Fixing “Oppressive” MMA Fighter Contracts

Today Paul Gift at BloodyElbow.com wrote an involved piece analyzing the restrictive terms contained in Zuffa and Bellator fighter contracts.  The article should be read in full for anyone interested in the business of MMA.

Paul concludes that if these practices are widespread and the industry norm the current anti-trust lawsuits against Zuffa are facing a steep uphill battle.

Whether the anti-trust lawsuits succeed or not, and leaving fighter pay issues aside, it is quite clear that contracts such as these have one sided collateral terms greatly favoring promotions.  If fighters ever wish to change this there are two potential remedies outside of successful litigation.  Either a strong fighters association being formed to set minimum standards with respect to collateral terms in contracts such as contract length, exclusivity clauses, matching clauses, ancillary rights agreements etc.

Failing this, the only other solution is legislative change.

California flirted with fixing ‘oppressive’ MMA contracts with Bill AB 2100.  The bill died before ever becoming law.  The bill would have prevented contracts with ‘coercive’ terms and these include provisions that

1. Assign any exclusive future merchandising rights to a promoter for an unreasonable period beyond the term of the promotional contract

2. Automatically renews a promotional contract or extends the term without good faith negotiation, or extends the term of any promotional contract of a fighter who participates in a championship contest for a period greater than 12 months beyond the existing contract termination period

3.  Unreasonably restricts a mixed martial arts fighter from obtaining outside sponsorship from a firm, product, or individual

4.  Requires a mixed martial arts fighter to relinquish all legal claims that the fighter has, or any acquire in the future, against the promoter beyond assumption of the risks inherent in the sport of MMA and the fighter’s participation in pre and post bout events and activities

5. Requires a fighter to grant or waive any additional rights not contained in the promotional contract as a condition precedent to the fighter’s participation in any contest

6.  Is for a period exceeding 5 years

7.  Automatically extends the term or conditions of the contract

8.  Requires a party to negotiate exclusivity with the other party

9.  Grants a party the right to natch the term of an offer

10.  Grants a party unrestricted rights to use the identify of the other party

In a February 27, 2015 article Zach Arnold reports that

On a curious side note, recent lobbying records publicly filed by Zuffa LLC & Station Casinos LLC in Sacramento show both donations & expenditures involving AssemblymanLuis Alejo. Three years ago, Alejo was pushing Assembly Bill 2100 in California. AB 2100 would have allowed MMA fighters to tap into the Boxer’s Pension Fund and would have subjected promoters to regulations regarding adhesive/coercive contracts. AB 2100 predictably died.”

Legislative change such as the above would be opposed to the business interests of MMA promotions.  That being said, if addressing oppressive terms in fighter contracts are ever going to be addressed the solution can only come from the Courts, the Legislature or the fighters themselves.

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