MMA Athletes: Fighting For Every Dollar
It is easy to make the argument that the UFC is the fastest rising sport in the country and possibly in the world. For someone who is looking to get into the sports industry, it could seem like a potential “gravy train” to financial success. With the landscape of potential major league clients diluted due to heavy competition, MMA may look like a nice alternative to leagues such as the NFL or MLB for prospective agents, managers, or companies. I decided to look a little deeper into the cash flow of a UFC fighter, and his potential to make money down the line.
Just like in major league sports, you have your stars and your role players, your rookies and your veterans. With the UFC; however, the gap is a little larger and the talent pool is a lot smaller. The UFC signs its fighters to contracts based on number of fights and not years like in major league sports. A rookie contract is greatly reduced from that of an established veteran, unlike football where a rookie can come in and be paid millions of dollars before stepping foot on a field. The contracts aren’t guaranteed, and if you find yourself in a losing slump, you will be looking to work elsewhere fast. For most fighters though, you get paid to show (fight) and you get paid to win. Usually the figures are the same to show and to win, so a loss could mean half of your potential purse for the fight. The UFC also offers fight bonuses as added incentives for their fighters. Fight bonuses are rewarded for the fight of the night, knockout of the night, and submission of the night and could be substantial to a fighter. It is the UFC’s way to sweeten the pot for a good fight.
After looking at salary figures from the last few Pay Per View events, it seems that the average fighter’s salary ranges from around $6,000 to $35,000 to show and to win, hardly a fraction of an NFL game check. Marquee fighters who have re-negotiated their rookie contracts earn in the lower six figure range, with the top level salary per fight that I have seen topping out at $500,000. Fight bonuses usually vary, but range between $50,000 to $70,000, a potential substantial bonus for someone in the lower pay range. A fighter could also be awarded multiple bonuses for a fight, which could make for a huge pay day. This past weekend, UFC Welterweight Josh Koscheck earned both fight of the night and submission of the night bonuses for his win over Anthony Johnson. Koscheck’s salary for the fight was $53,000 to show and $53,000 to win, and added to the $70,000 per bonus award, equaled a total of $246,000. Not bad for a night’s work, but hardly the norm.
It is safe to say that fighters make most of their money through endorsements. Companies pay good money to advertise their brand on a fighter through some sort of signage or apparel. I was curious to see how much fighters could potentially make through these kind of endorsements. After looking into it I found some numbers for Joe Lauzon, a ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ veteran and mid-level UFC fighter with not too much name cache’ but someone who was certainly going to be on T.V. The numbers are as follows:
- Team hat: $5,000
- Front of team shirt (entire front): $15,000
- Back of shirt:
- Top banner (large font, across entire shirt): $1,000
- Small banners (about 8 total): $500
- Fight Shorts:
- Butt banner $5,000
- Outside sides of thighs, front or back: $3,500 each (there’s 4)
- Inside of thighs (4 available): $2,500
These numbers, when added up equal $54,000, which was likely more than Joe made for the entire fight. Remember this is for a mid-level fighter, so I would have to think that fighters such as Chuck Liddell and Brock Lesnar, etc are making in the six to seven figure range for their sponsorships in addition to their fight salary and potential bonuses. If you were someone who wanted to get into the business of MMA and represent fighters, it would be your job to secure these sponsors for your fighters, and would also most likely be your main source of revenue.
Fighters could also take these sponsorships, and with the help of a good manager, turn them into endorsement deals. Print ads, commercials, and online signage is a very profitable business and could be a great way to add increased revenue for your fighter. Also, endorsement deals are different from sponsorship deals in the sense that the UFC doesn’t ban their fighters from endorsing brands, but have recently put certain sponsors on their own little blacklist at UFC events. Brands who have challenged the UFC in some way, big or small, have found themselves on the outs with the UFC, and it can affect some fighters profoundly. The UFC can justify this by saying that in other promotions, the sponsorship dollars don’t even come close since the UFC is so popular. They feel that controlling sponsorships is perfectly justified. There was talk around UFC 100 that the UFC was going to charge potential sponsors $100,000 for the right to sponsor a fighter at the event because of the sheer magnitude of the night. Is this any different than the NFL charging millions of dollars for 30 second commercials during the Superbowl? That is to be debated, but is something to be considered if you are a company looking to get involved.
There is money to be made if you are a fighter or represent a fighter in the UFC. Compared to other professional sports organizations and boxing, the UFC still seems to be on the lower side of things as far as compensation for their athletes, but for a privately owned company who puts on and promotes their own events, it is reasonable for the moment. Still, some fights feature fighters who make $300,000 against fighters who are making $30,000, something I wouldn’t exactly call fair, especially when the $30,000 fighter wins. Such is life in the UFC at the moment, and one would think it is just going to get better as it gets bigger.
Please post any questions or comments and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Follow me on Twitter @Zachlipari