Over the last 4-5 years, the sponsor landscape within the UFC has undergone significant change with its sponsor tax, and will once again undergo a metamorphosis of sorts when it takes on a fighter's uniform. The sponsor tax has heavily impeded a fighter's chances to earn extra money to the tune of thousands of dollars, where once those sponsor dollars could be more than a fight purse, and in some cases, several times over. The proposed uniform will limit that extra money earning ability even further.
Since these changes first started making waves, fighters have spoken out on it, management firms and sponsors have made their grievances public, and fans have made their distaste known. Recently, another small sponsor was directly impacted when they were forced out of spending monthly sponsor dollars on three female fighters that were drafted from Invicta FC to the UFC.
Americana MMA Apparel has only been around for a year and a half, but in that short time, struck deals with three high profile female strawweights, making not only standard signature shirt deals with the women, but also paying a monthly salary, an almost unheard of practice, even for well known names. When the contracts of the three were bought out by the UFC, it snuffed out the opportunity for those monthly sponsor dollars to continue.
In a recent interview with MMA Sentinel Radio, Americana MMA founder and owner, Peter Giannoulis discussed the impact the UFC's heavy-handed tactics have had on his company, and his constant efforts to keep sponsoring athletes that wouldn't ordinarily see much financial support.
MMA Sentinel: You were sponsoring several Invicta fighters who were then drafted to the UFC. There are very few sponsors for girls out there, especially sponsors like yourself who pay money to girls on a monthly basis. Now that's being snatched away from them, and then they find out there's probably going to be a uniform forced on them in the next month or two. Give us your thoughts on that.
Americana: It's not a favorable position to be in, obviously. [Fortunately] Americana is not our primary place to make money. We're okay when we lose a fighter or two, because we're honestly in this to help up and coming fighters get some sponsorships. Does it suck? Yeah, of course it does. The UFC tax of $50,000+ to get in is the UFC's way of saying we don't want small companies in here.
The girls being signed to the UFC is a bittersweet thing. It was sweet for the girls to get signed to the UFC, and from what I understand the UFC took care of them from payment perspective, but it does suck because until they get a fight, they don't get to make sponsorship dollars from the brands that aren't going to be able to go into the UFC.
The uniform thing... It's obviously Dana & the Fertitta's company, but everybody has their opinion on it and how they run it. It's big business at the end of the day, and I understand that, but I think it's hypocritical when they say, ‘We do this for the fighters,' when it's detrimental to the fighters.
From what I understand, someone like Nike, Reebok or Under Armor is going to pay them millions of dollars, and they're going to give every fighter a small amount of money to wear the uniform. I just don't think that's the proper way to take care of your fighters. It's the hypocritical way they're doing it while claiming they're doing it for the fighters that pisses me off. Again though, it's not my company. Do I feel bad for the fighters? Sure I do, but what are you going to do? The UFC are going to do what they want to do regardless.
For me personally, I lost three girls I was sponsoring. Felice, Bec and Carla did awesome things for our brand considering we're pretty much a year old, but now I've got a chance to work with three new fighters. I've got Leslie Smith, Michelle Waterson and a UFC girl, Paige VanZant, but I'll never be able to sponsor her from a her wearing my shirt to the ring perspective, we just have a deal going for the full year where she helps us out a little bit.
MMA Sentinel: Did you ever approach the UFC to see how much it would cost you to sponsor some fighters?
Americana: Yes, I did. The fee they wanted was in the $50,000 a year range. That's because I'm a small company, I'm sure the bigger boys like TapouT are paying a lot more than that.
MMA Sentinel: I want to get some details about what smaller sponsors like you are doing for MMA, with that in mind, how many fighters do you currently sponsor?
Americana: We're a little different from a lot of other sponsors. We make signature shirts for people how might never have a signature shirt. The guys that get signature shirts are your GSP's and Cain Velasquez's. We work a little differently. We sponsor three fighters on a monthly basis, and we also do signature shirts for other fighters that we don't sponsor who just want to make a little bit of money.
MMA Sentinel: How many fighters would you be sponsoring in the UFC if that tax didn't exist?
Americana: If that tax wasn't there, we'd probably have at least another three.
MMA Sentinel: So if we have the two women's divisions, and about 20 girls per division... That means if that tax didn't exist, you would be sponsoring over 10% of the entire women's roster. But the UFC wants everyone to believe this tax isn't a bad thing?
Americana: I totally agree. At the same time, I know a couple of the vice president's at the UFC, and they're really nice guys. They get it, but it is what it is. The tax hurts the up and coming fighter. The fighter living in a dorm with 10 other fighters trying to pay their small amount of rent so they can take a shot and get trained so they can make it to the UFC. Or the fighters in the UFC who want to climb the rankings, but the pay isn't there.
When you look at the old days before the sponsor tax, you had lower level fighters on $8k/8k or whatever, but they were making over $8,000 per fight in sponsors, so they were ok. If they fought three times a year, they made $50,000-$60,000, which isn't a killer amount of money, but it's enough to live on.
Nowadays if you go in there and win two of your three fights, if you even get three fights, you're looking at $40,000, minus your management fees, your flights to the show to bring your trainers, the cost of your camp and all of that stuff.
