Knowing that not everyone has the time, interest or attention span to actually sit down and watch all of the videos or read all of the articles and comments related to the recent controversy surrounding the ESPN report that was done on ‘Outside the Lines’ which focused specifically on UFC fighter pay, I decided that I would invest a little time of my own and write out a quick summary to help UFC fans to better understand the main issues that are currently surrounding this particular topic.
For starters, here is the ESPN video (9 minutes 13 seconds).
Next, here is the complete interview that was filmed by the UFC, between ESPN and the CEO of the UFC, Lorenzo Fertitta (47 minutes 8 seconds).
And finally, here is the video featuring Dana White and a few of the UFC veteran fighters in response to the claims made by ESPN (12 minutes 8 seconds).
And now, my personal summary on a few of the key issues:
FIGHTER PAY OUT-PACING REVENUE GROWTH
“It’s a lot harder to double a million dollars than it is to double a hundred dollars.”
As previously stated in the following article, my opinion on this issue has always been as follows:
“It all comes down to ratio. The UFC has no problem paying their fighters thousands of dollars, so long as they are making millions in return. And now, with the new Fox deal, they will likely not have any issues paying their fighters millions of dollars, so long as they are raking in billions.”
Fighters are less likely to officially complain about how much the UFC is making, if they themselves are making just enough to prevent them from risking any loss to either their career or to their current paycheque. Let’s face it—the US (and global) economy isn’t exactly at its strongest point in history right now, so I guess being used and exploited sure beats the heck out of unemployment or working for minimum wage. No doubt, that’s why so many fighters are in fact grateful, even if they don’t think (or care) that the ratio is indeed split fairly.
At the end of the day, ESPN was simply trying to point out that the balance in revenues is way off, which it is, especially when you consider the high risks that these fighters take with regards to their health.
Apparently, some of the fighters have complained about needing to “kiss UFC ass” if they’re to have any chance at all of winning one of fight bonuses, which up until now, have been decided solely by UFC President Dana White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta.
I don’t know that I agree with that, but I do think that a better idea would be to completely remove the Corporate subjectivity out of the process and leave the bonus awards entirely up to the fans, who could vote after the show, similar to how they do it on American Idol (free of charge of course), and afterwards, the results could be announced via an official press release (Twitter) the very next day. That way, the fighters would still be expected to “perform” for the fans, but then the fighters wouldn’t feel as though they are at the mercy of their employers—a position that nobody with any integrity enjoys being in.
I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say for sure whether or not the UFC falls under the legal definition of a “monopoly” (that will all be decided soon enough by a Grand Jury), but I do know that the UFC is dominant enough in the Industry that they can absolutely dictate the lives and futures of many business factions and people who work within the Industry. If being a monopoly is all about power and control, then the UFC has plenty of it.
Over the past few years especially, it can easily be proven that the UFC has gone out of their way to interfere and harm other competing businesses in the Industry. This may not be illegal, but they are at the very least, unethical.
Fertitta claims that it’s “the American way” of doing business. I say he is exactly right. And if you look at the current economy, you can see quite clearly that this old way of thinking, no longer works.
STABLE OF FIGHTERS
In the video featuring UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, there was the mentioning of a “stable of fighters” who are all currently employed by the UFC (under contract and with zero job security), which is now apparently in excess of over 320 fighters. That’s a lot of people, but on the heels of the issue of monopoly, it now has me wondering if perhaps this isn’t just like an episode of Hoarding...
Collect all of the best talent, and pay the majority of them as little as possible, but just enough that they won’t want to go anywhere else.
After all, they should all be grateful just for the opportunity to work for the UFC, right? And at the very least, “collecting” fighters keeps them from working for other potentially competing organizations. That way, if anyone else were to be so inclined as to start up a similar promotion (with the right financial backing and support, it could easily happen), they’d have essentially no real talent to choose from.
And another reason why none of the fighters would dare to leave and go elsewhere is because the UFC does a fantastic job of dangling that golden carrot in front of them, making the fighters believe that they are always only one or two fights away from stardom, which we all know is not true.
COMPARISONS TO OTHER SPORTS
It’s completely pointless to compare the UFC to any other sport in terms of their current business model, whether it be football or boxing, because nothing has ever been created (as a business) like the UFC—except maybe for professional wrestling.
The only comparisons worth making are in relation to how other sporting leagues operate their unions—something that the UFC is badly in need of, but only on the condition that the UFC provides full financial disclosure on their total global revenues, which would only happen by way of legal obligation, as the UFC seems pretty adamant about not wanting to share this information with anyone, which more than likely includes the Tax Man.
ROOKIE PAY SCALE
1st Fight: $6,000 show money + $6,000 win money = $12,000 total
2nd Fight: $8,000 show money +$8,000 win money = $16,000 total
3rd Fight: $10,000 show money + $10,000 win money = $20,000 total
*Does not include bonuses, sponsorship (restricted) or other possible incentives (trash-talking on Twitter).
