Throughout all these debates on the state of fighter pay, you haven’t heard what used to be a regular refrain from Dana White: that disclosed figures don’t include sponsor money, which often doubles or even triples what the lower end fighters make. That might be because that isn’t the case any more. Dan Hardy talks about the new sponsorship landscape:
[The sponsor tax] really hurt the fighters. I went from one fight, where I sold the space on the front of my shorts for $5,000, to six months later, going back to the same company, and only getting an offer of $1500 because of the sponsor fee. I refused it, because someone has got to set a standard. The problem is, when I turn it down, there’s another 10 fighters on the undercard that will take that offer, because there’s nobody else paying.
You have a sponsor, and maybe they have $150,000 in their budget for the year for advertising. They have to pay $100k of that to the UFC. Now, that only leaves $50k for the fighters for the whole year. Everybody takes a pay cut apart from the UFC.
If these undercard guys could get sponsored by an up and coming brand in California or somewhere, that’s got a few different T shirts. It’s better to give $1000 to one of those guys, and in turn give the smaller company some good business opportunity, also. If they could do a tier system for sponsors, it might make a lot of difference for a lot of people. It’s very difficult for a company to even get off the ground because they can’t sponsor any of the fighters. It’s effectively killing the MMA brand as a whole.
Hopefully the UFC will cut Dan Hardy some slack for breaking the unspoken rule and talking about fighter pay … he just went from making a giant whack o cash every 4 to 6 months to potentially never making another fight payday again. At this point all he has left is sponsors, and everyone generally agrees that the golden age of sponsorships is done. Ben Fowlkes confirms it:
In talking to managers and executives of companies in the MMA sphere alike, one thing they seem to agree on is that sponsorship money has largely dried up in the past few years. There are fewer companies in the space, and fighters are seeing less money from the ones that are still around. Some say the UFC fees have driven them out. Others say it’s not the return on investment they hoped for. A few blame the rash of startups that seemed to think all it would take was a skull logo on a UFC broadcast in order to get rich. Point is, when we talk about fighter pay these days, we should be careful about shrugging off those concerns by saying stuff like, “but that doesn’t even count sponsor money.”
Just more data on the side of starting fighters not making enough. It’s too bad UFC brass seem totally unwilling to do anything about it.