The UFC and Crypto.com made waves in 2021 by announcing the MMA organization’s latest major sponsorship agreement. It’s inevitably raised curiosity over the UFC’s biggest deals and how much they’re worth. The AllStar is more than happy to break them down for you, starting with the much-maligned UFC Reebok deal.
Reebok: December 2014
This six-year outfitter agreement ended in 2020 with lingering doubts over what it actually delivered to the UFC fighters. When it was announced, former UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertita described the deal as “the biggest non-broadcast partnership” the UFC had ever signed.
The UFC Reebok deal marked the end of fighters having their own sponsors in the cage. The UFC instead paid fighters fees to comply with an Outfitting Policy that included apparel requirements and a conduct code. The payments were made on a tier system based on fighter tenure, the amounts for which were increased in 2018.
The scheme paid out about $40 million over the life of the partnership. Still, Front Office Sports reported that the deal didn’t cover the the full cost of the fighter incentive program. Many fighters claimed the payments were a drastic reduction from what they had been making previously with their own sponsors. It certainly left some looking forward to the higher pay tiers with the UFC’s next outfitting partner – Venum.
ESPN: May 2018
This landmark broadcasting rights deal established how US fans have watched UFC fights since the start of 2019. The entire rights package is worth $1.5 billion over five years, according to ESPN and multiple reports.
The deal became public in May 2018. It marked the first time that a major sports organisation chose to favor a streaming service for its live programming. The arrangement consists of 30 UFC Fight Night events per year, 20 of which will stream on ESPN+. The other 10 will appear on the broadcaster’s television networks. UFC Fight Night events consist of 12 bouts.
Significantly, the agreement helps to shore up the UFC’s finances as it reduces the fight organisation’s dependence on pay-per-view events. It also ended a seven-year broadcasting agreement that the UFC had with Fox Sports.
Venum: July 2020
Struck in July 2020, the partnership saw UFC fighters debut Venum-designed fight kits inside the Octagon in April 2021. The new arrangement carried over the UFC’s outfitting policy and its tiered compensation system with across-the-board fee increases for all fighters. The UFC will be boosting the pay scale by about $1 million annually, UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein told ESPN.
However, the outfitting policy still prevents fighters from wearing their own sponsors’ logos or clothes during fight week and in competition. The MMA community offered mixed early reviews, with some pointing out that inflation blunted any benefit from the pay increments.
The UFC encourages corporate sponsors to form direct sponsorship deals with fighters, Epstein told ESPN. Fighters are “free to enter into any sponsorship for non-fight-week related stuff,” he said. This is a likely bone of contention going forward, considering the amount of bitterness over the same issue during the UFC Reebok deal era.
DraftKings: March 2021
The UFC took a significant step into the sports betting world by naming DraftKings as its first official sportsbook and daily fantasy partner in the U.S. and Canada. The five-year deal is worth $350 million, including marketing and cash, ESPN reported.
The agreement allows DraftKings to present its brand on the official UFC Fight Clocks and on the Octagon canvas at select UFC events. DraftKings will also have numerous sponsorship integrations including on live UFC broadcasts and pay-per-views, social media assets, and programming on UFC’s fight streaming service.
The UFC DraftKings deal is the latest that seeks to capitalise on the increasing legalisation of sports betting in the US. Other professional sports leagues including the MLB, the NBA and the NHL have official sportsbook partners.
Crypto.com: July 2021
The cryptocurrency platform became the UFC’s first-ever global official fight kit partner in a deal worth $175 million over 10 years, Sportico reported. It’s now allowed to place its branding on UFC fighter kits and on corner crew apparel.
Crypto.com also received the designation of the UFC’s first-ever Official Cryptocurrency Platform Partner, creating a new sponsorship category for UFC. The arrangement is part of the crypto platform’s strategy to connect with mainstream consumers, according to the official press release.
Besides the logo placement on UFC fight kits, the partnership offers Crypto.com a wide-range of integrations into UFC assets. Its brand will be visible inside the Octagon during all Pay-Per-View events as well as in live broadcasts and UFC-owned social media channels. The Crypto.com brand made its UFC debut in Las Vegas during UFC 264 in July 2021.