Before Saturday's big fight, smaller fights brew behind scenes
The UFC is requiring all sponsors to pay a licensing fee to put brands on fighters
Dana White ordered UFC fighters to not sign a licensing agreement with EA Sports
If the UFC sticks to its guns on the EA issue, it could keep Fedor from ever joining
Not everything related to UFC 100 is about big fights. Big business is also brewing under the surface, which, when it comes to mixed martial arts' most visible promoter, shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.
As the anticipated card at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas becomes the focus of the MMA world, some fighters under contract to Zuffa -- and some who aren't -- are trying to determine how two recent announcements could impact their immediate fortunes.
The first, related to event sponsorship, will be felt as early as Saturday. The second, an edict from UFC president Dana White to mixed martial artists everywhere regarding the use of their image rights, remains a developing story.
After discussions intensified inside Zuffa regarding companies such as Full Tilt Poker gaining less-than-cost advertising access for live UFC productions -- thus becoming de facto event sponsors by splashing fighters from head to toe with their logo -- the decision came down less than a month ago that sponsors would be required to pay a $100,000 licensing fee directly to the UFC for the right to feature their brand on fighters.
For the UFC, according to sources familiar with the company's thinking, motivations are simple: the promoter wants its share, which it believes it earned by providing the platform for fighters to make significant sponsorship dollars; protection for official sponsors, such as Bud Light and Harley Davidson; additional control over brands gaining exposure to UFC audiences; and to further marginalize MMA agents and managers.
The new policy does nothing to restrict fighters from signing deals with sponsors that would put them in television, radio or print spots. But any deal involving an appearance during a UFC-produced event without the mandated licensing fee is verboten as of now.
That decision could cost fighters 35- to 40-percent of their sponsor-generated revenue, according to one veteran MMA agent, which is significant considering the UFC likes to sell the potential of increased sponsorship dollars as a way to augment fighter purses.
Several managers with track records of friendly relations with Zuffa said the potential loss of sponsorship dollars is nearly unjustifiable.
For instance, one top competitor on the card could miss out on as much as $300,000 in guaranteed funds after two deals fell through following word of the UFC licensing requirement, SI.com has learned. While a new sponsorship situation emerged that could be as lucrative, nothing is guaranteed.
As one manager put it, the UFC's latest move appears to be another test of the "conditions" athletes in the company are willing to work under. At this point, fighters continue to surrender, and haven't given Zuffa much reason to pause.
The EA Sports skirmish
Causing a stir over the weekend were rumors -- now confirmed by SI.com -- of the UFC's attempt to make it difficult, if not impossible, for fighters to sign a licensing agreement that would put their likeness in the recently announced "EA Sports MMA" title, which is set for release next year.
Beginning the week before July 4, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, at the behest of Dana White, called managers with this message: If you've been in the UFC and think maybe you want to come back someday, or you haven't had the pleasure and plan on fighting in the Octagon, you better not sign that EA licensing agreement.
White is said to be adamant that aligning with EA is no different than declaring war on the UFC and its wildly successful THQ-produced UFC 2009 Undisputed, which sold more than a million copies in its first month. Fighters, from world-class to journeyman, were told the prudent choice was to decline money offers from EA -- deals with fighters on the level of Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Nick Diaz, Mo Lawal and Jake Shields, range from $5,000 to $15,000 for a one-game, two-year nonexclusive deal, according to multiple sources.
In Miller's case, potential consequences weren't enough to prevent him from aligning with EA, the middleweight told SI.com. However other fighters, such as Nathan Diaz -- who avoided signing UFC's exclusive licensing game agreement with THQ, which provides most fighters with zero compensation and was at the center of the controversy that saw Jon Fitch banished from the UFC for 24 hours -- decided against participating in the EA sports title, according to his management.