The following article was written by Spencer Wingate.
Recently, ESPN aired a controversial piece on Outside the Lines examining Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter pay. It detailed how the UFC is not required to disclose its revenues since it is a private company.
ESPN seemed to be projecting the view that the UFC drastically underpays its fighters. UFC has since come out with a response disputing the claim.
An interesting facet from the story is that roughly half the revenue generated from the four most popular sports in the United States – football, basketball, baseball, and hockey – is paid to the sports’ players. Those sports differ from the UFC as they are all team sports and follow a more traditional structure. Each sport has a players’ union to negotiate on their athletes’ behalf. As sports gained in profitability and marketability over the years, the construction of players’ unions was indispensable. The associations serve as a mechanism to monitor, negotiate, govern, and represent the players. They work as a legal means for the players’ concerns to be heard. Like any union, the players’ associations seek to better the welfare of the individuals they represent.
Currently no entity exists in the UFC that unites the fighters’ voice into one. A collective bargaining agreement is not existent in the UFC primarily because of the structure of the sport. With UFC’s increasing popularity and a new contract with Fox Sports Media Group, it will be interesting to see if efforts to mobilize such a union ever materialize.
Whether UFC underpays or even overpays its fighters is debatable. However, as the sport’s economic value continues to increase, watching the structure and institutions that may develop will be worth observing.