If the average career lasts approximately 3 years, and the average fighter only competes 1.6 times per year (as stated by Fertitta), then the UFC could easily keep many of these fighters at the lower end of the pay scale for close to the entire duration of their careers. And remember, this scale is all based on winning. Winning streaks are not as easy to come by as you might think, especially for less experienced fighters.
I know that this is fighting—I get that—but there’s just something about a company that encourages their athletes to concuss each other that just seems wrong to me. It’s one thing if it happens (of course it’s going to happen), but to encourage it? To reward it?
It just seems to me that the UFC is setting themselves up for a pretty massive class-action lawsuit down the road (just look at the trouble that the NFL is in right now). Concussions are proven to shorten both careers and quality of life. By the time many of these fighters are past the limitations of the rookie pay scale (above), they won’t likely be able to continue much longer without putting their health in serious jeopardy.
But in this sport, the fans don’t care about such things. They only want to be entertained and the UFC is only concerned about giving the fans what they want. Screw social or professional responsibility—how else will the UFC make money?
UFC REPLY VIDEO
The reply video that was created by Dana White and various other fighters (“company men”) is just as biased, if not more so, than the ESPN video. The ESPN video claimed that many fighters were unhappy with the current situation, and Fertitta responded by stating that if you search hard enough, you will always find people who are in an unhappy situation with their employer, which I thought was a tremendously valid point to make. And then the UFC undermined themselves by doing the exact same thing, only in the opposite direction.
Despite the fact that the fighters who spoke with ESPN refused to have their names mentioned out of fear of retribution by the UFC, it’s safe to assume that ESPN was not fabricating these stories or speaking about one or two fighters only.
The UFC video on the other hand, managed to find fighters who have had very successful careers (it was already established that the UFC had created over 29 millionaires—certainly the ones speaking in the video were among them) and they all spoke about how successful they have been because of the UFC.
No doubt. Many fighters have earned a lot of money and have been given fantastic opportunities thanks to the UFC. It is very unlikely however, that these same fighters would ever question the total split of revenues, or even care to challenge the idea. So long as they’re able to make more money from fighting than by doing anything else, they’re beyond happy.
That right there is the attitude and business model that the UFC relies on.
Do any of you remember when Lyoto Machida recently rejected an offer to fight because he felt that he deserved more money? Do you recall that he was then ostracized and put on ice by the UFC for his apparent greed? And that’s how the UFC treats one of its biggest stars and former champions.
I don’t care what Lorenzo Fertitta says, the fighters have a reason to fear retribution for speaking out or not complying with the requests of the UFC, because the UFC has proven many times over that they will punish (or fire) any fighter if they are so inclined to do so.
A FIGHTER UNION
Thinking about this a bit more, I have come to the conclusion that this will never happen (never say never, right?). At least, not until the veterans of the sport—the guys making millions and millions of dollars, and who sit on top on the pay scale food chain, stand up for the rights of those who are just starting out. This absolutely must be a collective effort by all fighters or it won’t (can’t) work.
Lorenzo Fertitta said that he is neutral on the subject and that he would never stand in the way of a union forming. He then went on to say however (as a deterrent, I’m sure) that the needs of someone like “Tito Ortiz” might then differ from someone who is just starting out in their career. This is true.
It’s also very true in football, hockey, baseball, basketball or any other major sport, which is precisely why it takes the unified support of the veterans to help pave the way for all future generations. If that never happens in MMA, it will only be because the guys at the top are obviously too selfish and are only concerned about themselves, and not the future of MMA or the younger generations of fighters that will someday replace them.
Then again, with zero job security at any level of this sport, who can really blame them?
ESPN 1, UFC 0
And last but not least, the winner is: ESPN.
ESPN hits the mainstream sporting demographic better than any other media outlet. The UFC does not. Instead, the UFC relies almost solely on amateur journalism, social media Internet forums, and a very small (by comparison) demographic of fans.
What that essentially means is that the ESPN video will be watched by a lot more people who aren’t necessarily interested in MMA, than the UFC videos that will only be watched by pre-existing fans who already watch and love the sport anyway.
This latest ESPN report will not damage the current fanbase of fight fans. What it will do however, is reinforce to non-fight fans why they should remain that way. The UFC won’t lose business over the ESPN report, but they certainly won’t gain any either.
And here’s another interesting perspective to think about:
“ESPN is helping build the Federal Trades Commissions case. They might have done it unintentionally, but a friend of mine in the Wrestling Industry said CM Punk was pulled by McMahon due to the ESPN piece. And McMahon wants no ties to the upcoming investigation.”
Personally, I don’t blame McMahon. Things are about to get very ugly for the UFC, whether you agree with me or not.