Manager takes Bellator contract to task

by Bob Donaghy | source:

The risks involved with being an MMA fighter go far beyond the combat aspect of the sport. Fighters have to deal with sponsors, contracts, building a brand, social media, fans and much much more. It seems every day you hear stories of how the sport is growing at an incredible pace, and sprinkled in are stories of athletes being broke. Bellator Fighting Championship® is the self-proclaimed second largest promotion in the sport. In 2013 they will make the move to Spike TV® from MTV2® and will add to its tournament format a reality show much like "The Ultimate Fighter" by its competitor Zuffa.\

Full disclosure; I have been banned by Bellator so my view may be tainted a bit, yet the words below are extracted from Bellator's own contract.  Read on to hear more about that.

I met Bellator Fighting Championship President, Bjorn Rebney as he was starting Bellator. He was courting many MMA managers and agents. He explained to me how Bellator was going to be different, how it would be about the athletes. At the time I represented several athletes from The Lab MMA, including Benson Henderson and Santino Defranco.  Those fighters asked me to speak with a potential Bellator signee and teammate, Victor (Vic) Meza.

Vic was being recruited by Bellator for Season I. In the middle of the negotiation Vic asked that we review his contract. I read it through and reported back the issues I saw (most are listed below). My biggest concern was was the ancillary rights section. In return for a payment of $2,000 the contract granted Bellator essentially unlimited and perpetual rights over Vic’s likeness. I informed Vic that it would be impossible for us to represent him and do what we do if he signed the Tournament contract. Even if Vic agreed to the terms and won the Tournament, he had to ask himself " how much is my name and likeness really worth now and in the future, especially if I win the Tournament?" Vic agreed with my review and said he was going to speak with Bellator.

A few days later Vic called me back and informed me that he spoke to Bellator and he was told the terms were “non-negotiable”. He was also told that the terms hinged upon him signing with Bellator’s Matchmaker and MMA Agent Matt Stansell, or no deal would be granted. To be clear: Vic was being told that his agent must also be an employee of the promotion. It’s hard to see how Vic’s new agent could possibly negotiate freely in his best interest when his employer is sitting across the table from him.

I told Vic that I had been speaking with Bjorn and I would reach out, as this contradicts the “fighters first” mantra that he was selling to me. Bjorn would not return my text or message other than to say the contract terms stand. He would not acknowledge the Matt Stansell stipulation (in writing). Subsequent to the activities I made a post on The Underground asking if anyone else had the same issues. I have been banned by Bellator ever since then.

The bottom line is, as a manager, I work for my clients. It is our job to help the client understand the risk and rewards associated with contracts that are presented to them. For Vic the risk was agreeing to allow a promoter to own his name and likeness for the rest of his life with the guarantee of earning $2000.00. Yes the upside is a potential $100,000.00 reward, but even at that price is that worth selling your name and likeness forever? Is the price of an athlete, signing for the second largest MMA promotion in the world, only really worth $2000.00?

Fighters and their agents or managers need to be careful dealing with Bellator-like contracts. They need to asses the value that they put on their ability to earn a living in sports or entertainment. The issues that were sticking points for us are below. The items A through I are pretty standard language in agreements of this type, essentially saying they are paying to put on the event and we own anything that comes with the event, forever. That is not the issue. A Zuffa example of this is the Topps cards. The images used in the cards are from Zuffa events and Topps pays Zuffa for use of those images.

The major issue is item J, where they are granted the right to file a Patent and or Trademark on the Athletes name, likeness, nickname etc. So it is likely that “King Mo” could be owned by Bellator not Mo Lawal.

Subject to the terms and conditions set forth below, FIGHTERS herby grant to PROMOTER the exclusive unrestricted worldwide rights to the following ancillary rights (“Ancillary Rights”)

J)      The right to register as a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) FIGHTER's name, stage name, Identity, or any other feature of FIGHTER which may be trademarked, for the purposes of (1) promoting sporting events and athletic competitions; (2) broadcasting sports and entertainment programs by means of television, radio, cable television, satellite, and other wire and wireless forms of transmission; (3) producing and distributing sports and entertainment programs by means of television, cable television, satellite, via a global information network (<-- our guess is Internet), pay-per-view exhibition, closed circuit exhibition, and do the live formats; and production of electronic reproductions featuring sports and entertainment programs; (5) exploitation of all other rights granted to PROMOTER herein.

Essentially this clause gives Bellator ownership of the "FIGHTERS" they sign name, likeness identity and any other feature of the athlete.  As I expressed to Bellator officials they want this clause to survive along with the "right to match" clause post termination or expiration.

B) The expiration the the Term shall not affect or terminate the grant of Ancillary Rights or any of the general or specific provisions of this Agreement which shall survive such expiration or termination.

They make the desire to own these rights post termination beyond clear.  See below.

C) PROMOTER shall not be deemed in default of this Agreement to the extent that performance of its obligations are delayed or prevented by reason of any act of God, fire, natural disaster, war, riot, strike, or labor difficulties, terrorism, power failure or other acts constituting force majeure or any governmental or Commission enactment, determination or action, regulation or order.

D) The termination of this Agreement or the expiration of the Term shall not serve to affect or terminate the Ancillary Rights granted under this Agreement, as they shall survive any such termination, expiration or acceleration and this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect with respect thereto.

