Sarah Kaufman: Reebok Deal Made It ‘Harder Than Ever’ to Get Sponsors for UFC 186

By Tristen Critchfield Apr 16, 2015
Sarah Kaufman has struggled to secure sponsors ahead of UFC 186. | Dave Mandel/

For now, the fact that Alexis Davis is ranked ahead of Sarah Kaufman on, despite going winless in two bouts against her fellow Canadian, is little more than a minor point of contention.

Come summertime, however, the Las Vegas-based promotion’s fighter polls will become far more than bar-stool and water-cooler fodder. In July, the UFC’s outfitting policy, which arrives as a result of a six-year agreement with athletic apparel giant Reebok, will take effect. At that time, fighters and their corners can only wear Reebok apparel at all UFC-related events. More importantly, fighters will receive compensation from that deal based on a five-tiered ranking system.

“Rankings are so subjective as is. We have fought twice before, Alexis and I. I have come out on the winning end of both of those fights, and in theory that should make you ranked higher than someone,” Kaufman said during an appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “Up until now it didn’t really matter so much, but with the UFC bringing the Reebok deal, and that’s how you’re gonna be getting paid for sponsorships, it’s gonna get a lot more cutthroat with who’s where and who’s above whom and all that.”

Kaufman, who faces Davis for a third time at UFC 186 at the Bell Centre in Montreal on April 25, says she is already feeling the impact from looming deal.

“As of right now for this upcoming fight it’s been harder than ever to get sponsorships,” she said. “Because I think a lot of people and a lot of companies are clearly aware that Reebok is coming in and they’re taking over the market. So why put your money where you have in the past, and that’s the market that’s being taken over by Reebok. So it has definitely affected me for this fight.”

The change in the landscape has been obvious to the 29-year-old former Strikeforce champion. In the past, the alliance between managers and MMA apparel companies got fighters paid. Now those managers are going to have to get more creative to make a profit.

“I think it’s an interesting time in that the managers, who have been dealing with sponsorships... they work directly with these companies. They get allotted a certain amount of money to spend in a quarter,” Kaufman said. “And they dole it out how they see fit, if the companies are OK with that. And now I think you’re going away from that model to having managers really have to work hard and find these alternate routes.”

With Reebok deal taking away many fight-week earning opportunities, Kaufman can only hope that her hands-on approach to dealing with sponsors will pay off in other non-UFC endeavors.

“I’ve always been on the side of being as involved as possible with sponsors,” she said. “I don’t want to just take someone’s money and write a quick tweet, “Hey thanks so-and-so for the money” and then that’s it. To me, the sponsor is not getting their value out of that, and I’m not representing myself and their company to the best of my abilities.”

Of course, like most of her peers, Kaufman doesn’t know all that much about how the money from the outfitting policy will be distributed. Until the actual figures come out and checks are written, the best she can do is take a wait-and-see approach.

“We don’t really know how the Reebok deal is gonna work out. What we’ve been told is that you’re gonna be branded in Reebok; your corners are branded in Reebok and everything about you is Reebok,” Kaufman said. “Reebok seems like a great company. I’m not really putting anything on Rebook here, but we don’t know what the deal is. I’d love to get sponsored year round. That would be great.

“But on a fight-by-fight basis we’re not sure yet, other than it’s gonna be based on rankings and be a tiered system of sorts. How much is that gonna be? Is it gonna be $5? Is it gonna be $1,000? Is it gonna be $10,000? And until we really know that, we can’t really know how good that deal is gonna be for the athletes in general.”


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