BY Jeff Cain
As the sport of Mixed Martial Arts continues to grow, and become the sport that it’s fans have always known it could be there will arise situations, and decisions will have to be made on issues the sport will see for the first time.
Tito Ortiz alleges the UFC refused to allow his clothing company, Punishment Athletics, to sponsor Ivan Salaverry in Ivan’s match against Nathan Marquardt last Saturday night which was aired live on Spike TV. Whether or not the allegation is true isn’t what I’m going to address. Does Zuffa have the right to say who can, and who can not sponsor a fighter? If the UFC did make that decision, is it unique only to MMA, or does this kind of thing happen in other mainstream sports?
The largest spectator sport in the United States is Nascar. There are many similarities between Nascar and Zuffa. They’re both business’ who have grown out of an underground grassroots following into nationally recognized trademarks. They’re both the largest companies in their particular sports genre in America. They’re both also privately owned, and autonomous. They have the right to make any decision they deem beneficial to their company. Zuffa has the right to do anything they want with regards to what advertising is shown inside their octagon, and on their broadcasts.
When Nascar’s sponsorship changed from RJ Reynolds to Nextel recently, and the title of their top series became the Nextel Cup instead of the Winston Cup, Nascar had to make some of those decisions that MMA will soon have to face. All radio headsets along pit road are now all Nextel. A new telephone company is prohibited from sponsoring a race car as long as Nextel is the primary sponsor of Nascar. Alltel and Cingular still sponsor cars, but if they decide to not sponsor a car anymore they can not come back to Nascar as long as Nextel is the sponsor. They have a sponsorship deal with Sunoco gasoline.
Every team uses it, and if they want to use another brand they’ll need to find somewhere else to race. Keeping certain sponsors out is a common occurrence in professional sports. When the Dallas Cowboys signed the deal with Nike, do you think any player was allowed to wear converse? The NFL actually took Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to court in an attempt to prevent the Nike sponsorship. The NBA had similar issue with Michael Jordon when he debuted his signature line of shoes.
Another similarity between Nascar and Zuffa is the individuals competing have individual sponsors that may or may not have any association with the promotion. When Playboy tried to sponsor a car last year Nascar denied their request, and prevented team owner Jack Rousch from having their logo on his car. If the UFC did tell Ivan Salaverry that Punishment Athletics could not sponsor him they’re not alone in doing that. It’s not unique to the UFC, Dana White, or Mixed Martial Arts.
In fact, this isn’t the first time the UFC has taken issue with a fighter’s sponsorship. When Ricco Rodriguez was sponsored by Golden Palace it wasn’t well received by Zuffa. More recently MMAWeekly’s own Frank Trigg was told he couldn’t wear a VinceVoyeur advertisement on camera. I’m sure it’s happened more times than just those two. Rather than being viewed as a shrewd business move it should be seen more as an indication marker that this sport is headed mainstream, and having to deal with the same issues that many other mainstream sports have already dealt with.