With the recent release of a controversial piece co-written by John Barr and Josh Gross of ESPN (as seen here)along with the upcoming Outside the Lines video there has been a lot of hand-wringing and taking of sides in the debate. Many are on the side of Dana, saying that ESPN holds a grudge against the UFC for not getting a contract hammered out to air UFC content. Others are siding with ESPN. saying that fighter pay is a legitimate issue and that there is no way to solve the problem if it is simply swept under the rug.
While both sides bring up legitimate points I choose to side more with the latter than the former. Read on to find out why.
One of the most frequent arguments brought up by those on the Pro-Zuffa side of the fence is "What is the true value of undercard fighters on Zuffas bottom line"? To that I retort with this: "What is the true value of a practice squad wide receiver to an NFL teams bottom line"? My reason for that retort is simple: A UFC fighter who is unknown to the public is frequently paid $6K or $8K for a show bonus as well as a matching amount in the form of a win bonus. This means that a debuting fighter who loses may only get $6/8K for their fight. Being that they are on unaired prelims it's likely that they only get a small percentage of that in sponsor bonuses, meaning the fighter would BE LUCKY to come out with a $10K payday. Unfortunately this 10K would be greatly reduced when you consider training expenses (likely in the thousands per training camp for a legitimate camp)and you are looking at MAYBE a profit of $4-6K. Even if you win your UFC debut you're looking at clearing 8-12K tops. There are no fighters who only spar at 60-80% for pay, every fighter who steps in to the octagon, whether it's Georges St. Pierre or Jason Reinhardt, is exposed to the same potential for injury as any other fighter.
Now lets compare that to an NFL practice squad player. If you're on a practice squad player it's likely that you're not going to see any real game action. While NFL practices and training can be intense it's not nearly as intense as getting in the cage with a professionally trained fighter or lining up against a hostile LB/S who wants to take your head off. The practice squad player also is getting paid for all of their training and has full medical coverage. Wanna know how much this practice squad player makes? The minimum salary for a practice squad player was $5,700 PER WEEK in 2012 (link)!!! This means that if a player is on the squad for a full season that they stand to make over $90K in a season without ever actually having to compete and expose themselves to the potential for injury that an active roster player would be exposed to.
I'm sure that UFC supporters would retort to this information with "Well, look at how much the NFL makes compared to how much the UFC makes. It's not even close!!!". I would agree that this is an absolutely true statement, except for the fact that the NFL consists of 32 teams while the UFC is one singular entity. According to most business estimates the UFC is deemed to be worth ~$1B give or take a little bit. In the NFL slightly less than half of teams are worth north of $1B according to Forbes magazine (as listed here). Every individual team is responsible for their own payroll as well as paying for most of their own expenses, similar to the singular entity of the UFC. While we're talking about some big numbers here that doesn't necessarily mean that we're talking about big profits either. In the 2010 NFL season the Detroit Lions operated at a net loss of money for that season. Most NFL teams only profit to the tune of $30-70M per year. Most conservative estimates would put the UFCs yearly profits at least in that same range if not much higher (according to Dana and Lorenzo the company was massively in debt before Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter and now is valued at around ~1B so the yearly profits since 2005 must have been pretty nice).
Now I'm not suggesting that the UFC start paying each and every fighter north of $100K per fight but it's almost unconscionable that some fighters clear less than $30K a year while fighting 2-3 times in the UFC. Steps need to be taken to solve this injustice. Some possible ideas: full coverage medical, out of competition salaries, paid training or at least compensation for training expenses, or, and here is the big one.... AN MMA FIGHTERS ASSOCIATION similar to the MLBPA or the NFLPA.
Just some food for thought!