People will always attack people who talk like this and say, ‘Oh, no-one forced them to be a fighter,' but I think that attitude sucks. They're going in there and bashing their heads in to become great fighters and entertain. I think it's only proper that we kind of voice our opinions on fighter pay a little. I don't think our opinions change much when it comes to the upper class of the UFC, but we do what we can for these girls we sponsor. You can't change the world, but you can help a few people along the way, which is what we're doing.
MMA Sentinel: How much, on average, would you say you pay each girl over the course of a year?
Americana: It really all depends. There are some girls that make over $10,000 per year from us. There are some who make about $5,000 or $6,000 per year. It depends on who the girl is and what kind of exposure they're going to get for your brand.
What I really like about the girls, is some of them don't have official management, so you can just talk to them. I never throw a number out there, because I don't want to lowball anybody. I'm not a manager that way, so I just ask the girls what they want to make. If I can afford it, I'm pretty easy that way. If a girl comes out with a monthly number I'm comfortable with, I give it to her.
MMA Sentinel: Is that how you normally get in touch with the girls, or do you usually speak to their managers, or just message them on twitter?
Americana: It depends on the girl. With Felice Herrig, we hit her up on twitter and she sent us to her manager, Brian Butler, and we worked out a deal that made sense. With Bec Hyatt/Rawlings, she's managed by someone I know well, so I asked what they wanted per month for her and sorted that. Carla Esparza was also managed by Brian Butler.
With the girls we've signed this year, I was approached by Paige VanZant's manager directly via email, I looked her up and what she was doing and liked it, so we got that done. I talked to Michelle Waterson for a year on and off, it wasn't quite right last year budget-wise because we already signed three fighters, but this year we decided we were bringing other fighters, so we got her. We actually approached Leslie Smith because she's a badass. I love Leslie Smith; she's like a Diaz brother in female form. She just goes in there and brawls all the time, so I approached her.
MMA Sentinel: I know from the fighters we spoke to last year for our sponsorship piece that being sponsored on a monthly basis is preferred, because it puts them at ease and gives them peace of mind. Is that your preferred way of doing business, or do you offer per-fight deals to most girls?
Americana: I don't do any per-fight deals right now. I like to sponsor the fighters per-month because throughout the month that they don't train, they're still getting our name out there. I honestly don't believe that you get that much recognition from a fighter wearing your shirt. You get recognition when they're talking about you online. If you look at Felice Herrig for example, she has had three or four sponsors for her entire career, and it's the stuff she does outside of the cage that really gets a sponsor out there.
If we didn't have that with the three girls we were sponsoring, who would have known us just by watching three or four Invicta events? I think paying someone $5,000 to walk out with your shirt during a walkout that isn't even aired half the time is kind of ridiculous. There's no return on investment.
I run another company that actually makes money, Americana is for fun. In my eyes, as long as it breaks even and the girls are getting paid, I don't care. I do it for fun because I like the sport, I love watching fights, and to tell you the truth, the girls do a better job of getting your brand out there than the guys do. I think it has to do with the fact the girls are new to the sport, and they appreciate everything they get.
MMA Sentinel: It's also that women are much more attached to social media than the guys. A lot of the guys can take it or leave it; a lot of the fighters only post on their twitters every couple of days, but the girls are attached at the hip to their phones and their Facebook and Twitter. They're much better social marketers than the men.
Americana: Absolutely. One of the things some of the men need to understand is that if you want to get paid more for fights, you have to build your brand. A lot of fighters don't understand that, ‘I've won seven fights in a row, why am I not getting a title shot?' Well, you're not going to make Dana any money, that's why. I'm not speaking bad about Dana, he's in the business of promoting and making money.
Chael Sonnen loses to Anderson Silva and gets a title shot against Jon Jones. How did that happen? It's because people follow Chael. That's it. Chael will sell Pay-Per-Views. Is it right for the sport, when it kind of feels like WWE sometimes? No, it isn't, but you have to understand the business side of it. It could be ruining the sport for all we know, we'll find out in 10 or 20 years, but it makes money today.
I don't agree with it, because at the end of the day I don't need a hundred million dollars, I'm not that kind of guy. In the UFC's favor, they did invest $45 million into MMA, and they want to make that back and then some.
MMA Sentinel: Have any of the girls you've sponsored who have gone over to the UFC told you about their current sponsorship situation?
Americana: None of the girls have really said anything, but I know from talking with Bec that I can sign her for pretty much the same amount she was getting last year, at least for now. TUF is getting filmed in May and will be aired around about September, so we won't see these girls fight in the octagon till next year. That's why it's probably going to cost about the same to grab the girls just now.
I don't know if the girls have grabbed any new sponsors. I'm sure that will change once they're on TV. I think TUF 20 is going to be one of the biggest seasons they've had. To tell you the truth, I don't watch TUF, except sometimes the last 10 minutes because that's the fights, but I'm going to watch this one. This one is a little different, you have skilled fighters competing for a belt, not a contract. All of the girls they signed are badasses. They're all really good fighters and it's going to be fun to watch them.
You can follow Americana via their Twitter account, @AmericanaMMA