There's an interesting duality of truth going on in the world of MMA sponsorship. On the one hand many businesses that have grown with, and out of, the sport are doing poorly. The UFC's sponsor tax model has driven companies like Pretorian and Ryu almost entirely out of MMA as there just isn't enough money to be made from MMA fans by pushing MMA themed items and apparel.
In stark contrast to this environment of diminishing returns are the increasingly high profile, non-MMA centric, sponsors that the UFC has aligned itself with of late. What was once an octagon dominated by Mickey's Malt Liquor and the latest direct to video action movie is now a space emblazoned with Nike, Burger King, Harley Davidson, and the latest summer blockbuster. For Some MMA is clearly good business.
That's what makes this most recent move by Adidas, to become the official sponsor of Resurrection Fighting Alliance (commonly known as RFA) so interesting. MMAJunkie has the story. It's the first time I can remember a major non-MMA brand aligning itself with an organization who's goal is clearly defined as a feeder organization for the big leagues. And make no mistake, that is explicitely RFA's position. Owned and operated by premiere MMA manager Ed Soares, RFA promotes itself as a platform to " showcase the top contenders in the sport, resurrect the careers of big-name talent others have given up on, and launch all of them into the global spotlight." It's a well defined position that has already launched the UFC careers of fighters Tim Elliott, Brandon Thatch, and James Krause.
Christophe Dessalles, managing director of Adidas martial arts line spoke about the partnership and his aspirations to make Adidas a UFC brand as well:
"We're going to try to grow the sport of MMA," Dessalles said. "It's a very young sport. And for me that's one of my goals in the next five years, to try to work with Ed Soares at the RFA and the UFC and help grow the sport globally.
"There are some countries in Europe, such as France, where MMA is still not allowed. Hopefully we can change that." (via MMAJunkie)
By aligning itself with an organization like RFA Adidas is hoping to get it's name on tomorrow's top star today, before they land in the UFC where Nike has already staked a claim to the promotions top athletes. While it seems counter intuitive to think that a company as large as Adidas would look to support an organization who's own growth potential is obviously limited, it shows that for businesses whose sole consideration is not marketing to MMA fans there's a lot of money to be made. The MMA landscape is littered with barely recognizable brands eking out a meager existence on the shorts and banners of innumerous fighters. Recognizable brands have the opportunity to stand out. No word yet if this deal will prevent any RFA fighters from having sponsorship from Adidas competitors.
Perhaps its the ultimate success of the UFC's exclusivity. Making the world's biggest MMA organization a home to a select few brand names may be drawing the interest of companies who had long looked at MMA as a niche sideshow that wasn't worth the investment. Or maybe it's just a result of the natural growth of the sport as it continues to flood TV sets across the world. Either way it's a positive sign for the growth and development of the sport.
As an additional note, briefly mentioned in the MMAJunkie article, RFA has also secured rights to "The Octagon" and will be using their own version of the UFC's trademark cage design. They will become the only other MMA promotion in the world (the UFC being the principal) to use an 8-sided cage design.