When the UFC debuted 20 years ago, sponsorship was non existent. Sponsors started to creep in during the 1990s; one of the early ones was Spanky's XXX Playground. It was smalltime. You could get Tito Ortiz's highly anticipated walk in shirt for $1,500.
Then, led by TapouT, sponsorships grew to the point where, like the NBA, it could rival the size of the purse. In the 90s then Charlotte Hornet Alonzo Mourning famously said "I play for Nike." While everyone in the UFC knew they worked for the UFC and not, say, TapouT, for a time sponsorships were huge.
There was a been a shift in the market, with less marketing dollars. This was brought home at the UFC 162 post fight press conference, by prelim fighter Mike Pierce.
At about 4:30 pm local time, a smiling Mike Pierce showed up backstage eager to discuss his second round TKO of David Mitchell, which kicked off UFC 162 on the Facebook-streamed prelims. On one hand, Pierce said, it was nice to get his work done early so he could sit with his family and enjoy the rest of the fights, but there are also real consequences to getting stuck on the prelims.
"Sponsors pay more money for the primetime airtime," Pierce said. "So yeah, it's going to be a little different than if I'd been higher up on the card, but this was another opportunity to get myself in that spot and make more money on sponsors. Hopefully that happens."
That's part of why Pierce said he wanted to make a statement with this fight. The difference in sponsor pay between the Facebook prelims and a main card spot could be somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000, Pierce said. It's hard enough courting lucrative sponsors for a normal UFC broadcast on FX or pay-per-view. According to one fighter agent with knowledge of the sponsorship landscape, "If you get [$3,000] in sponsors for Facebook, you killed it."
Pierce's situation drew some attention before the event since he seemed uncommonly experienced for a UFC curtain-jerker. This was his 12th UFC fight in four years with the company, and, as he pointed out, "The only guys I've lost to are guys who have either had title shots or are going to have title shots," such as Johny Hendricks.
That pre-fight talk apparently prompted a response from the UFC, which let the fighters know this week that they were in at least partial control of their position on any given fight card. That's a message that wasn't lost on Pierce.
"At the fighter meeting after weigh-ins they said, 'You're not happy with your place on the card? Go out there and get noticed. Do something,'" Pierce said. "That was motivation for me. I wanted to go out there and win in dramatic fashion. I got that TKO from that short left, so hopefully that's a step in the right direction to get me back on the main card."
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