COMMENTARY | A few months ago, Dana White said he was working on a deal to have uniforms in the UFC. This would include shorts, walkout shirts, and hats. This prospective apparel company would be the main backer for the UFC and its fighters. In MMA’s history, fighters relied tremendously on these companies to earn a living. Currently, sponsors still play an integral role in the total compensation of fighters. While exact numbers are unknown, sponsorship deals can add up to several hundred dollars for lesser known fighters to a few thousand dollars for mid-card fighters and up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for household names like Anderson Silva and Georges St Pierre.
With already mixed feedback, White’s announcement has caused a firestorm of public and fighter outrage. But there are benefits from such a deal. The obvious motive for uniforms is more money for everyone. Assuming that Nike, Reebok or a similar company signs on, this would generate an incredible revenue source for the UFC in advertising and merchandising deals. The benefit to the fighters is that UFC would share the revenue stream based on a formula, flat amount, or percentage. This would most likely be based on ranking or where they are positioned on the fight card. The deal makes sense for fighters as long as they make more money.
Uniforms would create a better image for the fighters. Remembering several years ago, a Tito Ortiz walkout shirt had the phrase “Dana White is my bitch”. The fans loved it, but this was in a different era. Nowadays, the UFC has mainstream media attention and is targeting a larger and more diverse demographic of women and younger children. The UFC cannot afford to have such an obscene statement. Imagine the firestorm if a fighter’s t-shirt had a drug reference or rape innuendo. We have already seen the UFC crack down on fighters making homophobic statements or obscene tweets. Uniforms would mitigate much of this risk and avoid bad publicity.
Uniforms would help to create more standardized look inside the ring. As a fan, I always laughed how companies like Condom Depot, VA Mortgage Lender, or Dynamic Fastener sponsored fighters. I’d much rather see targeted MMA or athletic companies doing the sponsoring. The advantage with the current system is that fighters have the freedom to get support from almost any company. Moving forward, hopefully there will be an opportunity to have fighter chosen company sponsors.
Finally, from a fighter perspective, it would be nice to not deal with finding sponsors. Fighters must find sponsors, negotiate payment, and also get paid. Sponsors will typically seek out fighters on the main card, but what about lesser known fighters. Most often, they struggle to find sponsors and become distracted on the business end of MMA when they should be focused on training and the upcoming fights.
It will be interesting to see the uniform situation play out. As long as fighters see an increased benefit and flexibility, I support uniforms.