Move to ESPN Helping Top Rank to Change the Narrative Around Boxing


WBO welterweight champion Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford will take on Egidijus ‘Mean Machine’ Kavaliauskas - live from Madison Square Garden - tomorrow night (Dec. 14). The bout will headline a “special ESPN-televised triple-header” that will immediately follow the 2019 Heisman Trophy presentation (9p EST). IBF lightweight world champion Richard Commey (who will defend his title against Teofimo Lopez) and fan favorite Mick Conlan (who is set to face Vladimir Nikitin in a rematch of their ’16 Olympic quarterfinal bout) will also be in action. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum called the lineup “the best fight card of the year.”

Howie Long-Short: Back in September of 2017, Top Rank announced a deal with ESPN that gave “the network exclusive rights to air the promotions’ fights on their TV networks, the ESPN app, their DTC streaming service and on PPV.” President Todd duBoef explained that the decision to end their long-standing relationship with HBO and to align with the Disney subsidiary was driven by the desire to “change peoples’ perceptions [about the sport]. One of the false narratives about [boxing] is that it draws an older demographic and that [the younger generations] don’t care about it. But what people fail to acknowledge is that [until recently], boxing predominantly aired on premium cable platforms that skewed much older.” Partnering with ESPN has enabled Top Rank to reach a younger demographic (specifically via ESPN+). duBoef says that the average age of fans now watching their events is just 44 years old. By comparison, college football, college basketball and the NFL all have fan bases with a median ages of 50+.

The narrative that boxing fans are less affluent than followers of other sports is also off base. duBoef said that fans of the combat sport maintain average annual household incomes that “exceed $69,000”, which makes them wealthier than those who follow the NBA ($66,400) and NASCAR ($56,100). 

duBoef pointed out that “the numbers and ratings” the sport drew when premium cable dominated the broadcast landscape are not representative of its true popularity. “[HBO] was a non-commercialized platform. [Top Rank] had a two-hour block on Saturday nights and only when there was a PPV would we really activate all of the promotional leverage – so, we really couldn’t grow the sport’s audience [beyond the hardcore fan].” Now, with the benefit of the “ESPN megaphone” (think: promotion on the talk show 'carwash') and the network’s valuable lead-in programming (like the Heisman Trophy Ceremony) fights reach the casual sports fan – and it shows; “we’ve drawn over 2 million viewers [for the card trailing the annual college football award show two years running].

Fan Marino: Boxing fans want to see Crawford–Errol Spence Jr. in 2020, but a near fatal October car crash has seemingly put talks those talks on back-burner. If Crawford gets through Kavaliauskas on Saturday night, look for Danny Garcia or Shawn Porter to get the next shot at the pound-for-pound champ. “There is also a strong group of 140 pounders - guys like Jose Ramirez, Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis” - that could pose a challenge.  

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