ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” Questions the UFC’s Pay Scale

Sunday, January 15th, 2012 by Tony Reid

I think it’s great that a media outlet outside the world of MMA addressed this obvious issue and for one reason…They can’t be blackballed! I joke, I joke, I keed, I keed. If you watched the segment this Sunday morning you heard that GSP reportedly rakes in about $4 million per fight while, which most of us knew, the guys on the low end of the totem pole are earning $6k fight/win purse to start. For those of you that are brand new to the MMA game this means that the fighter will take home $6k for showing up and if they win they will get another $6k as a win bonus. The scale grows from there, of course, all the way up to the elite fighters such as GSP that are making millions per fight. A number of the top tier guys also get a percentage of the pay per view buys, which is where the real money is found. This tidbit of fight salary info that the ESPN piece revolves around could be a little misleading…

In actuality the panel on OTL, which included former UFC Heavyweight Champion Ricco Rodriguez, ESPN’s MMA columnist Josh Gross and Rob Maysey of Mixed Martial Artists Fighters Association, did not  add all that much to the conversation, at least nothing the average MMA fan didn’t already know. Ricco did say the following “The UFC gives you the best opportunity. It would be great to see more opportunities for more fighters, but at the moment, even if UFC pay is lacking, it beats the alternatives in MMA.” Which I feel, speaks to both sides of the argument. Yes, the UFC does offer the best opportunity because it is the only major player in the game, which was one of the key points of the segment. They are the major player in the game but not the only one. Has anyone heard of Bellator? Shark Fights? Ring of Combat? King of the Cage? You may say “Tony, you moron, of course there are other promotions but none near the level of the UFC.” I would tell you that I agree, so what are the viable options of a player in the NFL. NBA or MLB when they get cut? Nada.

The most interesting comments, to me, came from Lorenzo Fertitta himself. He stated that the UFC has made 39 millionaires to this point. Truly, that is an amazing number when you consider the UFC itself was bought for $2 million just over a decade ago. He also stated that since the company started making money in 2005, the company has paid a quarter of a billion dollars in fighter’s salaries. Yet another amazing statistic. He also made a statement to the effect that what the UFC has built was done the American way, in risking your own money, using your entrepreneurial spirit in creating and building something special, a comment I agree with wholeheartedly.

Here is where my problem with the company begins. First of all, I understand the UFC is a privately held company and they have no legal obligation to disclose their earnings as far as pay per view, live gate, merchandising and all other ancillary monies they earn. I get that, trust me, I do. But maybe, just maybe the UFC can learn something from boxing in this case. Boxing has the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, a federal law in which promoters are required to disclose to boxers how much money their fights generate. No such law applies to the sport of MMA. Trust me, this may be the only thing I would want the UFC or MMA to adopt from boxing but that would eliminate any potential confusion or further questions and allow everyone to operate on a level playing field, which, of course, could be the reason it has yet to be done. We all know from those after school commercials that “Knowledge is Power” and the UFC enjoys having the power, all the power. More (or any for that matter) transparency would be a great thing in this case. Also, in the report the angle of profit sharing/revenue sharing was addressed. It was stated that the UFC shares somewhere between 10% and 15% of revenue with the fighters on their roster. Compare that to the other major sports in America such as the NBA, which recently ended their labor dispute, one which started as the players were already receiving nearly 50% of revenue. Similar numbers are found in other major sports. Mr. Fertitta responded to these numbers by saying that the UFC is actually “in that same neighborhood”of revenue sharing. Panelist Maysey had a funny response to this statement in saying “The UFC is in the neighborhood of the major professional sports in terms of payout percentages compared to revenue generated in the same way as I am in the ‘neighborhood’ of challenging for Anderson Silva’s middleweight title.” So, with no other pertinent information being made public this will continue to be an ongoing issue and a bone of contention to everyone collecting a paycheck from the UFC and all other interested parties including agents, managers and the like. Of course the “M” word came up on more than one occasion during the segment. Is the UFC becoming a monopoly? Well, let’s take a look at the definition of this very word. “Monopoly- exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices.” By definition many things could be considered a monopoly. I will let you be the judge as to whether the UFC monopolizes the sport of MMA.

Here is where my problem with the report begins. How can ESPN do a special segment on the UFC’s pay scale and revenue sharing without ever having viewed the company’s financials? How can they run the piece without a single comment from an active fighter on the UFC roster? They spoke to Ken Shamrock, a UFC Hall of Famer and legend in the sport but he has very obvious and very public run ins with the company. I respect the fact that they attempted to get to the bottom of a legit issue but I would expect more fact, more quotes, and more information in general to back up or at least add to any story shown on such a prominent network.

I am as big of a fan of the UFC as anybody on the face of this earth. I admire and respect all that the Fertittas and Dana White have accomplished in basically creating a sport and growing to the point that it has become a legitimate worldwide cultural phenomenon. As the stage gets bigger it must be understood that more and more scrutiny will come. That being said I am as big of a fan of the athletes that put, literally and figuratively, their lives on the line every time they step in to the Octagon. The UFC gives and gives back so much outside the scope of just the fighters’ salaries. They help fighter’s families when in need, they will give cars and other non monetary objects to fighters, they help many fans that come to them in need. They treat everyone in the company like family. They also treat the business like a business. If you perform you will be paid accordingly, like any other successful business. ESPN attempts to address this legitimate issue but the finished product they presented was more pathetic than Anthony Johnson’s weight cut.

To see the ESPN segment click the link below…

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/page/UFCpay/ufc-fighters-say-low-pay-most-painful-hit-all