Today the UFC announced a partnership with Reebok that involves all UFC fighters ditching their mishmash of sponsors and fight wear and donning official uniforms. The details include a seven-year, seventy-million dollar agreement between the two brands, fighters getting 20% “off the backend” for all gear sold in their names, and sponsorship monies being doled out according to where that particular fighter resides on the rankings.
Yeah, there are a variety of reasons why this dramatic change in a particularly high-profile part of the industry sucks – which we’ll get into in a moment – but at the end of the day this is one more step in the evolution of the sport. And evolution is progress.
The advent of uniforms to MMA’s biggest and most important organization means the exclusion of all outside sponsors (even the banners that are unfurled and displayed in corners during the fighters’ introductions will cease), and of course that means a significant source of revenue for fighters will dry up. That sucks.
Reebok-made uniforms also means that a critical and likely fatal blow will be dealt to the vast majority of MMA-related apparel companies out there, especially those that rely heavily on fighters wearing their logos in the Octagon. That sucks.
Doomed as well will be most managers whose main job was to secure sponsors. They’re suddenly rendered unnecessary. That sucks, too.
Since official rankings will determine how much of the Reebok-sponsorship dough gets, and official rankings are voted on by media, that places the press in a very precarious situation. After all, if they’re “bros” with a fighter, why not help their bro get more money by putting him somewhere higher on the rankings than maybe he belongs? And what if a manager or coach leans on a reporter, threatening to remove access if he doesn’t vote for his fighter? What then? That whole ball of wax sucks ethically.
Finally, just how much will fighters get out of this Reebok sponsorship deal? Will Jon Jones be making more than if he had his own sponsors? What about someone of Yancy Medeiros or Chico Camus’ celebrity stature? Will he be making more or less? And how accountable are these payouts? Can a fighter or manager ask to see the books to confirm of they’re actually getting the right percentage? This part could suck in a big way.
All of these are very viable reasons why the news of a Reebok sponsorship deal and official uniforms should be met with trepidation. But there’s a bit of upside to it all, and it’s things that can’t be ignored.
First of all, gone will be the days of sponsors screwing over fighters. No one will have to take to social media or the forums to out a clothing maker who failed to send payments or whose check bounced. It’s all Reebok now, and Reebok is a real company, not some fly-by-night operation run in someone’s basement.
Secondly, gone will be the patchwork of sometimes questionable names and logos plastered on shorts, all of which have served to create an image of MMA that maybe isn’t the most accurate anymore. Remember when every fighter’s ass had “Condom Depot” printed on it? Remember when a few became walking advertisements for online gambling companies? That stuff was lowbrow, and now it’ll be relegated to the lesser leagues.
Finally, uniforms means the sport has edged just that much closer to being a true mainstream endeavor. Sure, it was cool as hell to watch an early UFC and see dudes in Speedos fighters dudes in gis, or dudes in wrestling singlets throwing down with dudes in karate uniforms. But we’re 20 years removed from those days, and it’s time to evolve.
Yeah, there are positives and negatives to the news that broke today, but ultimately, it’s progress. And progress is good.
What do you think about the whole Reebok-uniforms thing?