*The above information is pulled from the lawsuit filed by Bellator against Jonathan Brookins after he signed with The UFC. It is also the same or is very similar to the contract I agreed for Victor Meza.

A lot has been written about Bellator's "matching rights", but the patent and trademark rights survive long after the matching rights.  The reality of the matching right is that it is a good thing for the athletes.  If nothing else it allows the athlete to find a better deal.  My concern is what happens when I find the better deal and Bellator owns the right to register a Patent and Trademark on my client.  By not matching and retaining this right, they are reserving the right to own my clients name and likeness in the future.  Look no further than Apple Vs. Samsung  lawsuits or the musician Prince, who changed his name to Symbol to get out of a Warner Brothers contract.

Read entire article...

UFC Heavyweight Shane Carwin commented on the UG

From: Shane Carwin
Member Since: 10/11/06
Posts: 1694

100% Zuffa does not own my likeness. They have rights to it. They do not own my name. Zuffa, Bellator and every promotion I have ever been involved with are clear that "Fighters" are independent contractors. I am reported to the IRS as a Independent Contractor and have been told that there is no such thing as a "UFC Fighter". There are fighters who fight in the UFC but the UFC doesn't own the fighter.

The Fitch example that this forum and the media was all up in arms about was exclusivity as it pertains to your name and likeness for a fight video game. Guess what until I see a Jon Jones, Anderson Silva of Fedor MMA fight game I wont complain. This is not Golf, you cannot play it alone (IE Tiger Woods Golf). I was honored to be included in the UFC's videogame.

What I am reading above says they own the fighter. So if you signed that contract they own you even if they release you. If you go onto become the Goat and are signed by Zuffa they own you.

Name one promotion that has the right to file a patent and trademark on a fighter. Just one, aside from Bellator.

This is 100% not cool.


tags: Bellator   


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Recent Comments »

scrapdo site profile image  

10/15/12 12:42 PM by scrapdo

I appreciate the info in this thread and the intelligent responses from those In a position to know. That said, I don't envy their having to explain same concepts over and over because some people fail at either reading or comprehension. When they told you, in 3rd grade, that you were reading at a 5th grade level it was not wise to rest on your laurels.

Bob Bitner site profile image  

10/15/12 11:58 AM by Bob Bitner

Just another reason why you should have a good lawyer or someone versed in contracts to read and explain every word of it to you, I think lots of fighters see only the dollar signs and sign without truly understanding what they signed.

ticktick site profile image  

10/12/12 3:34 PM by ticktick

I don't see anything wrong with signing away your likeness for the period of time you're under contract, also whatever you did for the company at the time they should own for life. Its like a model release form where they can alter your image and name and get paid for anyway they can exploit it, compared to a record deal where you should get royalties for everytime your music comes on the radio or TV around the world you get paid. It would be a nightmare to have to pay royalties to every fighter that fought on reruns around the globe. The companies get those licensing fees, not the fighters.

Brian J DSouza site profile image  

10/12/12 2:34 PM by Brian J DSouza

I'm seeing the start of a series of concrete ideas that should be implemented to help MMA stay competitive and for the fighters not to be slaves.Limiting the matching period to, say, 30 days in all cases in the US or Canada would be a good start.There's no reason an organization should retain exclusive likeness rights if a fighter moves to a new organization or venture.Whether its a small town promotion or the biggest fish, changes have to be made.

RyannVonDoom site profile image  

10/12/12 12:33 PM by RyannVonDoom

Thats how it was with heath's contract but the matching period was a year.

MMALOGIC site profile image  

10/12/12 3:11 AM by MMALOGIC

Bellator retains the right to trademark a fighters, likeness nickname, etc...  what dont you understand exactly?  Do you understand trademark infringement?  Anytime bellator can choose to exercise this on any fighter who has left and continued to earn money on that name and likeness and they can sue the fighter if he continues to use said name and likeness to earn money.   

MMALOGIC site profile image  

10/12/12 3:01 AM by MMALOGIC

or you would have to change your name... or maybe even get a face lift.

sly fox site profile image  

10/12/12 2:53 AM by sly fox

interesting thread..

ticktick site profile image  

10/12/12 2:33 AM by ticktick

I know that nicknames and stage names can be owned. Like when I was young and saw all my favourite wrestlers go back and forth between WCW and WWF with different names. I've fought in 4 organizations and I'm yet to see a contract that doesn't own your likeness for anyway they see fit. But owning one's name... How is that even possible?

MMAAdvertising site profile image  

10/12/12 1:37 AM by MMAAdvertising

Hungry4Stink - Regarding Lombard, I am not for sure, but the matching clause likely elapsed. I know Eddie Alvarez mentioned something about a 3 month period (I think it was?) on Inside MMA this week that Bellator has to match any offers that come in after his contract expires. Basically, if Eddie becomes a free agent and say OneFC wants to offer him more than Bellator, Bellator gets first dibs to just say OK we'll pay you more than what our competitor wants and your back with us. That is my understanding of it. From reading about Lombard his contact elapsed on 1/30 I believe it was and signed towards the end of April, just shy of 90 days which in turn sounds similar to what was mentioned by Alvarez.