The UFC's oft-criticized apparel deal with Reebok is coming to a close next year.
Venum will take over as the UFC's apparel partner beginning in April 2021, the promotion announced Friday. The UFC's apparel deal with Reebok runs through March 2021, but the company will stay on as the UFC's official footwear brand through the end of next year, according to a release.
Unlike Reebok, Venum is a company that has focused mainly on combat sports and martial arts since it was founded in France in 2006. Before the relationship between the UFC and Reebok, many fighters had Venum as a sponsor.
"Everything in life is about timing, and this Venum deal couldn't come at a more perfect time," UFC president Dana White told reporters Friday after UFC 251 weigh-ins in Abu Dhabi. "This weird place we're in right now, in the entire world, with sports and business and everything going on, these guys were the right people at the right time. It's so weird how this stuff works out. You see some of the monsters, without saying names, who are trying to pull back deals with sports leagues, this is what Venum does. This is the business Venum is in. I just think the timing on this thing couldn't have been any better, they're a great company, they've invested in this, and I love it."
Sources told ESPN that the Venum contract is shorter and not as lucrative as the previous one with Reebok. The majority of the money from the deal will go to the fighters, sources said. Per the release, fighters will see an "across the board" increase in pay compared to the Reebok deal, beginning in April 2021.
The UFC signed a six-year, $70 million deal with Reebok in 2014. The money in the contract was not all cash -- it included the value of the products Reebok provided.
"We wish UFC the very best on its next phase and we're looking forward to seeing the sport continue to grow. Over the past six years, our UFC partnership afforded us the opportunity to work closely with so many great fighters, giving us new insights into making great training product. We will take these insights and learnings forward, as we continue on our mission to be the best fitness brand in the world," Reebok said in a statement.
The UFC partnering with Reebok six years ago was a significant change in aesthetics and finances for fighters, who previously were able to wear their own gear with their own sponsors in the Octagon. Under Reebok, fighters had a uniform, were not allowed their own in-cage sponsors and were paid through a tiered system (based on tenure) by the UFC via money from the Reebok contract.
Reebok represented a major name brand affiliated with the UFC, which at the time was striving for mainstream acceptance. But it was a rocky relationship. The initial rollout featured extremely generic looking fight gear, rife with the misspellings of athletes' names. Fighters and managers were critical of the amount of money athletes stood to lose without sponsor patches on fight gear. On top of that, there was concern that every fighter wearing the same uniform would strip the sport, which has its fair share of over-the-top characters, of its individuality.
The dynamic between the UFC and Reebok did improve over time. The UFC desired a cleaner look and presentation on television and pay-per-view and in that aspect Reebok was viewed as a success. The guaranteed, consistent money that came from Reebok became more welcome to some fighters -- especially the ones not at the top of the card -- compared to having to scratch and claw for sponsors every fight.
"Listen, I know there was a lot of negativity surrounding the uniform thing, but it's been nothing but positive," White said Friday. "These guys have all made money, they'll continue to make money. It's a good thing for everybody."
Venum will provide MMA and performance apparel designed specifically for UFC fighters, which will include "second-skin-feel" fight shorts with "thermo-bonded" and "extra-flat" elastic waistbands and a side slit, for which Venum is known.
"Joining UFC as their official outfitting and apparel partner means a great deal to the Venum team," Franck Dupuis, Venum's Founder and CEO, said in a statement. "Venum is a brand that has grown alongside the sport of MMA as it has exploded in popularity around the world. We are both proud and grateful, as this agreement signifies the success of our journey over the past fifteen years. At Venum, we are ecstatic to write the next chapter in our history."