Back in December of 2014, the UFC signed an exclusive apparel deal with blue-chip sponsor Reebok, ending the Wild Wild West that was the fighter clothing and sponsorship scene. It was supposed to be a win-win for the UFC and fighters. The UFC got the legitimacy of a major sports brand making their uniforms, while fighters could concentrate on fighting and not chasing sponsor money from the Condom Depots and Dynamic Fasteners of the world.
Unfortunately, four years into the six year $70 million deal and everyone generally agrees it sucks. Fighters are making way less than they were when they could hustle their own sponsors. Reebok’s UFC line is lazy and overpriced. And the move reverberated far outside the major league. An entire ecosystem of fight clothing and gear was killed, and their sponsorship of smaller events went with it.
Brazilian promoter Ricardo Saldanha explained the impact in a deep dive from MMA Fighting on the struggles facing the country’s local fight scene these days.
”The Reebok deal hurt the Brazilian MMA scene and killed many brands,” Saldanha said. “Tapout, Venum, those brands were way stronger. They cut investment because the UFC would give them exposure and national promotions would reinforce the brand, but that can’t happen anymore. I thought they would invest in the national promotions (after the Reebok deal), but they haven’t.”
”It was okay in 2016, but it got really complicated in 2017,” he said. “Sponsors were almost gone, people weren’t buying tickets. I’d take the risk many times because I knew I would be able to sell 2,000 tickets in a gymnasium, but it’s hard nowadays. You can’t risk that much if you don’t have sponsors, or you’re screwed. You do it knowing that you’ll lose money, or don’t do it at all.”
Nova Uniao coach and Shooto promoter Andre Pederneiras confirmed that the UFC-Reebok deal had “a huge impact” on the Brazilian MMA scene. Aspera FC promoter Marcelo Brigadeiro also agreed with that assessment but also blamed the faltering Brazilian economy, which experienced a crisis from 2014 to 2016 that it never really recovered from at all.
Again and again, a lack of sponsors came up.
”There’s this culture in Brazil that you don’t get paid for TV rights in MMA,” Brigadeiro told MMA Fighting. “They pay TV rights for eSports, but won’t pay to air an MMA event. Esporte Interativo was embracing the national promotions, helping the sport, but now that you don’t have any network airing the event it’s even hard to find sponsors, so it leads to the MMA going bankrupt in Brazil, unfortunately.”
Just like the Brazilian rainforest provides more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, their regional MMA scene provides tons of fresh fighting talent for the UFC and other worldwide organizations. Things aren’t looking so great for the rainforests or regional MMA promotions right now, and all we can do is hope things open back up when the Reebok deal ends in 2020.