On December 2, 2014, the UFC announced a six-year sponsorship with global sportswear giant Reebok. At the time, it was hailed by the UFC as a groundbreaking deal that would only benefit the fighters and bring the sport into the mainstream.
However, the partnership between Reebok and the UFC was cursed from the start with fighters, fans, and other MMA sponsors heavily criticizing the deal.
As this now infamous deal ends, let’s look at the five biggest mistakes Reebok made during their UFC sponsorship deal.
#5 The nightmare launch
The launch event had a myriad of issues, the major one being the misspelling of UFC fighter names on the fight gear. Gilbert Melendez’s first name was spelled "Giblert", Brazilian fighter Ronaldo Souza found his first name was now his nickname "Jacare," and Lyoto Machida had "Marcio" added to his name.
This highlighted the lack of MMA knowledge at Reebok and was a sign of (bad) things to come.
#4 Boring fight gear
When Reebok launched their new UFC fighter's gear, the response was very underwhelming. The initial fight gear came in only four to five standard colors, with UFC champions wearing all black with gold trim while challengers dressed in mainly white gear.
Reebok had a real opportunity to turn fight fans’ heads with stunning, creative in-octagon UFC fight gear but sadly they went for the safe, boring option.
#3 Low fighter payouts
It wasn’t just the fight gear that caused serious problems for Reebok with UFC fighters and supporters. When the fighters’ sponsorship payouts were announced in May 2015, there was an uproar. Payouts started at just $2,500, with UFC champions receiving $40,000 per fight.
One of the most outspoken opponents to the Reebok deal was UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub.
Many other fighters complained since no sponsors were allowed on their fight gear. Fighters were losing upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The low payouts lead to fighters leaving the UFC once their contracts were up so that they could earn more sponsorship money.
The Reebok deal was reportedly worth $70 million to the UFC, but as it comes to an end, the total fighter payouts only equal $39 million.
#2 Lack of promotion
The UFC/Reebok partnership was also famous for the lack of promotion of the actual fight gear and merchandise. When they signed with Reebok, the UFC hoped that it would bring more mainstream press and attention to the company. Sadly for the MMA leader, this never happened.
For years, Reebok was synonymous with Crossfit but it never showed the same commitment to the UFC. They did jump on the Conor McGregor bandwagon, releasing a UFC Ireland t-shirt. Unfortunately, it featured a map of Ireland that omitted the six counties which made up Northern Ireland. While NI is a separate country to the Republic of Ireland, to leave NI out of a map of the island of Ireland is offensive and ignorant. This idiotic error was blasted by both McGregor and his trainer, John Kavanagh.
#1 Terrible merchandise
One of the biggest mistakes Reebok made during their UFC sponsorship deal was the merchandise they provided. Not only was the actual fighter kit boring and uninspired, but the UFC merchandise was also no better.
The walkout tracksuit was a prime example of something that no real UFC fan would be seen wearing. They also only paid the fighters a small percentage for merchandise featuring their names. Sean O'Malley was recently outspoken about the fact that he felt ripped off by Reebok.
While speaking to Brendan Schaub on Food Truck Diaries, O'Malley stated, “I got royalties from Reebok. If I read it right - which I think I did, and I even sent it to my dad like, ‘Did I read this right?’ and he said yes, so unless we both can’t read - Reebok made over a million dollars on all my merch, and I got like $3,000. I’m like, what the f*ck?“It’s ridiculous. I thought I got 15%. And they’re like ‘Well, you get 15% of this, but of this, and then these guys get it, and then you get 15% of that.’ I’m like holy shit, you guys are f*cking me. Then, they make all these sweet shirts on Reebok and I’m like, damn. I tell people, ‘Don’t buy that!”