The Venum sponsorship deal has upset MMA fans, as is customary with almost every big change. The “Reebok Era” has ended, and this partnership will prove to be very critical in the UFC’s branding long term.
Among the many complaints about the previous Reebok deal was the amount of money fighters were paid by Reebok, and the amount of sponsorship money some fighters lost. As well as the seemingly brazen lack of originality and detail by Reebok’s team.
Reebok partnered with the UFC (MMA’s premiere league) to primarily clothe fighters with custom made ‘Fight Kits’. Fighters were paid according to their status and experience under the UFC’s banner.
No one knows the exact numbers of fight night salaries. However, this analysis is based on MMA sources with the most access to information about fight purses.
Fight Kit Purse Augmentation
Reebok’s pay scale awards fighters $3.5k for 1-3 bouts; $4k for 4-5 bouts; $5k for 6-10 bouts; $10k for 11-15 bouts; $15k for 16-20 bouts; $20k for 21+ bouts; $30k to a title challenger; and $40k to a champion on fight night.
First, let’s look at the Reebok payouts relative to fighters’ salaries. Champions like Khabib Nurmagomedov earned around $6 million in 2019 and an extra 0.007% from Reebok.
Valentina Shevchenko (Flyweight champion) earned $560K in 2019 and just over 7% extra.
Darren Till (#5 Middleweight contender) earned $331K over two fights and an extra $5k, a 3% bonus. Tatiana Suarez (unranked Strawweight) earned $64K in one fight, receiving an extra $4k, which is a 6% bonus. Now I present this to you for perspective.
Only around twenty fighters are actually losing money on fight night to the Venum sponsorship. However, most of them are national heroes like Till, Khabib, and Conor McGregor.
In contrast, the Reebok numbers give a different impression when comparing salaries of unknown fighters. Below are figures for those fighters from 2019.
Unknown Contenders and Nonranked
Mackenzie Dern (#11 Strawweight) earned $36.5 and an $3.5k bonus, a 9.6% augmentation; Nina Ansaroff (#5 Strawweight now named Nina Nunes) earned $29,000 and an extra $5K, a 17% bonus; Cole Williams (unranked welterweight) earned $10.5k and an extra $3.5k, a 33% bonus. Considering almost 40% of the roster earned less than $45K in 2018, this apparel deal is great for the UFC’s middle and working class athletes.
The Venum sponsorship is now $4k for 1-3 bouts; $4.5k for 4-5 bouts; $6k for 6-10 bouts; $11k for 11-15 bouts; $16k for 16-20 bouts; $21k for 21+ bouts; $32k to a title challenger; and $42k to a champion. Many claim that the new deal does not keep up with inflation and the fighters are thus being paid less. However, there is no proof that Reebok would have offered more than what they were already paying.
Some reactions to the Venum deal have a similar tone to those during the Reebok launch in 2015. Fans clamored to use vocal minorities like Brendan Schaub as the go-to examples of money lost.
Harangues echoed as if everyone was getting paid six figures in sponsorships. While Schaub likely was making that much, we can’t all be friends with Joe Rogan. Schaub got a lot of associative fame from Joe from 2013 through 2015.
Additionally, everyone didn’t start their career on a reality show in one of its highest-rated seasons in history the way Brendan did.
Attention to Detail
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Reebok previewed multiple fight kits in 2015 with the wrong name on it. Some of these names were misspelled. Some of them were birth names of South American fighters instead of their stage names.
For example, Gilbert Melendez was spelled “Giblert Melendez”. Reebok’s Combat Training department was new at the time.
But, the senior business director Michael Lunardelli did not seem very contrite about it all, so the backlash was strong. Additionally, the kits’ designs were trite to put it mildly.
Reebok is a Sinking Ship
Understand that Reebok inked a deal with the UFC because it was mutually beneficial. Considering Adidas was looking to sell Reebok as recently as Fall 2020, MMA fans should be relieved that the relationship has ended. In 2005, Adidas bought Reebok for $3.8 billion. Last Fall, Adidas Chief Executive, Kasper Rorsted aimed to have Reebok sold by March of this year.
The falling star is projected by Forbes to be sold for $2.4 billion. That is $1.4 billion less, 16 years later; they are basically giving it away. MMA fans rejoice, the UFC is no longer engaged to the middle child of U.S. sports apparel!
Instead, they have found someone younger, hotter, and with less baggage in Venum. Venum and the UFC both have so much room to grow as niche brands in the U.S. Even better, Venum has been sponsoring fighters for years on the UFC stage.
Drama in Brazil: A Logistical Speed Bump
The new partnership with Venum will be optimized if the tensions in Brazil can be resolved. In 2016, owners Andre Vieira and Frank Dupuis split into two separate companies with Vieira seizing control of Venum Brazil.
Reports give the impression that Vieira is an interloper who has banned the UFC from selling products in Brazil and banned UFC fighters from wearing Venum gear during fight weeks on Brazilian soil.
Vieira told MMAFighting, “I’ve contacted them, said I was open to negotiations, that I’m not here to be a problem.” and followed those comments by saying he was willing to escalate the drama.
His tone matches mafiosos selling “insurance” to a store clerk because they heard someone wanted to burn down their store; they aren’t here to cause trouble though.
It made more sense for the UFC to be signed with Dupuis, who is still in charge of Venum’s global operations. However, Vieira has resolved to cause as much disturbance as possible.
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Branding is a Marathon
Ultimately, guaranteed sponsorships allow fighters to focus on their training with one less distraction. This practice is consistent with the UFC’s building of the Performance Institute. The facility was built to benefit the fighters.
Fighters get free meals, access to recovery machines, weight management resources, practice space, equipment and more.
The new Venum sponsorship is no different. Thus, the Venum sponsorship is a much better deal than remaining with Reebok, which would have been an anchor.
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September’s Very Own