Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Ultimate Fighter is Back With Some New Twists And A Peculiar New Sponsor

By: Rich Bergeron

The Ultimate Fighter began yet another new season Friday night on FX, and once again the show is back to a non-live format. Fighters still had to fight their way into the house, but this time around there will be an added $5,000 bonus for every contestant who wins a fight by submission or knockout.

Another change in the dynamics of the show may not seem like that big a deal to those who aren't aware of the gritty details behind the bankruptcy and buyout of Xyience by the Fertitta brothers through Fertitta Enterprises. The "stalking horse bidder" purchase of the Xyience brand out of bankruptcy by associates of the Fertittas (who then defaulted on their payment plan) eventually put the UFC's majority owners in full control of their own sponsor. Fertitta Enterprises was the chief lien-holder of the company going into bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy trustee's counsel labeled the Fertitta takeover a "loan to own scheme" in official court paperwork.

The re-organized Xyience is still very much a pivotal UFC sponsor with fighters under contract and prominently featured advertising across multiple UFC platforms. Since one of the company's most well known products is their Xenergy line of sugarless energy drinks, it seemed extremely odd to see NOS Energy Drink in a headline sponsorship position for the new TUF season.

What's really disturbing about this sudden shift to NOS is that it comes at a time when Heavyweight Shane Carwin is a featured head coach squaring off with "Big Country" Roy Nelson this season. Carwin ran into some sponsorship trouble of his own back in October of 2010 when a sports drink (GOOD4U) that backed his career received a broad sponsorship ban imposed by Lorenzo Fertitta himself. It seemed obvious that the move was designed to benefit Xyience and Xenergy. Carwin reacted to the news of the ban with some harsh words posted on his Twitter account (which he later deleted):

"And another worthy, great, honorable company supporting fighters banned from the UFC. Thank you for making a tough road even tougher."

GOOD4U Executive Rick DeBanks was quick to speak out against the ban in an official statement posted on the company's Web-site. DeBanks called out Zuffa for the snub and connected the dots back to the
Fertitta ownership of Xyience. "GOOD4U Drinks is seen by Zuffa as a direct competitor to Xenergy (which is owned by Zuffa) and AMP Energy, which advertises heavily on both WEC events and Spike TV's 'The Ultimate Fighter' program," said Bnks in his October, 2010 statement. "Although GOOD4U are sports drinks, not energy drinks, they have been taking share from these brands."

It's no surprise that Shane Carwin appeared to completely ignore the closed can of NOS Energy drink in front of him throughout the whole first episode of this season's TUF. UFC President and Part-Owner Dana

White clearly drank from his open can, though. He might have been trying to avoid a repeat of the publicity generated by Kenny Florian's mock-drinking from a closed can of Xenergy years ago.

NOS is also owned by Coca Cola, and before the Fertittas took over Xyience there was a genuine effort to boost Xenergy to a level where it would be an attractive option for buyout by a company like Coke. That ultimate plan may still be in effect, and taking in NOS as a TUF sponsor may be the first step toward the Fertittas and Xyience possibly approaching the beverage giant with a proposal for purchasing the whole Xenergy line.

Carwin is one of the only big-name UFC fighters who maintains a day job while training and fighting for the organization. He is an engineer by day and a fighter by night, so losing a key sponsor like GOOD4U had to be frustrating. Though time heals many wounds, Carwin must have felt some level of disgust at the idea of his sponsor not being worthy enough for the UFC while NOS got the nod to sponsor one of the company's most successful offshoots.

Aside from the sponsorship tweaking, this season's fighters look top notch. Having the show air on Fridays for the prior season might have seriously hurt ratings due to the competition with ESPN's Friday Night Fights, but this time around FNF is in their off-season. Judging from the multiple flashes of dramatic preview clips at the end of the debut episode, this season may be one for the ages.
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