The Ultimate Fighting Championship‘s new apparel deal with combat sports brand Venum is smaller than the promotion’s current partnership with Reebok but will result in more pay for fighters.
Under the new deal, which takes effect in April, Venum will make the walk-in apparel and clothing that fighters wear in the octagon. Though terms of the deal weren’t announced, it is smaller in length and total annual value than the current six-year, $70 million Reebok deal, according to people familiar with the contract.
Fighters, however, will see a pay increase associated with the deal, said UFC COO Lawrence Epstein. The promotion is committed to raising its outfitting fees, which range from $3,500 to $40,000, depending on the fighter’s experience and the magnitude of the bout.
“All of our athletes will be getting an increase in fees,” Epstein said. “We haven’t set the exact numbers, but we are committed to a meaningful increase.”
These deals typically have two parts — cash payments and annual product allowances (the Reebok deal was worth a combined $70 million). UFC says it gives all that to the fighters, and then some. UFC will end up having paid out more than $80 million over the course of the Reebok deal, according to Epstein.
The Reebok deal was UFC’s first promotion-wide apparel deal, one that gave the fights a more unified look and also cleaned them up. Prior to 2016, fighters were signing deals with whatever sponsors would support them, including CondomDepot.com, which irked those hoping MMA would gain more mainstream appeal.
Despite massive recent growth — including nearly $500 million in ESPN deals and a 2016 sale to Endeavor for more than $4 billion — brand consistency remains a priority for UFC. “We feel our product is differentiated from a quality standpoint, and we also want it to be differentiated from a visual standpoint,” Epstein said. “Having a consistent uniform look is key to the UFC brand.”
That’s not without criticism. Many fighters would prefer to cut their own deals, and the top echelon would likely make more money doing so. It’s part of a wider critique that UFC doesn’t compensate fighters enough. While leagues like the NBA, NFL and MLB have collectively-bargained labor agreements that result in athletes seeing about 50% of league revenue, there is no UFC fighters union, and they see about 20% of overall UFC revenue, according to a report a few years ago from Endeavor.
Partnering so visibly with MMA’s biggest promotion is massive for Venum, which was launched in 2004 out of a Paris apartment and has built a strong following in combat sports of all types. In addition to clothing, Venum also makes equipment like gloves, pads and punching bags, and it already works with a number of UFC fighters.
That was an important point in negotiations, Epstein said. So too was the fact that every piece of Venum product is made specifically for fighters, not just for athletes. As an example, he mentioned the rashguards that fighters wear to reduce frictions burns from the mat.
“How the seams are constructed, where they sit on the garment itself, is really important when you’re wrestling on the ground, and it’s not that important when you’re running around playing another sport,” he said. “If that seam is in the wrong spot, or finished for a different sport, that can create discomfort or injury.”
The Venum deal does not include footwear — Reebok will keep those rights under a new deal.