To borrow a phrase from UFC commentator Mike Goldberg, ”It is all over.”
On July 1, the UFC entered what will forever be known as the ”Reebok Era.” On that day, Reebok, the international apparel and footwear company, officially became the exclusive outfitter and apparel provider for the UFC.
What that means, in layman’s terms, is that UFC fighters no longer will show up on fight night (or fight week, for that matter) adorned in third-party sponsor logos: It’s Reebok only from this point on during official fight week appearances.
The removal of third-party sponsors from UFC fight week is a huge change for the promotion and its hundreds of fighters. As with any change, there were many questions and comments following the late 2014 announcement that Reebok would provide fighters and their teams with their complete fight week and fight night attire.
Not surprisingly, the initial focus was on dollars. With third-party sponsors out of the mix, many fighters feared they would be losing a significant amount of income. When the UFC announced the payout tiers of the Reebok deal, those fears did not seem to be allayed.
UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione was active on Twitter when news of the payout structure broke in early May. Mitrione, like many other fighters, saw the payouts as a direct hit to the pocketbook. Mitrione’s comments caught the eye of UFC president Dana White, who reached out to the 13-fight UFC veteran to discuss the topic of possible lost income and sponsors.
Nearly two months have passed since the payout announcement, and according to Tracey Bleczinksi, UFC Senior Vice President of Global Consumer Products, the UFC has heard the third-party sponsorship landscape is not as bleak as some would lead you to believe.
”Actually, what we have heard from a lot of fighters is that their sponsors are sticking with them and that they have renewed and extended their deals, which we fully expect sponsors to do and we encourage them to do that,” Bleczinksi told MMAJunkie.
Bleczinski said that while Reebok is the UFC’s fight week sponsor, fighters do have the ability to continue to work with third-party sponsors.
”There are specified occasions during fight week when they are required to wear the fight week gear and the fight kit, however, for all other occasions they can wear what they want and they can continue to have their sponsors and continue to activate with their sponsors,” Bleczinksi said.
While there is not much gray area around sponsors these days, there is some confusion as to how to put a value on the Reebok deal. The UFC did not disclose what the six-year agreement is worth, but a report put that figure in the $70 million range. Whatever the value, like many sports apparel deals, there is more than just cash involved.
”The important thing to bear in mind is that the value has three component parts and only one part is actual cash,” said Bleczinksi. ”The product and the marketing have a dollar value associated to them because they have to and thus are included when determining the total deal value. The vast majority of the cash revenue we receive is going directly to the athletes.”
The only part of the cash revenue not going to the fighters, according to Bleczinksi, will be the costs required to operate the athlete outfitting program.
One thing there is no confusion over is how the UFC, as an organization, is looking at its partnership with Reebok. The expectation from the Las Vegas headquarters of the promotion is that, in the long run, it will be a huge win.
”We are changing the landscape of the sport,” said Bleczinksi. ”Once the platform launches, it’s going to elevate our sport and athletes as well as further professionalize the presentation and our athletes. This will very likely facilitate additional sponsors getting involved.”
While Bleczinksi did not offer specifics, she did say the UFC addressed some concerns fighters had with the athlete outfitting policy prior to launch.
”We have had great discussions with the fighters at the fighter information sessions,” said Bleczinksi. ”At the start of every session, we encouraged the athletes to ask questions, tell us what they think, with no topic being off limits. The conversations have been very robust and informative and have created some updates to the AOP.”
As the UFC’s partnership with Reebok progresses, the UFC does plan on further reviewing the program. However, there is one part of the athlete outfitting policy that will not be on the table during those reviews.
”We will be reviewing all aspects of the program on an on-going basis, however the current compensation has been laid out for the term of the partnership,” Bleczinksi said.
For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.