Responding to Luke: Fighter Pay

Prior to Luke Thomas heading off for his much earned vacation (especially after the lashing from the Chris Weidman bump) it might be worthwhile to bring up a few things from his discussions regarding fighter pay since the issue hasn’t fizzled out in the mma community.

Luke made several statements that I believe are mischaracterizations of the arguments against the fighter pay discussion. I don’t think it was intentional, perhaps more of a misunderstanding of the following issues:

1 – Preliminaries are demonstrably valuable

2 – Fighters don’t have another choice and the UFC holds the cards

3 – Sponsorship Tax (not really an issue, just adding to his comments)

The first issue is the difference between an individual preliminary fighter and the Prelims in any UFC card. Luke is absolutely correct when he states that the Prelims have demonstrable value for the UFC’s bottom line, but the argument, as I and others have used it in the past, is that a particular Prelim fighter does not add to the bottom line of the UFC. If a fighter is an interchangeable entity in the prelims, by which I mean that the fighter could fall ill and be replaced without projected ticket sales increasing or decreasing, then that fighter is more than likely a star on the rise with very little if any inherent value to the organization at the present time. Quite frankly, that fighter is a calculated risk. While their performance warrants value, that value is wrapped up in the much larger entity of the Prelims rather than as an individual. As a collective, the prelim fighters have value, but as individuals…

Unfortunately, a replaceable fighter has as much bargaining power as the number of people he or she draws into an event –zero. In the eyes of the UFC, he or she is a prospect, perhaps a loss leader, and a risk packaged together with other individuals to create a product, the Prelims, that the UFC sells to Fox. I understand that my analysis may be a bit cold and even dehumanizing. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case in any star driven endeavor where you build up the signal drowned out by the noise.

The second argument Luke makes, is that the UFC is the only game in town and the argument that fighters have a choice is idiotic at best. He proceeds to state that if you want to be in the "pinnacle of the sport" you need to fight in the UFC. While I tend to agree, I think he is mischaracterizing the argument because when others and I stated that fighters have other choices, we don't mean to fight -rather other career paths. If it were not for the fact that the UFC has been additive, I would completely agree with Luke. By additive, I mean that the UFC and MMA have created an opportunity for these athletes to provide for themselves and their families, in addition to the traditional paths they would have followed after high school or college.

Luke is correct when he states that if you want to be in the "pinnacle of the sport", then the UFC holds all the cards, I’ll gladly add, they even own the casino. But his argument is "false" in the sense that he is not actually responding to what most of us mean. Additionally, in light of the developing MMA organizations across the globe and the sudden injection of star power into Bellator, it is very possible to compete in MMA -not to be the best in the world, but rather for cold hard cash like Rampage and Tito. Quite frankly, unless Ben Askren and Michael Chandler want to be at the very top of the sport, I think they should stay in Bellator and reap the benefits of being on top of a growing organization with Viacom’s coffers. They can choose to fight for money and fame rather than being the absolute best. With that in mind, if your desire is to be the best, then unfortunately the UFC is your goal, and like any career I think a fighter would have to be ignorant to a fault if they go into "fighting to be the best" without knowing full well that they are in the mercy of the UFC; it's like knowing that you will be selling your soul by working for Goldman Sachs. Luckily if you simply want to compete in MMA and make a living, you may have other options ahead of you.

From last week’s Chat, in response to Dan Hardy’s Sponsorship comments, Luke brought up some interesting talking points regarding sponsorships, in particular the $100K fee. A bit of digging will show folks that the UFC does use a sliding fee for companies from $50K to $250K. I am almost certain that the $250K must be reserved for Fox shows, since prime time advertising on Fox can be in the $100K range for 30 seconds. With that in mind, Microsoft got a great deal on Demitrious Johnson for $250K and 24 minutes. The grumbling regarding this sponsorship tax seems to stem from the idea that it hurts fighters getting sponsorships. In light of some recent news out of Roy Nelson and War Machine, it might not be such a bad thing to make sure that these companies can pay to play before writing checks their ***es can’t cash.

But to add some talking points, the UFC can completely deny fighters the ability to wear sponsorship clothing. It’s their production, it’s their call; in fact, when they joined Fox the UFC had to get rid of gun sponsors because apparently Fox holds the cards. I believe the reason that the UFC chooses not to eliminate sponsorships is because sponsors add a substantial amount to a fighter’s pay and of course to the UFC’s bottom line. Without sponsorships, I think we would hear a greater outcry from fighters regarding their pay. From Chris Camozzi’s statements regarding UFC 158, it appears that walk out shirts have gone down greatly in value from 10K to a flat 3k for fighters on a card. Coupled with sponsorship logos on shorts and banners, I think it’s fair to speculate that a fighter could make more from sponsors than their guaranteed fight money if they are on the bottom end of the ladder. Because of the large impact of sponsors, I cannot help but feel that sponsorships cannot be dismissed in any talks regarding fighter pay since these negotiations go through the UFC machine.

As a last bit, I’m going to do a bit of self-promotion and ask folks to read the following post I made about a year ago: I think Luke may have been the only one to read it, but stated that he disagreed with the points I made. From yesterday’s chat, I think my conclusions regarding picking and choosing PPV’s were spot on and some of my other conclusions may be as well. Additionally, if possible please get Duke Roufus for a TechTalk. PLEASE… and of course enjoy the vacation.

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