Yesterday, I wrote up an interview I did with Rick Hawn about the difficulty he was having in locating sponsors for his title fight with Michael Chandler. It sparked some intelligent debate, both here on Bloody Elbow and across other social media outlets, but the most significant thing that came from it, was that it caught the attention of a sponsor that Rick and his management/PR team had been trying to work with. Due to the timing, he was unable to get anything done for last night's event, but has made arrangements to work with Hawn in the future.
One thing I've noticed during all the conversations I've been having about the sponsor problem with Bellator, is that the problem doesn't only stem from the bigger companies being locked in to only UFC athletes. There are also some issues that Bellator has managed to bring about on their own, and despite measures to remedy the situation, it has left some companies unwilling to do any sort of business with the promotion, and unfortunately, with it's athletes.
I've come to work closely with FundAFighter through my good friend, Mike Russell. He is the publicist for them, as well as an established journalist in the MMA community. He has been on Hawn's campaign to find sponsor dollars for several months, so I reached out to him to find out as much info as I could about the situation. Here's what he had to say on the subject:
I'm the publicist for FundaFighter and we set up a page for Rick ahead of this fight to help him raise funds to cover his training camp expenses. Typically, fighters give away tangible rewards to their backers who pledge to their campaigns, and most of the time these items are donated by sponsors. When he submitted his list of potential rewards, he told us that he didn't have any product to give away because he really didn't have any sponsors for this fight. He also told us that he was representing himself from a management standpoint at the moment.
Robbie Stein, who owns FundaFighter as well as Tristar Dorms where Rick stayed while he trained for the lightweight tournament last year said, 'Let's see if we can help Rick out with getting him some sponsors so he doesn't have to stress over it before his big fight.'
Basically, we created a sponsor contact list from scratch for Rick's fight and we contacted upwards of 240 companies. Most of them were businesses or brands who sponsor fighters, but I'd say 25 percent were mainstream companies. Of the 237 we reached out to, we maybe got replies from 20 to 30. Many of them emailed to say, 'thanks, but no thanks,' for various reasons. Some said they couldn't sponsor fighters outside of the UFC due to their sponsorship agreements with the UFC. Others were put off by Bellator's 'glove ban' that was recently lifted. As part of their title sponsorship deal with Everlast, Bellator fighters were not allowed any sponsors who sold or manufactured MMA or boxing gloves, which eliminated a lot of gear makers and vendors from the mix. Even after the ban was lifted, they were left with a bad taste in their mouth and wanted nothing to do with Bellator, which really hurts the fighters.
We had maybe 20 total emails and calls back from sponsors who were interested in sponsoring Rick, but many of them dropped off when we gave them our asking prices, which for the record were 20 to 30 percent lower than what sponsorship of a UFC Fight Night fighter would typically get. I've worked with clients who run MMA management firms and I can tell you that some of the offers we got were lower than what their fighters who fight on UFC Facebook prelims command.
It was shocking that sponsors weren't lining up to back Rick. He's a former Olympian who just won the Bellator lightweight tournament and arguably should have won the welterweight tournament the year before. His fight is the main event on Bellator's SPIKE debut show, which immediately follows TNA Wrestling, the channel's highest rated show. The interest factor among MMA fans is huge, as most want to see if the SPIKE presentation will be any different than the MTV2 and ESPN Deportes ones. Not only that, but there are TWO title fights on the card. We spelled all of this out in our sponsor pitch. We figured it would be an easy sell. Man, were we wrong.
From here, it pretty much goes without saying, that Bellator has some hurdles to get over before this problem can be neutralized and dispatched. Fortunately, companies like Havyk, despite not being the biggest kid on the block, are stepping up, and doing whatever they can to help. They happen to be the sponsor that got up to the plate and made a reasonable offer yesterday. Hopefully, more companies will follow their lead, and take a leap of faith.