sell Reebok. Could some of the brand’s newfound momentum be from the UFC deal? Even if there is pushback from fans, Reebok will likely ride out the wave of discontent in hopes of a promising future.