Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrating the initial teamwork that lead to near-genocide. Which is fitting, considering that my Thanksgiving turkey is American Top Team president Dan Lambert. Now, Lambert is master and commander of the biggest collection of roughnecks and badasses this side of Delta Force, but, as came to light during the recent Jon Fitch debacle, he has recently been dressed, cleaned, and stuffed.
I’m referring to the revelations made in this recent interview.
In brief, Lambert states that the fighters likeness in a videogame isn’t worth anything aside from free publicity, exclusivity is not valuable because no entity other than the UFC could make an MMA game that would sell, and that signing away these likenesses is worth it because now ATT has done the UFC a favor and gotten into its good graces. I suspect Lambert actually knows better than this, but is just putting on a brave face after being forced to bend over for Dana’s turkey baster, but many fans have been espousing the same ideas he expresses in this interview, something which must be stopped.
Dan Lambert: I didn’t think it was really giving up that much for the fighter given the other opportunities they get and the promotion that it would be for you to be on the game.
First of all, it must be noted that, even if a fighter is “not really giving up that much”, he is getting nothing in return. Trading something for nothing is not good business. Furthermore, trading something that may be worth more than you expect, in exchange for nothing, is quite bad business. While a UFC fighter could currently get free promotion by being in the videogame, this contract lasts into perpetuity. That means if the fighter left to fight in Dream, the UFC folds, or the fighter is simply on the outs with the UFC, they may be in a bad situation.
As Dana White noted, if the fighter leaves the UFC, they’re not going to be in the UFC game. While Dana was trying to imply that the fighter’s likeness wouldn’t be used should they fall out with the UFC, given this contract, they won’t be in any other videogame either. This also means that Zuffa could deny this free promotion, or use it to incentivize fighters. Just as Andrei Arlovski was moved onto the unaired undercard of UFC 82, I fully expect hardball negotiations to lead to fighters appearing or not appearing in various iterations of the videogame. If some former UFC fighter becomes a star in another organization, that organization would have to pay Zuffa to use their likeness in a game. That alone is real value which was traded for nothing in this agreement.
Additionally, while free promotion is of value while a fighter is still active, a truly great fighter’s likeness is valuable even after their death. The “Fight Night” series of boxing games published by Electronic Arts primarily features legends like Rocky Marciano and Mohammad Ali. Those names sell games, and whoever owns those likenesses is still making money which, again, has shortsightedly been given up for nothing in the case of ATT fighters. This is far fetched for many fighters, but ask anyone at ATT how long they expect Thiago Alves to hold the title.
For another real-world example, consider the ‘sport’ which most closely resembles the current state of MMA – professional wrestling. Interestingly, the most popular pro-wrestling games are published by THQ, the same company currently developing the UFC game (in fact most MMA games to date have been based on re-purposed pro-wrestling games). THQ has exclusive rights to the likenesses of the modern crop of WWE wrestlers, but they aren’t the only company making money and paying for likenesses. Acclaim entertainment, the company that brought us Mortal Kombat, has had modest success with its own line of “Legends of Wrestling” games, featuring wrestlers who have long been retired or dead. These games have sold reasonably well and produced value for retired wrestlers and their heirs.
Dan Lambert: It’s not like those deals are really out there to be had anyway right now.
Again, ‘right now’ is not the same thing as ‘forever’, which was the time period of this agreement. Lambert is basically saying here that exclusivity, even exclusivity in perpetuity, has no value since the UFC dominates the market. This is certainly not the case in the future, and it’s not even the case right now.
