by: Maria Sanders
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the world’s largest promoter for the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA). UFC, with its parent company Zuffa LLC, employs more than 350 fighters, both male and female. With such a large talent base, maintaining effective employee relations is a top priority for the organization.
For the last three years the UFC has hosted a fighter summit at its headquarters in Las Vegas, which is similar to the NFL’s rookie camps. In May 2011, nearly all UFC fighters gathered for a two-day summit.
Over the course of the two days, fighters attended workshops on topics such as social media, proper ways to cut weight, the signs of a head injury, paying taxes, UFC’s new accident insurance policy and managing personal finances.
The sport of MMA is costly. In his article, “The Economics of MMA: How Much Does It Cost To Be A Fighter”, Jonathon Snowden lays out the average expenses for a fighter. A few of the annual costs are as follows:
• High-level coaches- $15,000
• Dietician- $7,500
• Additional training partners- $3,500
• Supplements- $2,000
• Housing- $10,000
These numbers don’t even reflect the cost of living for a fighter’s family or those he may be supporting financially.
Most UFC fighters have one to two fights a year. The paydays can be big for those who have their hands raised at the end. And UFC offers generous bonuses for fighters on all of their main cards. At UFC 135, on September 24, the UFC handed out a total of $300,000 in bonuses for “Fight of the Night,” “Knockout of the Night” and “Submission of the Night.”
However, many of the UFC fighters aren’t making $225,000 a year, the average income Snowden cited in his article. For this reason, the UFC was adamant about educating its fighters at this year’s summit on how to manage their own finances.
“You’d be surprised at how much the fighter actually walks away with at the end of the day. But in a lot of cases, the fighter thinks he has $20 million and he spends like he has $20 million,” UFC President Dana White said. “But then, the next year, he gets a tax bill for $10 million and he says, ‘Now how in the [expletive] do I owe $10 million in taxes?’”
White explained, “We want to educate these guys on a lot of things that maybe they don’t know about or don’t think about. They can always pick up the phone and call us, but by doing a summit like this, we can have the experts here for them and make it easy for them in a day, day and a half, to get a lot of very useful information.”
While training can be costly, injuries sustained during training can be even more so. The UFC previously only covered the injuries fighters acquired while training for a fight officially under contract. However, all medical costs from injuries occurring during general training and non-MMA related incidents fell to the fighter.
At the summit, fighters were informed of the new accident insurance policy the UFC was instituting. This policy covers any injury to a fighter whether he is training for a fight or not. This new policy is a first for the sport, and could help sway new talent to sign with the UFC over another promotion.
“Zuffa’s new insurance policy may change the way in which prospects think about their future, specifically the loved ones they may be helping support or their own well-being,” Leland Rolling said.
Dana White once said of MMA, “It’s not your father’s boxing.”
And, after the fighter summit session on social media, it’s safe to say MMA, and specifically the UFC brand ofMMA, isn’t like any of your father’s sports.
For example, the NFL has a new social media policy in place to guide and regulate its athletes.
In the NFL, players face hefty fines for updating their social media accounts within 90 minutes before and after a game, and certainly any such activity is prohibited during a game. Patriots’ wide receiver Chad Ochocinco announced he would be deleting his Twitter account after being reprimanded for tweeting during a game. The NFL’s policy is mainly to protect its TV contracts.
With most of the UFC’s events being pay-per-view only, it has embraced the use of social media by its fighters as a way of promotion. The UFC’s social media policy seems to be simply this: Tweet often, and do it well.
When UFC fighter Ryan Bader posted tweets during his most recent fight with Tito Ortiz, there was no punishment sent from the higher ups. His only loss that night was when Ortiz submitted him with a guillotine choke with less than two minutes to go in the first round.
Digital Royalty founder Amy Martin and UFC VP of New Media Edward Muncey led the social media session at the summit. Martin and Muncey gave fighters strategies and techniques for developing their online presence and helping build their careers through social media.
Fighters were encouraged to tweet during the summit, and the event even became a trending topic. The UFC also announced it would begin awarding several $5,000 bonuses every three months to fighters who show a high level of social networking activity.
“It made that feel worth it,” fighter Charlie Brenneman said about the information given during the social media session. “That stuff’s not easy to do. It’s time consuming, it takes energy, but it just really made me feel like alright I’m on the right path and this is great.”
The UFC, under the leadership of Dana White, does a great job of showing fighters their needs and concerns are important to the organization. The fighters are the face of the UFC, and the organization’s leaders seem to have recognized for the UFC to be successful their fighters need to be successful — inside and outside the octagon. The fighter summit is a great example of the UFC’s commitment to its fighters, and of successful employee relations.