Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, who is sponsored by sports apparel company adidas, enjoyed a $1,000 shopping spree at an adidas retail store in Las Vegas this week. His haul included shoes and polo golf shirts.
But there’s a sponsorship quirk with Lawler and his fight against Rory MacDonald tonight at UFC 189 at the MGM Grand Garden.
Lawler’s tights for the mixed martial arts fight will not display a stitch of the adidas gear because UFC has a $70 million deal with Reebok to outfit all UFC fighters in Reebok fight kits at fight show, media and workout events starting with UFC 189. UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta has said the Reebok fight kits are akin to the NFL requiring their athletes to wear sanctioned uniforms and will make UFC fighters look more professional.
The six-year UFC-Reebok deal, announced in December, calls for Reebok to pay UFC fighters varying amounts of money based on their rankings and revenue-sharing money for retail sales of Reebok gear that carries the fighters’ names. UFC jerseys with fighters’ names cost $80 apiece.
But what’s quirky about Lawler’s situation is adidas bought Reebok a decade ago for $3.8 billion, with both sports apparel and shoe companies maintaining separate brand identities and competing against each other.
That Lawler must wear Reebok branded fight gear and clothing at UFC fight shows does not thrill adidas, but ”they understand it,” said Jen Wenk, who handles public relations for Lawler.
For Scott Viscomi, an adidas executive overseeing combat sports in America, he has accepted the fact that adidas can score promotional attention and increase sales by having Lawler dressed in adidas gear during months of training leading to the fight, while Reebok handles the fight show performance side in the UFC octagon for that one day.
Viscomi compares Lawler wearing adidas during training and Reebok on fight night to NFL players displaying their personal sponsors’ logo gear at places outside of an NFL stadium on game day. For example, Lawler, who became an adidas-sponsored athlete in 2014, has donned adidas training gear from head to toe during promotional appearances in New York City.
The new Reebok fight kits have not pleased all UFC fighters. Some have complained of losing thousands of dollars on sponsorship revenue, while others have sued the Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts promotion and media company in a class action suit, alleging UFC violates antitrust laws. And at a recent fight kit unveiling, a fighter’s name was misspelled.
Tracey Bleczinski, UFC senior vice president of global consumer products, said the fighters are required to wear the new Reebok-branded items in their fight week gear bag at open workouts, media events and at the UFC 189 show.
”It’s a new erea, that’s for sure,” Bleczinski said. ”It’s a first for our sport.”
The product kit for male fighters will include: shorts, gloves, walk-out jersey, walk-out hoodie, hat, underwear, socks and shoes. For female fighters, it’s shorts or skort, sports bra (long length available), gloves, walk-out jersey and/or tank top, walk-out hoodie, hat, underwear, socks and shoes.
Tonight’s UFC 189 is the headline event for UFC’s International Fight Week that ends Sunday.