Between Mac Danzig’s “Not for Sale” attire and UFC President Dana White’s allusion to a sponsorship overhaul, product endorsement has been a hot topic in MMA news this week.

Typically one of the less-featured items in the sport, sponsorship has worked its way into MMA events over the past decade. With the exception of major deals, including Anderson Silva’s with Nike, Demetrious Johnson’s with Xbox One and Jon Jones’ with Gatorade, the general audience is largely uninformed of the details behind sponsor arrangements.

While the elite fighters of MMA enjoy their lucrative pacts, which they are fully entitled to, it appears to be a different story beneath this tier.

On Saturday at UFC on Fox 9, Danzig’s bold message suggested the financial gain from sponsorship on prime cable and satellite television was small enough to waive. Only weeks prior, Mark Hunt detailed his experience with a sponsor who allegedly skipped paying a significant fee, revealing his unfortunate experience on Episode 208 of the MMA Hour.

These events echoed Chris Camozzi’s commentary on sponsorship bargaining power in the UFC. Speaking from his blog before facing Nick Ring at UFC 158, the TUF 11 alum noted a lack of collective fighter leverage and the UFC’s “sponsor tax” among the reasons for his bemusement with sponsor money:

PPV walkout tees have gone from a big payday for fighters to essentially non-existent…

What product has been commoditized faster than the UFC athlete sponsorship? Even just a couple years ago it was very possible to earn $10K for your walkout shirt alone being featured on the UFC main card yet in 2013 I turned down offers that were in the $3K range for my walkout shirt…

They paid five to seven figures for PERMISSION to advertise on us, shouldn’t the ads be worth more?

There appears to be a decreasing sponsorship value at the highest level of MMA. There are multiple theories behind this trend’s cause. Among them are the inevitable consequence of more fight cards, promotions taking too much of a slice through “permission fees” and certain agents’ inability to secure payment. These threats to fighter sponsorship in the UFC trickle down to smaller organizations, creating a problem across the entire industry.

MMA fights on Facebook do not appear to attract higher-paying sponsors either, despite the social media platform’s 1.1 billion account users.

Dana White’s reference to a fairer sponsorship format provides optimism for the financial well-being of future fighters. Until MMA’s dominant organization makes concrete progress, we must remind ourselves that most sponsors invest in professional athletes, not the organization. Consequently, the personalities of the sport are as responsible for nurturing their brands as anyone else.

In theory, a successful sponsor agreement attracts a larger audience. This in turn justifies more compensation for MMA talent. With that said, here are five suggestions MMA athletes should apply, in collaboration with their sponsors, to improve the quality of their product or service endorsement.

Embrace the function of social media.

As a cheap, immediate and simple way to converse with different audiences, social media stands out as the finest promotional tool. Fans can voluntarily subscribe to an MMA athlete based on their interest in the talent. Content+, a marketing agency, revealed that 67 percent of Twitter users invest in a brand they follow. When a fighter communicates their support of a product or service, they help bridge a sponsoring brand and his or her audience.

Talents like UFC flyweight Joseph Benavidez have shown the ability to create a sustainable campaign that attracts new interest, while entertaining existing followers. Through dialogue with fans and taking nominations, the MMA JOBE Awards created exciting content that motivated fans to respond. This self-marketing strategy is a template for athletes to combine sponsorship deals with genuine gratitude for fans’ support.

Participate in video content.

As a form of communication, videos can offer a visual insight into a fighter’s personal character. Through demonstrations, interviews and monologues caught on camera, an MMA talent can discuss a subject close to the heart, conveying more emotion than most pieces of writing ever could.

By engaging in video projects with their sponsor, MMA talent connect their image with a product or service while openly sharing their appreciation of its benefits. The combination of entertainment and education that video content can portray so well is a recipe for genuine intrigue. This interest converts attention into tangible gain. Tapout, an MMA-centric brand that indulges its sponsored athletes more than most brands, depicted this blend in its #MyFightMatters commercial. The emotionally provocative footage of MMA athletes training over an inspirational monologue identifies the target audience and resonates with their appreciation of hard work and sacrifice.

Adopt a slogan to carry the brand.

A slogan can represent many things: an ideology, an instruction, an encouragement or a benefit. This flexibility empowers the saying. Informative, yet vague enough to interpret differently, an effective slogan is a clever means of connecting with an audience. A great example of this in MMA is Daniel Cormier’s “Embrace the Grind.” The Olympian developed his brand using three words. Not only does the mantra reveal Cormier’s personal outlook and share it with his fan base, but its meaning also allows viewers to relate through their own struggles.

The slogan’s length enables its merchandise potential, while also making for a clever Twitter hashtag. It is a brilliant example of combining marketing savvy with a fighter’s heartfelt principles.

Speak in sound bites.

Shout-outs are a dime a dozen. Depending on your outlook, they can also be frustrating, especially when they ignore a question posed to the fighter or emerge in quick succession. A lack of information or context stokes this frustration.

As a solution, projecting a company’s name, audience, service and message in a longer yet more comprehensive sound bite is one way to inform the audience. Short audio snippets offer substance without compromising the fluidity of an interview. They can be recycled and shared without great time or effort, too. The more detail a fighter shares about his sponsor, the more value he or she represents to them. The minute difference between a shout-out and a sound bite can have much larger financial repercussions.

Keep the crossover audience sweet.

Finally, and most importantly, a fighter and sponsor must have a deep understanding of their crossover audience. Nobody likes a message rammed down their throat, particularly when it has no interest to them. A t-shirt logo or banner spot is not enough to establish a genuine connection with the audience.

On pay-per-views, where buyers have already spent money to watch the broadcast, a logo must represent more than just another place to spend money. Talents and their endorsers must create dynamic, exciting analogies that endear a brand to the MMA audience. Through promotional giveaways, Gracie family endorsement and the communication of nutritional information, Bony Acai has established itself as a leading brand in MMA circles. In doing so, the brand has enjoyed domestic growth in Brazil, where it is synonymous with mixed martial arts.

In modern MMA, a competitor’s value goes beyond the cage. How far does it go? That’s up to the fighter.

Photo: Mac Danzig (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Aidan O'Connor
Staff Writer

A native of Maidstone, England, Aidan has been covering MMA in a news or feature capacity since 2010. In addition to writing for The MMA Corner, Aidan also runs the MMAmusing Twitter account and enjoys the sport as an avid enthusiast. A graduate in English and American Studies, he currently works in marketing and public relations.