Former UFC star Chael Sonnen has suggested that fighters are wrong to complain about their inability to promote sponsors on their gear.
When the fighter pay discussion comes up, a number of sub-topics related to what many perceive to be insufficient remuneration emerge. Among them is the lowest level of the UFC’s fighter pay structure, which can see newcomers and prospects earn as little as $12,000, as well as partnerships with the likes of Venum and Project Rock that many suggest don’t benefit fighters as they should.
In the same vein, members of the UFC roster often bring up the promotion’s uniform policy when it comes to fight gear, which began with the arrival of Reebok in 2014 and prevents fighters from wearing their own sponsors on their shorts and walkout gear.
Just last month, heavyweight king Francis Ngannou addressed the debate online, claiming that he and his fellow athletes are “ripped off” with sponsorships. “The Predator” suggested that fighters should be able to have at least two company-approved sponsors allowed inside the Octagon.
But according to one former fighter who competed inside the Octagon when sponsors were permitted, modern fighters are confusing a rare and unprecedented instance of generosity with something they believe is owed.
Sonnen: ‘We Should Never Have Had It In The First Place’
During a video recently uploaded to his YouTube channel, Sonnen gave his take on the discussion surrounding the display of sponsors in-fight.
After noting the fact that many fighters believe they’re being ill-treated by their inability to source sponsors for when they enter the cage, Sonnen explained why that feeling is misplaced and derives from a misunderstanding.
“There is an underhandedness felt by the athletes as it pertains to the way sponsorships work out. They’re feeling that they’re being mistreated,” Sonnen said. “Nobody would feel that way if it wasn’t for the generosity shown in this sport. Listen, at one point, the UFC allowed athletes to go get their own sponsors. ‘We’re gonna set the cameras up, we’re gonna pop the popcorn, we’re gonna get all the eyeballs. You can have the money, as long as you find it.’ That got a little out of hand.
“If there’s anything that looked bad to the cameras, it was the fact that we weren’t uniform… Big brand called Reebok (came in). So, the generosity that never should have been given — nobody in the history of television and production has ever been given the ability (where) somebody else pays for everything and you get to keep the sponsorships,” Sonnen added. “That has simply never happened and will not happen again.”
Sonnen went on to note that members of the UFC roster can still secure their own sponsors and promote them throughout fight week. In that sense, those who can harness significant media attention pre-fight can still massively benefit from partnerships.
“A lot of fighters didn’t understand. So, when the generosity they never should have been — never should have happened. We never should have been to put anybody we want when (UFC) is paying for the cameras. When that went away, what fighters didn’t understand is that was unique to our industry. It was a generosity and kindness… they feel as though a rug has been pulled out.
“They say things like, ‘I can’t get my own sponsors.’ Yes you can. You absolutely can. You can have whatever sponsor you want. ‘When you walk from the locker room to the Octagon, when you walk from the Octagon back to the locker room, here’s the approved brands. Any other times that you’d like to do it (you can).’ On fight week, media comes up and the guys that are good at it can get a lot of camera time,” Sonnen continued. “And if they can parlay camera time to sponsorships, they can do whatever they want.”
The 45-year-old former middleweight and light heavyweight UFC title challenger concluded by reiterating that the UFC’s past policy on green-lighting short sponsors has and will never happen in any other sport.
With that in mind, Sonnen insisted that fighters are entirely wrong to suggest that the UFC is stifling their income through the attitude towards uniformity when it comes to fight gear.
“I want to make sure you understand. Fighters being able to keep sponsorship money for that part of the industry… has never happened, and we never should have been able to do that. It truly was a mistake, generosity to the point of a mistake ’cause fighters think it was taken away and it was underhanded. They’re wrong. They’re just flat-wrong. That’s not the way it works,” Sonnen concluded.
What do you make of Chael Sonnen’s assessment of sponsorships?