For the past few years, the UFC has flirted with the idea of making an official uniform for the fighters competing in the Octagon. Following a long process to find the right partner, the UFC has signed a six-year deal with Reebok, who will now become the exclusive athletic wear provider to the promotion and its athletes.
"We have come to an agreement in what we think is a landmark deal for both the sport of mixed martial arts as well as our brand in the UFC. We have partnered with Reebok and we will be introducing a new athlete outfitting policy that will begin in July 2015," UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta told FOX Sports this week.
"We look at this as Reebok and the UFC are changing the sports landscape once again. This has never been done in combat sports. Reebok will be the exclusive worldwide outfitter of the UFC. This will be the biggest non-broadcast partnership that our company has ever signed, so it is significant."
Reebok’s commitment to the UFC goes beyond just providing shorts for fighters to wear on the night they compete. According to Fertitta, Reebok is creating a new "combat training division" to develop a line of products specific for MMA athletes. The products include shirts, shorts, underwear, shoes and a slew of other training apparel to use on fight night and in preparation for an upcoming bout.
The UFC has never had an official apparel or uniform partner prior to now, but the real question about the deal then becomes how does this affect the athletes? Almost every fighter on the roster has a mixed bag of sponsors who provide fighters with shorts, shirts and compensation to wear their patch or logo into the Octagon.
The new outfitting policy will completely eliminate any patches or alternative sponsors being worn into the Octagon by the fighters as well as all other fight week activities such as weigh-ins, media days or open workouts as conducted by the UFC.
We are actually extremely proud to be able to say from the launch, we are going to be distributing the vast majority if not all of the revenues that are coming from this deal to the fighters
— UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta
There’s a big upside to this new policy, however, and that comes from the compensation package fighters will receive as soon as Reebok officially comes on board in July 2015.
"We are actually extremely proud to be able to say from the launch, we are going to be distributing the vast majority if not all of the revenues that are coming from this deal to the fighters," Fertitta revealed. "They will be paid on a per-fight basis as they perform, and the determination on how much they will get paid will be communicated to them in the coming weeks, but it will be based on where they are ranked on the day of the weigh-in prior to their fight.
"Obviously the champions will make the most money. Fighters ranked 1-5 will get a level of compensation, fighters ranked 6-10 will have a different level of compensation, fighters 10-15 and so forth and a different amount for fighters who at that time were not ranked. So it certainly provides an incentive model — the more successful they are, the more money they will make out of this program."
Fertitta, along with UFC president Dana White, confirmed that the rankings will play a major part in the compensation packages, which then gives fighters complete control over the money they make from the deal. The higher they go in the rankings, the more money they will be paid from the uniform deal.
The real kicker to this entire program is the fact that the fighters are not forced to give up any existing sponsors they already have or will earn in the future. The way the new program works, the fighters are only allowed to wear Reebok during fight week or UFC sponsored activities, but if a sponsor wants to pay for a fighter to make an appearance or use their likeness for an advertising campaign, that’s all fair game as it turns out.
The worry some fighters had about a potential uniform deal went beyond possible compensation, but also concern about current sponsors somehow being shut out all together. Fertitta compares the deal the UFC has with Reebok to the same kind of contract the NFL and all of the teams have with Nike.
"It’s no different than any other professional sports league. If you play in the NFL, Tom Brady wears a Nike uniform, DeMarco Murray wears a Nike uniform, but Tom Brady is actually sponsored by Under Armour and DeMarco Murray is sponsored by Adidas. So all of those existing deals can still stay in place," Fertitta said.
To fully understand the new UFC outfitting policy and deal with Reebok here are the major points of the program:
• The new policy will go into place the week of July 6, 2015, in coordination with International Fight week;
• Fighters can retain sponsors, but they can not be visible during UFC fight week or any UFC sponsored programming;
• Sponsor banners will be going away as of July 11, 2015, which coincides with UFC International Fight week;
• Fighters will be provided with a gear bag each week they fight with products including shorts, sweatpants, workout gear and anything else needed for preparation, as well as fight shorts, gloves and any other fight night apparel that’s necessary, such as hoodies;
• Corners for the fighters will also be provided with gear to wear during the fight and fight week;
• Fighters will work with Reebok to design their own specific ‘look’ including colors and other alterations to the uniform such as board shorts vs. Muay Thai trunks;
• A portion of proceeds from sales of the UFC/Reebok apparel in stores will be donated to ‘Fight for Peace’ — a charitable organization working with the promotion and apparel company;
• UFC will be creating an entirely new team to facilitate all equipment needs for the fighters. An equipment manager will be on site at all events to help with anything additional fighters might need. Fighters will also work with the equipment team on sizing or alterations that need to be made prior to fight week;
• Fighters are paid based on rankings with the following tier system:
• The payment is based on the fighter’s ranking on the day of the weigh-in prior to the fight;
• Fighters will also receive lifetime royalties from the sale of apparel in their likeness. For instance, if UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis has his own signature shorts, he will receive a cut of the profit for those shorts now and forever so long as they are being sold;
• Reebok will reveal the apparel in the spring of 2015;
• The UFC may sign a "title sponsor" to add to the uniform deal similar to European soccer, but it will be no more than one patch, nothing more;
• Royalties work on a capitalistic system just like payouts based on performance. Fighters who sell more product will be paid more money. Products will be sold in stores worldwide as well as on the UFC and Reebok websites. Fighters receive a 20-percent cut of the profits.
In the end, Fertitta and White believe this is not only a revolutionary deal for the sport — the first of its kind — but also a huge benefit for the fighters. Currently there are no set standards for sponsors in MMA and many fighters have complained in the past about how difficult it can be to find proper compensation leading up to a fight.
While both Fertitta and White reiterate that this new deal in no way impedes fighters from having sponsors just like many NFL players do off the field, they also hope this will help those athletes who aren’t able to secure big money deals leading into a fight.
"The answer is yes, we believe so," Fertitta told FOX Sports. "We’ve done a lot of research over the last two or three years trying to understand what the marketplace is for fighters in various positions of how they’re ranked or where they’re fighting on the card and how some of these sponsors determine that stuff.
"We feel we’ve created a program that is going to be at least that much and in some cases be more than what they’re currently making."
White agrees and thinks at the end of the day the new deal with Reebok is a win-win for everybody involved.
"This is in addition to what they already have," White stated. "They can keep all their sponsors, they can keep clothing sponsors, whatever it is. This is just adding onto whatever they’re already making."