By Zach Arnold | July 1, 2015
Good news for UFC — California state Senator Leland Yee copped a plea deal with the Feds in his racketeering & extortion case, so the prospects of UFC management or Andy Foster of the California State Athletic Commission possibly having to hit the witness stand dropped. We’ll see if the wiretap evidence is kept under seal or not by the Federal judge in the case.
And that’s about it for the good news lately for UFC. Really. UFC’s reverse-Midas touch these last several months is more or less standard operating procedure.
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— E. Casey Leydon (@ekc) July 1, 2015
Where to begin? UFC calling Reebok fighter uniforms “fight kits.” A $70 million deal with Reebok that has been lampooned with zeal by everyone. How much of it is product and how much is actually cash? UFC is now starting their USADA drug testing program. They’ve banned fighters from using IVs after weigh-ins due to the serious problem of weight cutting.
And they got their ass kicked again in trying to get legislation passed for MMA in New York. It’s one thing to buy off Sacramento. It’s another to buy off Albany. As soon as the clock ran out in Albany, UFC was seething with outrage on Twitter about “corruption.” Yes, the folks in Las Vegas are seething with rage about corruption.
Under normal circumstances, the Reebok deal would be the most embarrassing notch on UFC’s 2015 business campaign. As Zane Simon appropriately noted, UFC’s Reebok rollout says a lot about both companies in the global marketplace. This is what you get when you want full control and envision a sport where every fighter’s image by Corporate is scripted as a generic puppet that is largely over-tanned, ripped, and covered in tattoos. Where guys are labeled independent contractors but are restrained from obtaining sponsors due to “Fight Kits.” Where fighters can’t afford to pay for month-long training camps in locations like Mexico City. Where fighters are trashed with glee by management not just on their way out but when they’re on top.
Rampage Jackson long ago joked that Las Vegas thinks they can put a bunch of guys in a cage labeled “UFC” and that it will sell. We’re about to find out now with those dreadful “UFC fight kits” just how much having UFC uniforms sells shows and sells uniforms.
We’ll find out shortly when Chad Mendes, filling in for Jose Aldo, fights Conor McGregor on short notice. UFC set up Aldo to get trashed by McGregor on a pathetic “world tour” public relations pit stop. A guy who has been champion for years was treated as the ultimate jabroni. UFC managed to string the fans along as much as possible before pulling the plug on Aldo’s title fight because of a rib injury. And now Aldo is being portrayed as the coward, the guy who’s afraid of UFC’s mini-version of Seth Rollins. Except, as far as I know, Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns didn’t actually live at one of Vince McMahon’s properties while getting the push of a lifetime.
It must be nice to be the #UFC press office and know there are people out there who will write down literally anything you try to sell them
— Jonathan Snowden (@JESnowden) July 1, 2015
Right out of the UFC playbook, we have Mendes vs. McGregor for yet another UFC “interim” title. How many more interim title belts can you have? I suppose we’ll see what the value of marketing an interim title belt is if the DA in Albuquerque is able to string a court case together against Jon Jones.
If McGregor beats Mendes, he’ll do so on short-notice. If Mendes beats McGregor, the UFC’s multi-year investment will be flushed down the toilet in exchange for a rematch between Aldo & Mendes that I’m not sure the mainstream casual fan will care about.
The UFC wants you to respect them as some sort of major sports conglomerate but they want you to scrutinize them as if they were a proverbial mom & pop shop.
It’s the fight business. When it rains, it pours. The problem is that so much of the crap UFC is facing has been entirely created by their own doing. They may not pay a price right now but they will pay a price later for mismanagement. UFC is not going away any time soon. Whether or not UFC is sold in the future, that’s a different question to ponder for another time.
The real concern MMA fans should have right now is not whether the sport has “peaked” or what the growth potential looks like. The real concern is whether or not the money that currently exists is going to exist in 10 years. PRIDE was able to bring in the best talent in the world because they had a massive contract with Fuji TV. Once the Fuji TV money was pulled due to the yakuza scandal, the jig was up. UFC faces a situation where they need to figure out how to maintain their current revenue streams to a point where they keep the status quo. Growth prospects look limited in a best-case scenario.
It’s all about the future. Fighting for UFC can bring you some fame. It can bring you some money. But for most fighters, it won’t. Most fighters will continue to have to work day jobs. The money for sponsorships isn’t going to be there in the foreseeable future. Fighter pay remains anemic. The prospects of intrusive drug testing make a “UFC lifestyle” less desirable. Money is the mother’s milk of politics and the fight business. Floyd Mayweather is making $220 million a fight and has the Showtime media platform to boost his earnings prospects. Where is that platform for UFC fighters?
If the UFC wants to remain relevant, they’re going to have to be able to attract athletic talent away from other sports. No matter how UFC spins it, their economic model & management structure is their own worst enemy. Reebok discovered the hard way that associating yourself with UFC can bring tremendous public relations heartburn to your own brand.