UFC Exec Claims Pirate Streams Are Hurting The Fighters

In the MMA community we’re used to the UFC longtime president Dana White being the mouthpiece of the operation. However today an interview with the chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein surfaced. In a rare interview Epstein stressed how Pirate streams are ultimately hurting the fighter pay – which is an absurd claim. Before we get into that, here’s what he told Sportico:

“We’re not trying to stop them from showing video of Conor or other fighters.” Instead, Epstein underscores, “We are going after the pirates . . . we are trying to stop illegal profiting and reselling of copyright material.”

“Every buy that’s stolen is hurting [McGregor] and other fighters. This is not a victimless crime or one that just hurts the big corporation—it hurts the individual athletes . . . remember they have as short window [of life] to monetize” their athletic abilities and skills.

For starters, the illegal streams only affect the fighters who negotiate the PPV points. And while you might think this is a privilege that comes with being a champion, previous interviews with former champions Demetrious Johnson and Deiveson Figueiredo made it clear that this is not a given – it must be negotiated. And even when you negotiate them, there’s a caveat. For example the contracts are structured so that the fighter gets no points if the card sells under 200k and further there are tiers – ie he could expect to make 1$ for every buy if the card were to sell between 200k and 400k buys and 2$ per buy if it does from 400k to 600k ( this was rumored to be the structure of Eddie Alvarez’ contract with the UFC).

Further, illegal streams are not unique to the sport of mixed martial arts. All of the mainstream sports deal with illegal streams. However, this doesn’t prevent them from splitting revenue 50-50 with the athletes whereas fighters get compensated with only 20% of the profits in the UFC.

Here’s where it’s interesting to point out that Dana White has been caught in a lie last year. White told Talk and Talk podcast:

 “Let me tell you about ‘Fight Island.’ ‘Fight Island’ is so f**king expensive and so f**king crazy and almost impossible to pull off,” White said. “When you’re talking about planes and flying people from other [places] and the restrictions.

“You have to quarantine people and all these things that we’re going through, it’s f**king insane to be even trying to do this. But I promise you, we will do it and we will pull it off.”

This was a claim that was accidentally refuted by White’s own boss – the WME CEO and Hollywood power agent Ari Emanuel. Emanuel had received a call from Khaldoon Al Mubarak – an influential adviser of UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed offering to offset some of UFC’s cost by staging fights in the UAE during the time USA was under restrictions that banned the audience from attending.

“Khaldoon said, ‘Why don’t you have the UFC come here? We’ll create a bubble for you.’” Emanuel relayed in an interview with The New Yorker. “And then everything got started.”

 Abu Dhabi also reportedly paid the UFC for each fight card “at rates that compensated for the absence of ticket sales,” which was a major factor for the promotion.

Ultimately the UFC profited more in 2020 than they did in 2019.

Of course this news comes on the wings of two new deals the UFC had done with sponsors – UFC had replaced Reebok with Venum this year. The Reebok deal was estimated to be worth 70 millions. There’s no word yet on how much Venum had to cough up. One thing’s for certain – the fighters are making more or less the same money from this sponsorship.

When news of the 2nd fight kit sponsorship arrived, the fighters realized they could’ve done even worse. This year the UFC struck up one of the most lucrative sponsorship deals in promotion’s history – and the fighters got none of it. Crypto.com paid UFC record setting 175 million to be prominently featured on the venum fight kit.

With all this in mind, it seems the organization itself is the one that is negatively affecting fighter pay and not so much the illegal streams.