Before UFC was a rapidly-growing sports powerhouse worth more than a billion dollars, it was a shoestring operation $44 million in debt as recently as 2005. Now, it’s a cash cow, having bought rival Strikeforce for $34 million and recently signing a seven-year broadcast deal with FOX reportedly worth $100 million a year.
With so much money being made from the blood, sweat, and broken faces of its athletes, and with UFC rapidly becoming — gasp — one of America’s major sports leagues, the compensation of its athletes is under an increasingly hot spotlight.
The subject of fighter pay has always been a touchy subject in UFC, which gives fighters a base pay, combined with a unique incentive-driven structure: you get extra money if you have the “submission of the night, knockout of the night, fight of the night,” and according to CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, fighters who do a good job promoting that night’s event are sometimes cut a check right on the spot (fighters also make money from sponsorships and endorsements).
But, according to a report from ESPN’s Outside The Lines, the median income for your average UFC fighter is between $17,000 and $23,000. If you lose in your first fight, you might have only made $6,000. One fighter classified this compensation as “crumbs,” and ESPN quotes fighters, attorneys, and union chiefs that essentially say your average UFC athlete isn’t paid shit.
It’s obviously not a flattering portrayal of the company’s management, and they’ve taken exception. In a YouTube response to the OTL report, UFC president Dana White said ESPN is “dirty,” they “lie,” and “they never really give you all the facts.” He then shows unaired segments of the interview with Fertitta, which he purports to be more fair than what ESPN showed on TV.
When reached for comment, ESPN PR said, “OTL stands by its reporting from both the TV piece and the on-line companion piece.”
The YouTube response from the UFC (including an instance, at the 9:05 mark, where Fertitta calls out ESPN for supposedly paying its Friday Night Fights boxers shoddily) is below.
As the UFC becomes more and more mainstream — that fat FOX contract probably signals that it is mainstream at this point — fighter pay will be examined closely. The major sports leagues (the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) have a roughly 50 percent revenue-sharing system with their players, and although the UFC says its revenue-sharing is somewhere in that ballpark, no one really knows: they’re a privately held company, and under no pressure to release that info.
For now, it’s PR and YouTube jostling between Dana White and the outlets reporting on UFC’s pay scale (in this case, ESPN).
[Outside the Lines] ESPN