Endeavor CEO claims UFC fighter pay up 600% and touts various revenue sources that benefits athletes

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May 16, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; General view of the octagon before UFC on ESPN at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Ari Emanuel, the head of Ultimate Fighting Championship parent company Endeavor, claims UFC fighter pay is up 600% since 2005 because of the varied revenue streams the promotion has.

The issue of how much UFC athletes make, and the percentage of the organization’s revenue that goes to them has been a constant source of discourse and debate in mixed martial arts circles. The biggest contention for many fans and media has been that as the promotion’s profits only continue to increase, the amount of revenue that goes to fighters has remained the same.

Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel claims UFC fighter pay up 600%

As the UFC goes through the process of defending themselves against an ongoing anti-trust lawsuit brought about by former fighters, records of the organizations financial dealings have come to light. Recent reports have shown that 16-20% of the UFC’s revenue goes to paying fighters. It’s a number that is far below what athletes in the MLB, NBA, and NFL earn when they have collectively bargainned to take in half or more of those leagues profits.

The UFC has also tried to defend itself publicly against what it views as attacks about much fighters get paid. With UFC President Dana White calling members of the media who focus on the topic ‘scumbags.’ To counter this common complaint from media and even fighters, the UFC has shaped narrative focusing on the fact that athletes in the promotion have seen a massive increase in pay over the last decade-plus.

Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel pushed this idea again recently during a recent Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference. During the conference, he claimed that fighters have seen a massive 600% increase in pay since 2005, and hung the payout hat on the fact that former two-division champion Conor McGregor was the top name on Forbes’ 2021 list of 100 highest-paid athletes.

“They just did a recent study of top-paying athletes. The number one athlete was a UFC fighter,” Emanuel said [h/t MMAFighting]. “They’re making money on fight kits, paid marketing opportunities we’re creating for them with our sponsors, revenue for NFTs, and we’re investing money in a performance institute to rehabilitate them, [focus on their] diet, etc,”

McGregor reportedly earned US $180 million over the period of time the list chronicled. However, US $150 million of that total came from the Irishman’s sale of his ownership stake in The Proper 12 whiskey he helped found.

During the summer, the UFC also signed a US $175 million branding partnership with digital currency giant Crypto.com. Just like the promotion’s new partnership with apparel brand Venum, none of that income will go directly to fighters since they can not collectivley bargain to receive a percentage from such deals.

Fighters certainly make more now, on per-fight basis, than their predecessors did 15 years ago. There is no denying that fact. However, the UFC also makes far more, and outside a few superstar talents, the percentage of the revenue that goes toward fighter income is largely unchanged over the last decade.

During the conference, Emmanuel also spoke on the UFC’s broadcast contract with ESPN set to run out in 2026, and his confidence in their strong position when it comes time to negotiate a new TV deal.

“We love our relationship with Disney,” Emanuel said. “I’m not nervous about where we’re going to end up. Now, you’re seeing the streamers come into it, so I’m feeling very good about where we sit.”

What are your thoughts on UFC fighter pay as the promotion continues to rake in massive profits?


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