Music Invades the Sponsorship Game

Wigby Pearson has always been fascinated with extreme sports. The president and founder of Earache Records, an independent metal label based in Nottingham, England, has worked in the past with skateboarders and BMX riders, and even released a compilation for Extreme Championship Wrestling. So when he heard that hometown boy Dan Hardy was fighting for the UFC, Pearson invited him to the office.


“We got on very well,” Pearson recalls. “He’s a fan of rock and metal music, and our first meeting, he was telling us as a teenager, he used to see shows at the local club here in the 90’s. He’d actually go see our bands and he comes from an area of Nottingham where I grew up, so we have a connection. [We] went, ‘Wow, this is the guy we want to get involved with,’ so we did a sponsorship deal and sponsored him ever since.”


Syntax Records is another indie who supports local cage warriors. The San Diego-based Christian hip-hop label has had mixed martial artists like K.J. Noons and Waachiim Spiritwolf appear on podcasts, and when Syntax President Timothy Trudeau heard Dean Lister was interested in wearing their company’s imprint on his short sat UFC 92, they struck a deal.


Although Lister dropped a decision to Yushin Okami in the unaired prelim, Trudeau was thrilled to have his label represented. “We were bummed it didn’t get televised and that he lost, but it was still exciting to have our logo enter the Octagon,” he says. “It was fresh for everyone involved at the label because they’re fanatics, so it’s a big deal.


Those two companies, along with Jacob Bannon’s Deathwish Inc., a Massachusetts-based record label that sponsors fellow statesmen Joe and Dan Lauzon, are the few independent labels that have expanded into mixed martial arts.


ComBAT This!
Cancer Bats make new friends and idolize TankAbbott.


Independent labels sponsoring fighters might be a developing trend, but music artists have always supported mixed martial arts. Take the Cancer Bats, for example. The Canadian hardcore punk quartet was hooked on the sport since the very beginning, citing Tank Abbott as their favorite cage warrior.


“I like that he came up as this underdog,” frontman Liam Cormier says. “Punk rock and hardcore is very do it yourself, and this guy just seemed like he came from the streets, fighting his way from bars to the ring, and I think that’s what appealed to us so much.


While the band shares a strong fondness for Abbott’s striking style and “gnarly”goatee, their music has found its place within the MMA community. In fact, it’s helped them make new friends.


“The guys we meet, all the bouncers and mixed martial artists, are always the nicest dudes,” Cormier explains. “They don’t have to walk around being tough guys. They already know they’re the toughest dudes in the whole room, so they’re always super friendly and usually want to hang out. It’s really wicked.”


The Cancer Bats’ new album Bear, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, the first release off Good Fight Music, is available now!


While these entrepreneurs are fans of the sport, they also realize MMA is an intelligent way to further cement their brand. Over the years, several smaller and diverse businesses have benefited greatly from sponsoring fighters, including Jaco Clothing, Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor, and Perhaps a record label could experience as much success.


Carl Severson, founder of Ferret Music and co-partner of Good Fight Entertainment, sees the potential. Aside from working with a growing roster of artists including the Cancer Bats, Severson—who has 15 years experience in the music industry—has strengthened Good Fight’s presence by sponsoring extreme sports athletes such as pro skateboarder Mike Vallely and BMX rider Dakota Roche. With a passion for MMA, and his wife diligently training in jiu-jitsu and taekwon do, he’s kept a close eye on the fight scene.


“There is exposure to be had for a record label to get involved in MMA,” Severson says. “Exposure can result in sales, so that is definitely not out of the question. Although the relationship may not be that cut and dry, we would definitely have to approach it from a creative standpoint.”


While independents have found their mark, one has to wonder when major labels will bully their way into the cage. After all, the big four—Warner Music Group, EMI, Sony, and Universal—will stop at nothing to make a buck. Between the recession, online piracy, changes in buying trends, and the rise of indie music, majors are reporting multi-million dollar losses every quarter, so jumping in bed with a popular sport could be feasible.


“I can’t necessarily speak for how major labels will attack anything. There are people that work at major labels [and] their job is to think outside of the box. Maybe they are thinking about it now,” Severson explains. “To the tune of a major label sponsoring a fighter, I don’t see that being as plausible as having an individual band sponsor a fighter. Major labels have such diverse rosters, that for some artists it might not make sense for them to sponsor a fighter and for some artists it would.”


Although Earache has yet to reap any financial rewards, they have used their sponsorship with Hardy as a vehicle to further brand their name. “He wears some t-shirts of ours, basically stands inside the corridor right outside our office where the light is, and we just take some snaps and put them on the Internet. We try to make the connection between the fighter and the brand Earache with the merchandising,” Pearson says. “We get a great bit of visibility from that. Those photos are all over the Web and that is a good thing. We had the logo on the shorts that got us a lot of visibility and just the brand of our record company being in people’s mind. That’s what we’re hoping for. To be honest, we haven’t seen thousands of kids in the UFC buying Earache stuff, but I think there is an awareness going on, which we’re pleased about.”


Trudeau shares a similar branding philosophy. “It’s like those NASCAR cars,” he explains. “If you’re a super well-known brand like McDonald’s, you’re not putting [the logo] on the car because you’re hoping people will get to know what McDonald’s is. It’s more of a reminder.”


While Earache has expressed interest in sponsoring fellow Nottingham welterweight Paul “Semtex” Daley, and Syntax with other San Diego fighters in the future, it’s very possible that other indie strongholds like Jamey Jasta’s Stillborn Records, Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Suburban Noize, and Victory could be the next to enter the fray. As Severson says, “Record labels tend to be copycats and once some labels start working with MMA, more labels will probably follow suit.”


But for now, Earache, Syntax, and Deathwish are the only labels to grace the Octagon.

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