Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's All About the Reals, Baby -- Or How a Pro Grappler Earns a Living

"I don’t think it is fair to train as hard as we do … dedicate our lives and, when we win, we receive a medal, an article or a photo in a magazine – It is not enough.  We deserve much more than that."
- Rodolfo Vieira, 2011 HW and Absolute IBJJF World, Pan and World Pro Cup Champion

The above video features quote, taken from a video that has since been removed (originally posted by Hillary Williams here), is from Rodolfo Vieira, a talented jiu-jitsu competitor.  He argues that jiu-jitsu champions deserve bigger pay days.  They work hard.  They train hard.  They put their bodies through tremendous duress to reach peak physical performance and endure the demands of a championship match.  Vieira speaks the truth.  Jiu-jitsu is a demanding sport, and the top jiu-jitsu athletes certainly deserve compensation on par with that of other athletes, both combat and ball-chasing alike.

Unfortunately, jiu-jitsu is not a spectator sport.  Fans aren’t shelling out a few hundred dollars for tickets and spending at least half that on souvenirs and beer.  If the rules stay the same—and I believe very strongly that they should remain the same—jiu-jitsu will never be spectator friendly.  Even major jiu-jitsu enthusiasts, myself included, will admit that watching a championship match is often excruciatingly boring.  When many matches are decided by advantages, not even whole points, very little significant action occurs.  At the highest levels of the sport, the battle for the most miniscule details is everything, and that doesn’t get casual fans amped to hang around watching for three hours.

So how do professional grapplers make money, and how can they make more?

As it stands now, a grappler can make money from sponsorships, from teaching at a school, from seminars, from selling merchandise (DVDs, t-shirts, etc), and from winning purses.  These sources, even in combination, make for a meager living for all but the most successful professionals, and it’s getting even harder.  Now, a multitude of grapplers are launching instructional websites and selling DVDs, and this is in addition to the growing ocean of free instructional material on YouTube.  The over-saturation of the jiu-jitsu market and the low barrier of entry make it difficult to sell subscriptions to a technique site or to sell expensive DVD sets.  It ain’t easy, yet it’s still one of the only ways to make money as a professional grappler.

From my vantage point in the sport, the top guys need to continue with their marketing plans, their social media campaigns, their seminar tours, and their instructional videos, but they need to reconsider the rights to their competition footage.  When competition footage is yanked from YouTube, grapplers are missing out on valuable exposure, exposure that makes their sponsorships more valuable.  If fighters owned their competition footage—and determining the rights in a match between two people might be tricky—they could earn additional revenue from YouTube ads and from their own embedded ads.  It may not seem like much, but every penny counts, and a moderately popular competition video helps to power the other pistons of the grappling revenue machine, which could help to drive merchandise sales and seminar attendance (The Only Marcelo Video That Matters, for example, has over 700,000 hits but is not officially associated with the Marcelo Garcia brand).

As for a grand solution to the money problems of the sport's greatest grapplers?  I don't have one, but I will definitely be thinking about it more.  What are your thoughts?  Are there revenue sources or solutions that the rest of the industry has overlooked?

Also, "real" is the name of the currency in Brazil.  Get the joke now?

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