For a real-world example of the value of exclusivity, lets take the case of Madden vs. NFL2k. EA Sports is the 800-lb gorilla of sports videogames, and their Madden NFL product is their flagship product. In 1999, Sega launched its Dreamcast videogame system, and EA declined to produce a Madden title for the system. Thus was born NFL 2k, produced by Sega and featuring the same NFL players as well as licensed production from ESPN. The game continued to be updated every year, until the game mechanics were as good as Madden’s and the game was available on all major videogame systems. In 2004 Sega released NFL 2K5 the same day EA released Madden 2005, at less than half the price ($19.99 vs. $49.99). Both games received very high reviews, with many critics saying NFL2k5 was actually the superior product. Sega had actually cut into the market share of EA. EA went to the NFL, the NFL Players Union, and ESPN, essentially with a dump-truck of money, and signed exclusivity agreements with all of them, killing NFL2k as a franchise. In the case of the UFC, that dump-truck of money, should it ever be driven, will bypass ATT entirely, unloading exclusively at Zuffa headquarters. That’s value that every fighter that’s signed this agreement has given up forever for nothing.
Interestingly and relatedly, while NFL2k died, another company continued to develop the product with new goals, selling the game on a smaller scale as “All-Pro Football 2k8” and using largely fictional teams and players. However, the game still includes former NFL players such as Joe Montana, Barry Sanders, John Elway, Walter Payton, and Jerry Rice. Again, that sort of opportunity is closed to every fighter that signed this deal.
The story of EA crushing the NFL2k series has even further relevance; EA demonstrated a Dana-like need to kill all competition and dominate every possible aspect of its market, sports videogames. The fact that EA is not involved with the UFC videogame makes the possibility of a rival MMA game a very real one. Fans question the viability of an Affliction videogame, but they absolutely ignore the value of an EA MMA game.
Yes, the UFC holds more of the world’s best fighters than anyone else, but answer me this: would you be interested in an MMA game whose roster featured Kimbo Slice, Gina Carano, Fedor Emelianenko, Frank Shamrock, Ken Shamrock, Kevin Randleman, Bas Rutten, Rickson Gracie, Royce Gracie, Andrei Arlovski, Joe Son, Mauro Renallo, Tito Ortiz, Robbie Lawler, and Mayhem Miller? EA has the resources to put that “Legends of MMA” together, especially considering none of those fighters will be put into a UFC game, and nobody else is putting one together, so those fighters could be picked up for pennies on the dollar. EA also has the resources and experience to not only license all those fighters, but to create a game with production values that meet or exceed THQ’s UFC product.
Affliction and every other second-tier MMA promotion likely have no intention whatsoever to produce a videogame, meaning they would likely give all their brands to EA for free in exchange for the publicity. In the age of downloadable user-created content, if a decent create-a-fighter was included, the UFC fighters missing from this game would be put together within 24 hours of the game’s release by a team of 8th graders hopped up on Mountain Dew, and available for download shortly thereafter. If EA and THQ were to get into a bidding war for individual fighters, that is the best possible outcome for the fighters. Instead, all current UFC fighters will be denied this possible money, for forever, in exchange for nothing.
Dan Lambert: Dana’s … done a lot for this sport,…They’ve always treated us right. He asks a favor, (and) you’ve got to pick your battles.
If Lambert is the turkey, this is the stuffing. I find it incredibly dubious that doing a favor for Dana White is worth more than the value I’ve discussed here, or worth more than a single Tim Sylvia hunting DVD. In fact, if this entire episode should have taught fighters and management anything, it’s that Dana White doesn’t factor that sort of thing into decisions in the slightest.
As I previously wrote, Fitch was a company man to the end, putting on the kind of fights Dana always talks about, with no drama or complaint. As we saw, that was worth exactly nothing when he was shoved out the door. Even more egregious was the case of Josh Koscheck. In what I found a very silly move for a top-flight fighter on the comeback trail, Koscheck stepped up on very short notice and did the UFC a huge favor by saving the broken Thiago Alves vs. Diego Sanchez fight at what ended up being great personal cost to himself. Again, he was unceremoniously given the boot over this supposedly minor contract negotiation, with the caveat that he would still be allowed to headline a card that would be dead without him. Dana, in all his carnival-barker glory, tried to present giving Koscheck a fight that they couldn’t afford to not give him, as a great way to return a favor, even while explaining that Kos was going to get kicked out right after the fight.
In short, every fighter and manager that signed this agreement in exchange for the less-than-worthless favor for Dana White did themselves a huge disservice and may end up regretting it far sooner than the MMA community at large seems to recognize.