Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is a smart man.
Over the last five years and beginning in 2009, Rebney has been able to take his fledgling Bellator MMA promotion and grow it into the second biggest mixed martial arts franchise in the world, and the UFC’s principal rival.
Once thought of as a bit of a joke, the brand now has regularly scheduled shows on Spike TV, a new contract with FOX Sports Latin America and a growing number of marquee fighters and talent competing under its banner. Subsequently, and over the last few years, Bellator has begun to capture the attention of MMA fans world-wide and resultantly, begun to grow its audience.
As Rebney sits atop a promotion similar to that of the UFC, he has, consequently, similar problems and issues to that of his senior circuit counterpart.
To the point and regarding the recent rash of news stories concerning (fighter) sponsorship money, Rebney has publicly addressed the issue and stipulated as to what his “philosophy” on the matter is. On the subject, Rebney once again sings a tune that would be difficult to envision either fighters or fans being turned off by.
In an interview with AXS TV,Bellator’s CEO followed up his (fighter positive) statement of last week – (that) “promoting the fighters should be first and foremost" – by stating unequivocally, that he views sponsorship money as something that should go“100% to the fighters.”
Further, Rebney stated that Bellator has “never had a sponsor tax and never will have a sponsor tax.” In short, Rebney has affirmed that sponsors should not have to pay the promotion for the right to sponsor a fighter.
This point is of particular significance.
As it stands and from what we know of how the UFC deals with sponsorships, as told to us by former UFC middleweight Nate Quarry, the senior circuit charges sponsors – Quarry put the figure at 100K – for the right to be on the official sponsors list.
Once on it, fighters are then free to select from any sponsors on the list and seek out a funding from those sources. However, if sponsors are disinterested in the fighter or have already spent their budgets, then the fighter is out of luck.
In comparing the two methodologies for dealing with sponsorships it would appear that Bellator’s stands in stark contrast to that of the UFC’s, and regardless of whether or not the latter switches to a “uniform” based sponsorship model.
As a point of order, it should be noted then when the UFC’s president and its CEO, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta respectively, addressed the sponsorship question last week, and in particular Nate Quarry’s comments on the subject, neither made mention of any UFC sponsorship taxes.
The only comments made by the pair were, and according to White, that sponsorships and how they work out for a fighter is not his “problem”, while Fertitta stated that he was “proud” of what the brand had done for fighters. However and regarding the specific question of sponsorships and the issue of a sponsor(s) tax, Fertitta negated to address the subject directly. As Fertitta put it, “I'm not going to argue or counter every specific claim made by Nate Quarry on some website.”
As to what fans will make of it all, it might be reasonable to guess that they’ll look at the two models and conclude that fighters get a better sponsorship deal with Bellator, than they do with the UFC.
In terms of the fighters and how they might view the two packages, it’s anyone’s guess. As no one other than the fighters and the two promotions know the true inner workings of these deals, it would be pure speculation to simply state that fighters must look more favorably on Bellator’s ‘hands off’ approach to sponsorships, as compared to the UFC’s taxed structure.
However and that said, it might also be reasonable to suspect that they do.