For many a UFC fighter, Reebok, the company’s official apparel sponsor, is simply a faceless corporate entity, and thus an easy target.
Fighter complaints about the company’s official apparel sponsor have become practically a Twitter staple since the partnership went into effect a couple years back.
For veteran lightweight Joe Lauzon, though, things are a little different. Reebok is practically his neighbor, a short hop up the road from his gym to company headquarters south of Boston.
As such, he’s been been by for a handful of face-to-face meetings with company execs, the nature of which has left him with the distinct impression that the anger often directed at Reebok isn’t helping anybody, least of all the fighters themselves.
“We’ve basically become toxic at this point,” Lauzon said on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “There’s no way that Nike, or Under Armour or some other sponsor is going to come in, because, the UFC took the best offer they got, right? Reebok offered the most money. It’s not like Nike came in and was going to give them more money and the UFC went, ‘no, we’re going to go with Reebok instead.’ They went with the best offer, so Reebok was willing to spend the most, and take a gamble on us, and it’s backfired, it’s shot them in the face, right? It has not worked out at all.”
Frustrations boiled over at last month’s UFC Athlete Retreat, when Kajan Johnson vented at reps from Reebok and Budweiser, which ultimately led to an impromptu session with the fighters in which they aired their grievances.
Lauzon, however, believes the complaints should have been directed somewhere other than Reebok -- something to which Johnson himself later admitted.
“Almost all the issues are not Reebok’s issues,” Lauon said. “The money was negotiated by the UFC. Reebok’s not going to go ‘we’re going to give you triple what we talked about.’ It doesn’t work like that. It’s still a business. I think things were directed the wrong way. I’m trying to get everyone on board and understand the situation a little better, and everyone I talked to, I think they understand it better after I asked a lot of people straight up, how are you doing for sponsors before and after. And I think 90 percent of peopler are saying they are doing the same or better now than they were before. And some of these are guys who had a lot of fights.”
Lauzon also believes some lower-card fighters enter the company with unrealistic expectations of how much sponsorship money they might be making if the Reebok deal didn’t exist.
“Some of the newer guys, like Kajan Johnson, so he’ll probably be fighting on Fight Pass when he comes in,” Lauzon said. “Any time you’re on Fight Pass, that means nothing in sponsors. No one’s watching. So like, these guys that are just coming in, that are complaining they’re not making money, they’re probably on Fight Pass and they probably wouldn’t be making money anyway. I think that everyone is hearing about the golden days of sponsors where guys were guys were getting $150,000 to wear a walkout T-shirt and they’re thinking ‘oh like that would be me,’ and that’s just not the case.”
Another common critique of the Reebok deal is the tiered payout system, in which fighters are paid a certain amount of money based on the number of fights they’ve had in the UFC. So a fighter like Alexander Gustafsson, who’s drawn several big crowds of his hometown of Stockholm, Sweden, still only gets a $10,000 apparel payment based on his number of UFC fights.
For his part, Lauzon, who has been with the UFC since a memorable upset of Jens Pulver in 2006, is in a higher tier. And he’s come to consider his Reebok money part of his show money, rather than ancillary income. He believes other fighters should do the same as they negotiate their next contracts.
“For me, I think about my show and win money,” Lauzon said. “Everything is coming from the UFC at this point, right? My contract I’m at 62 and 62. And I get 20 in sponsors. So I don’t think my show money is 62 and 62, my show money is now 82. So it doesn’t matter what’s coming from show, what’s coming from Reebok. It’s what I’m depositing in my bank account. I’m sure Gustafsson, who is a huge name, he’s getting a lot more money on the contract end.”
Under the previous system, the fighter would have to hustle sponsors on their own -- or hire a manager to do it -- which was always another thing to worry about on a fight week. Lauzon doesn’t miss that system. And while he some believe that fighter individuality and creativity has been stifled under Reebok, Lauzon looks at the flip side: Gone are some of the low-rent sponsors of old.
“I want to be defined on what I do, not the shorts that I’m wearing,” Lauzon said. “So I don’t think it’s a big deal. I think it looks so much better without having all kind of shorts. It just looks crappy with their sponsors, they have logos falling off or it just looks really trashy and crappy. NASCAR, the car’s a billboard right? But at least the letters and stuff aren’t falling off. I think it’s a little trashy.”
At the end of the day, Reebok is not going to change the terms of the UFC apparel deal no matter how many fighters complain on Twitter. So Lauzon hopes that with several years remaining on the deal, they’ll give the company a chance, so that maybe the next time around, there will be more money for everyone.
“All these fighters complaining, it’s not going to look good coming down the line,” Lauzon said. “When this deal is over, sponsors are going to be pretty much done as far as fighters go with apparel. They’re going to oop, you guys ruined it, you guys screwed yourself. So my thing is, if you’re more positive about stuff, be more positive about stuff, and wear Reebok, Reebok will make some money, and then hopefully Reebok will either renew, or someone else will come in over the top and come up with more money.”