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ESPN Really Reaching With This UFC Fighter “Pay-gate” Thing

ESPN aired an “Outside the Lines” piece this past Sunday that peaked my interest immediately when I saw the topic listed on my cable providers information guide. The topic was UFC fighter pay. I am a UFC fan. And, I have a background as a compensation professional. It seemed like something worth taking a look at.

If you are a fan 0f the sport of mixed martial arts, I suggest you give it a watch here.

And, after doing so, view Dana White’s rebuttal video:

A Culture Of Pay For Performance…

ESPN wants to focus on the entry level fighters. It’s a fact that the entry-level UFC fighter doesn’t make near the wage of a league minimum player in the four major sports in base pay. However, the UFC isn’t a league that’s been around for decades. In reality, the UFC is more like a growing start-up.

The UFC has a graduating scale for their first three fights. In their first fight a truly entery level fighter will receive $6,000 to show and an additional $6,000 if he wins. These number increase to $8,000 and $8,000 for the second fight and $10,000 and $10,000 for the third.

That’s a potential total of $48,000 for a fighter in their first year. However, that’s not where the pay stops. And, I am not speaking of dollars earned outside the octagon, such as sponsorship deals.

The UFC’s typical bonus payout structure offers three main bonus payouts per event (in addition to other discretionary bonuses). The three common bonuses are fight of the night, submission of the night and knockout of the night. For a PPV event, each payout has recently been $75,000.

Fighters can actually get multiple bonuses in one night. Thus, a fighter making the minimum $6,000/$6,000 can actually walk away with an additional $150,000 if they win fight of the night and get a finish bonus.

Generally, a fighter will, on average, fight three-times in a calendar year. That means there is $498,000 available to an entry level fighter when these bonuses are added to base pay.

This type of highly leveraged pay is not often used in the other North American sports. However, it is often used in corporate America.

Fighter Compensation Going Forward…

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UFC On FOX; A Missed Opportunity

If you blinked you may have missed the UFC’s debut on Fox. Last week I mentioned the somewhat curious decision to broadcast only one fight live on Fox. Something that I didn’t point out previously is that this wasn’t part of the UFC-Fox deal. This broadcast was an extra event for Fox to start building up an audience for the UFC. In 2012, the Fox events will air between 2 and 4 fights (from what I hear). And similar to usualy the remainder of the undercard will be available on the internet (and potential Fuel TV and FX).

Yesterday it was reported that the Saturday night broadcast did around 4.6M viewers. I’d qualify that as not a smash success, but not a disaster either. Those 4.6 million people who tuned in were treated to only 64 seconds of action. It was very good action, but brief, to say the least.

The thing is, it’s not always like this. It’s somewhat rare for a UFC fight to last just a minute. Moreover, it’s quite rare for a championship fight to end so quickly. Pushing it further; it’s extremely rare for a heavyweight bout to find a conclusion in such a short span of time.

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The Fox Sports, UFC Deal

As I first wrote a couple days ago, the UFC and Fox have agreed to a major broadcast rights deal. The rumor was initially broke by Sports Business Journal. From there, for the remainder of the week, it was the worst kept secret in sports. Complete confirmation came with the UFC’s announcement of a press conference set for yesterday at 1 PM ET. Then came the corroboration from Fox — there was a “major” Fox Sports announcement scheduled at the same time.

When 1 PM rolled around, I was in front of my computer screen waiting to hear the news. Apparently I was not alone. According to Fox Sports, over 45,000 people watched their live webcast. Per Fox Sports Lou D’Ermillo, that number does not include all the UFC fans who watched on UFC.com, as I did.

The actual press conference was extremely well done. There was a Fox Sports set and backdrop which created the perfect venue to make the announcement. There were journalists in house, as well as on the phone, who were all allowed to ask questions of the UFC and Fox teams. Joe Rogan acted as MC. What more could you want? It goes to show why these two companies wanted to work together. They both, generally, put on top-notch programming.

Dana White wore a Fox Sports tee shirt, while his partner Lorenzo Fertitta rocked the full suit and tie. The guys from Fox went with the semi-casual shirt and jacket look. The style of dress almost perfectly mirrors what each party brings to the table.

Dana White is known as a brash, shit-talking CEO. Whether he is in a suit-jacket or tee shirt; he is going to do whatever it takes to fight for what is best for his company. And he has proven that he is good at knowing exactly what steps to take to further the UFC’s appeal. On the other hand, Lorenzo is the more traditional business man. He is the financial backing behind Dana — hence the suit. The Fox family of networks are known as “cool” and “innovative”. At the same time, they still represent the corporate gatekeepers. A suit jacket and partially unbuttoned shirt — slick, right?

We can talk about how much The Simpsons changed the way stuffy suits of the early 90’s thought of broadcast television, but that was years ago now. We need to look no further than FX Network if you don’t believe just how important a player Fox has become in today’s cable TV landscape.

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