When a fighter steps into the Octagon and competes, it's the culmination of not just their own hard work, but the work of coaches, trainers, teammates, sparring partners and specialists.
As we continue in this modern age, a fighter needs more than that if they want to remain visible. Their fists can only do so much talking. The elite fighters have everything from managers, marketing directors, publicists and more to really get their names out there to the general public.
Especially in an era where UFC is giving title shots to fighters it feels will sell the most pay-per-views, having major exposure could be the difference between earning a regular check and a tremendous payday.
One of the men responsible for keeping fighters in the public eye is Elie Deshe, the Marketing Managing Director for VFD Marketing which represents the likes of Donald Cerrone, Travis Browne, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz and Clay Guida.
Deshe dished with MMAmania.com about all the responsibilities of a marketer and manager including sponsors, social media and much, much more in part one this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's start with the basics, the things you do for fighters that they would have trouble doing on their own.
Elie Deshe: Myself and my partner John Fosco at VFD Marketing, we're basically a hybrid agency where in addition to fighters, we work with companies as their marketing arm into the sport. Other agencies focus on managing fighters but in terms of what we do for them, it can range from obviously negotiating with the UFC, getting their fights done and all their deals, but also behind-the-scenes stuff. There's tax preparation, translators when they need it, all the media requests, interviews, photos, websites, facebook. Everything you can think of that they do. What really separates from good agents and not-so-good agents is the ability to bring in sponsorship dollars for their clients.
UFC is the UFC and they dictate a lot of the terms for these guys because they control the show, so it comes down to what can you do outside of what the UFC is giving you and that has become increasingly more difficult with a lot of the limitations on sponsors who are allowed into the ring which is much different than what it was five years ago in terms of who can sponsor a fighter. That's where we really like to hang our hat as a company because of our relationship with some of the top sponsors in the game.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How much did it affect fighters when UFC issued its sponsorship tax about five years ago?
Elie Deshe: Well that depends on who their representation is. If their managers before were relying on personal friends or perhaps other sponsors to come to them saying, "We want your guy," it affected them a lot. Fortunately for our guys, many of them weren't affected at all and in fact, many of them are making more money than they ever have because we're actively going out and pursuing more sponsors. We don't live in a gym. A lot of the time, you'll see coaches who train with them or perhaps their brother manages a fighter but myself and John, we're traveling around the country meeting with companies moreso than anything else we do because we know if we find more sponsors for our guys, it's going to make them happier and make everybody more successful.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): We know generally how much fighters make per fight in their contracts with UFC. How much extra do they pull in due to sponsors?
Elie Deshe: I've seen it all around, but we've had plenty of times where fighters made more from sponsorships than they even made from fighting from the UFC directly. I think for most guys that's not the case anymore, just from being able to do last second deals with fighters we don't manage. Just like with Safe Auto or Muscle Pharm, those are two companies where we control their sponsorship budgets. At the end of the day, we have to sponsor guys that we don't manage directly so we see what fighters are making for their sponsors and it totally ranges depending on the fighter and how many other sponsors they have. I can really only speak for our guys and they make a nice chunk of change from the sponsors as well as their UFC pay, which is also going up. There's no doubt about that. UFC will reward you if you're a good fighter, put on a good show and keep winning. I love that UFC rewards you for winning your fight, you get paid twice as much on most occasions when you win on top of any other bonuses.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How much does it matter in regards to sponsors being on a Facebook prelim to being on Fuel TV, FX, Fox or on the pay-per-view?
Elie Deshe: It matters a lot. It's nice now that almost every fight is televised one way or the other but there's definitely deals where if you're not on the televised portions, you're not going to get paid as much or it's one of those tiers where if you do happen to get on the televised portion, you get paid more. Sponsors increasingly, people are tighter with their dollars and the economy hasn't fully recovered yet. If people want to pay and sponsor a fighter, they want to be seen. Obviously being on Fox is a whole different category.