by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
“Show me the money.”
That line in the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire” has been a tagline for pro athletes looking to bag major sponsors for more than 10 years, and it still applies today. One sport where that concept is growing more and more is mixed martial arts, and the fighter who seems to be paving the way is UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
The Canadian superstar walks to the Octagon the same as any other fighter in the UFC, but his post fight thank you list includes names like Gatorade and Under Armour. While mainstream coverage continues to grow for the sport, mainstream sponsors still elude most athletes, but that trend is changing.
St-Pierre’s Las Vegas based manager, Shari Spencer, said she wasn’t well received early on when taking over the Canadian’s career because she didn’t fall in line with what was “supposed” to be done. She did what needed to be done to put GSP with crossover sponsors, the same ones that support the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball.
“I didn’t make a lot of friends in the beginning when I was turning down a lot of the fight specific brands, but I really saw from the beginning when I started working with Georges, that he had the potential to transcend the sport ala Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan,” Spencer told MMAWeekly Radio in an interview.
Making the move against signing on “fight specific” sponsors for St-Pierre was a risk, but a calculated risk, according to Spencer. The gamble paid off when the Canadian signed on with CAA, a lucrative company that also represents athletes like Derek Jeter and David Beckham.
“It was a very intentional strategy to stay away from fight specific brands and then start to cultivate relationships with brands that were broader than the sport,” she commented. “Even with someone as marketable as Georges, it was still quite a challenge. Just because of the nature of the sport in the mainstream marketplace.
“I definitely think it’s a stamp of credibility that the mainstream brands provide. They represent an acceptance that it’s okay to affiliate your brand with an athlete that participates in this sport, and you’re not going to lose the soccer moms, you’re not going to offend the rest of your constituents.”
With Gatorade on board, and as St-Pierre debuted in his first Under Armour commercial just last month, the sky’s the limit for the welterweight champion, and another major sponsorship is coming down the line as well.
“It took a bit for the first one to step up, but now there seems to be some momentum in that area. We’re about to announce another partnership between now and the fight, not sure exactly when we’re going to announce it, but it’s another brand that’s broader than the sport. It’s affiliated with other iconic athletes from various sports so we’re really excited about that one as well,” said Spencer.
As for St-Pierre, he relishes his role as the model for how the sport can evolve, and even when speaking about his own aspirations for the future, he hopes he can help grow the sport to a new level while cementing a legacy for himself.
“I want to be known when I retire as a guy that makes the difference,” said St-Pierre. “Not only the guy who’s good inside the Octagon, but also the guy who made the difference in the sport that made it go mainstream.”
Fans have recently seen Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in a Nike commercial, and Rashad Evans in a Microsoft ad, as well. Now it seems like just a matter of time before Nike or Reebok jumps on board to make their first pair of fight shorts, or Pepsi to feature a can crushing display by Anderson Silva.
The St-Pierre business model seems to paying off for him, and that success will only help the sport grow further and faster, and all of the athletes stand to benefit.