The UFC made waves this winter with the announcement of a uniform deal with Reebok. The agreement, at the time, boiled down simply to fighters wearing custom Reebok gear in the week leading up to and during their fight. The purported result being that all money made from that deal would go to the fighters, to make up for their private sponsors, which would no longer be featured on their apparel or banner. Some saw the deal as a major positive shift, the chance to give the sport a cleaner, more professional look, and move closer to “mainstream” status, with a mainstream uniform.
Others saw the move as yet another in a long stream of brand over athlete promotion from the UFC. Fighters would no longer be repping their own clothing brands or the brands that had chosen to sponsor them, they’d all be lumped under one umbrella, paid on a tiered system based on their assumed value, rather than on whatever value they’d been able to create for themselves as a sponsorship target.
Now, Bleacher Report has gotten their hands on more details from the UFC’s uniform deal, and their report has turned up some surprising tidbits:
Fighters ranked in the UFC’s official rankings will be the first to pick the color of their products. For a bout between two ranked fighters, the higher ranked fighter receives first selection; the lower-ranked fighter is required to pick a contrasting color. Unranked fighters will work with matchmakers to select a color.
Each fighter’s corner people are also required to wear Reebok material, and they will receive the gear upon check-in. If a fighter’s corner refuses to wear the product, their fighter will be subject to “penalties, fines and may be removed from the fight.”
If a fighter elects to wear headphones, they must be Octagon by Monster headphones.
In addition to all fight week-related activities, fighters must also wear Reebok apparel for any UFC-produced show. This includes (but is not limited to): Road to the Octagon, UFC Embedded, UFC Tonight, UFC Countdown, Ultimate Insider and The Ultimate Fighter.
This is in addition to what we already know: That fighters must wear Reebok attire throughout fight week, and that fighters will be held responsible for any lost items and may be penalized up to and including the point of their removal from their bout. There’s also some expanded details on how the UFC will operate with Reebok. As part of this program, the UFC has created a new Equipment Department, that will conduct Q&A and information sessions with fighters, and help fighters design their merchandise.
In his own excellent breakdown of what this deal and its various provisions may mean for the UFC’s fighters, Luke Thomas really put the stamp on just how important this deal could be when going forward. In comparing it to the NFL’s uniform deal and uniform rules (which are created with the help of a players association), Thomas had this to say:
The UFC, on the other hand, finds itself in uncharted territory. It has created an apparel policy without the approval of its athletes. In so doing, it has changed the method and potential payout of sponsorship dollars. It has also helped push the boundaries of what it means to be an independent contractor by raising questions on what they can be reasonably told to do. If fighters as independent contractors are to go this far to comply, are they actually employees? And if they are, aren’t they entitled to a series of benefits independent contractors are not? Depending on the answer, it could have a profound impact on the UFC.
In the short run, this new policy means little. After all, we are months away from July. In the long run, however, this policy could eventually be viewed as one of the most pivotal decisions in company history.
As this new business venture for the UFC continues to unfold, no doubt it will create some interesting changes for MMA and the MMA landscape. Even if things go exactly as planned for the UFC, the removal of individual sponsors and banners will be a huge change in the sport’s culture and the scope of which may not be apparent now.
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