Dana White spoke to Graham Bensinger about various topics, and one of the talking points were fighter salaries. The UFC president defended any criticism about it, saying they're on par with all the major sports.
"The opportunities today, are just like playing in the NFL, NBA, or Major League Baseball," White said about UFC fighter pay.
"If you take revenue," he said. "Let's say there were $42 million in revenue. Cut that in more than half, because you're partners with the cable companies. Then we put on all the production ourselves. HBO doesn't come in and do our production, Fox doesn't come in and do our production. We do our productions ourselves. And the list goes on and on and on, on the costs for putting on a show."
"If I told you what the top salaries were with our stars, you'd be blown away. You'd be blown away!" he said. "Here's the difference. We negotiate a contract with the guy, weeks, sometimes months, whatever it is, and you end up with a deal. Now, if you're the champion, or a big star, usually is your deal is to be cut in on the PPV. You're a partner with us on the PPV. What we've done, is we've revolutionized the fight industry. Boxing is dying for many many reasons, okay? Many reasons. So we come in, we cut a deal with the guy. The guy gets cut in the piece of the PPV."
"Every time we put on a PPV, we're rolling the dice, man. We don't know what is going to happen. We don't know how many pay per views we are going to sell. When we hit a home run, they hit a home run too."
"We bonus these guys big checks, plus there's bonuses built in to the fights for best fight of the night, knockout of the night, KO of the night. Trust me when I tell you, these guys are making a lot of money. We are on par with other sports leagues out there."
"The most amazing part is, we've only been here for 10 years. Every other league out there has been there for 50 or more."
There's a lot of stuff said here, and obviously many things to point out.
Pay-Per-View isn't the only source of revenue for the UFC, so you don't cut everything to 'more than half' for the cable companies. Since the post-FOX era of the UFC, it is estimated that they earn just 30% of the revenue from PPV buys. There's also ticket sales, TV broadcasts, sponsorship, merchandising, licensing, content distribution agreements, and other sources. More in-depth details on UFC revenue can be seen here.
It's true that the top UFC stars get a cut of the pay-per-view buys, but so do boxers, and they get a significantly bigger share than what UFC champions do. That's why even if McGregor completely out-sold boxing counterparts such as Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and Canelo Alvarez last year, he still earned way less than them per fight.
White brought up the comparison to other sports, but even with percentages of revenue going to the athletes, estimates show that they're not even close to them.
He says they're "on par with other sports leagues", but here are a few numbers. Forbes' Top 100 athletes this year had one UFC fighter listed, Conor McGregor, who was ranked at #85. The previous year had zero. As for other sports, Baseball had 26 players, American Football had 21, Basketball had 18, and Football had 12.
That's for the top stars. As for the average salaries per athlete, in 2014 the NBA had the highest pay among any league, with players averaging $4.6 million per year. On the other hand, MLB players had an average salary of $4.2 million, NHL at $2.6 million, and NFL -- which had the highest total payout with more players -- at $2.11 million.
The NBA players' salaries are about to get much bigger for the upcoming 2016-2017 season too. Because the league gets increased money from all their network deals, players stand to benefit as well. From the 2014 numbers above, the salary cap now has now increased by $31 million, to a total of $94 million per NBA team with many likely to go over that number.
Numbers show that on average, UFC fighters compete about 2 times per year, sometimes less. For arguments sake, even if we say they all get 3 bouts in that span, being "on par" with the NBA (even using the much lower 2014 number) means an average UFC fighter should earn $1.5 million per fight. Compared with the NFL, that's calculates to $870,000 per fight and to NFL, over $700,000.
Is that the average earning of a UFC fighter?
These leagues also have large minimum salaries. An undrafted first year player on a minimum NBA contract will get $543,000. For the NHL, it's $575,000, and NFL is at $450,000. How many times does a UFC fighter on a minimum $10,000 to show and $10,000 to win contract have to compete in a year to get to those numbers?
Are they really comparable to other leagues?