Recently, Bellator MMA has been caught in the crosshairs of an antitrust lawsuit between the UFC and some former fighters. Bellator is fighting for their right to keep confidential documents out of the public eye and, perhaps of more importance, out of the view of the UFC. While President Scott Coker and Bellator have a vested interested in keeping their figures under wraps, the push for transparency is a fight that all fighters should unite behind.
First things first, I am not a lawyer, so this is really just an outsiders perspective on a legal issue. Secondly, even though Bellator’s numbers are currently being requested, most of this argument is focused on the UFC. Additionally, the UFC and Bellator are private companies that are under no obligation to reveal their figures to the public.
However, in an era where UFC fighters are lobbying for public support in their labor causes, perhaps having the public privy to a fighter’s empirical value could illuminate to the masses the plight of the fighter.
As it stands, the UFC only releases business figures when they reflect well on the promotion. The other source is longtime combat sports journalist Dave Meltzer of MMAFighting.com, who has never had his reports of pay-per-view numbers called into question, but his figures are unofficial.
Similarly, when a fighter discloses numbers such as pay-per-view points, it is impossible to decipher if the fighter is making a disclosure of truth or one that is a negotiating ploy.
A transparent reveal of certain UFC business factors such as pay-per-view numbers and fighters contracts can provide an insight to the pundits and the public about the potential imbalances between revenue generation and compensation.
When potential fighter associations form, they often cite the small percentage of pay the fighters receive as opposed to the promotion, but those numbers exists in a mythical space that cannot be conceptualized.
Even with the inequities being revealed, it is still not guaranteed that UFC fighters can get the public to facilitate meaningful change.
Fighter pay seems to be an issue that is disproportionally discussed by various groups. Fighters discuss the issue to an inconsistent degree, MMA fans say they care but not enough influence their wallet, the MMA-media brings it up ad nauseam, while the mainstream sports media is oblivious to the cause.
It is in that final group – the mainstream sports media – that could theoretically be a conduit of change. It is not in their nature to delve deep into these types of issues for a peripheral sport; however, if the data could be presented in a clear, concise, and credible manner, these grievences could be projected by more visible media sources.
Having the public care about the finances of a professional athlete is a tough sell, but the income disparity for those who get punched and kicked in the head for a living is not analogous to many other situations.
Obviously, a transparent fighter market is something that is a long way from becoming a reality; fighters are still ineffective in organizing any meaningful labor movements. Notwithstanding, a future where fighters have collective bargaining rights is one that should include reasonable financial transparency to the public, beyond what an expansion of The Ali Act could provide.
Scott Coker may be well-intentioned by not wanting the UFC to see his company’s business figures, but he is doing so in the self-interest of his promotion.
A promotion having its best interests at heart is usually at the expense of fighters. Keeping these numbers hidden from public view only serves the promoter; advocating for a meaningful change against such a practice is a worthy battle cry.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: A complete chronicle of George St. Pierre’s UFC history and the buyrates for each of his PPV fights
(Robert Vallejos writes a new Specialist column for MMATorch titled “Media & Business” focused on, you guessed it, the media coverage of MMA and the business side of MMA. He is fascinated by the presentation, business decisions, media strategy, and press coverage of both UFC and MMA as a whole, and will bring that curiosity to explore and delve into that side of MMA to his weekly Specialist column here at MMATorch. He explains his approach: “As a sport in its relative infancy, MMA does not receive the same level of scrutiny and informed analysis from the sports media as other more established entities. This is why it is vital for independent outlets such MMATorch to grow, while featuring a variety of voices. Unlike mainstream outlets, MMATorch is not beholden to any organization. Therefore I believe it is essential for individuals such as myself to explain not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ of MMA.”)