Wilder-Fury III Promotion Finds Boxing Fighting Its Niche Status

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The final bout in the trilogy between Deontay Wilder and WBC champion Tyson Fury will take place Saturday night in Las Vegas. Fox Sports and ESPN are jointly presenting the pay-per-view event. The two companies, along with Top Rank (Fury’s promoter) and Premier Boxing Champions (Wilder’s promoter), have ramped up promotion for the fight over the last week (see: spots during Monday Night Football, Fox’s Tuesday night Yankees-Red Sox Wild Card game and Thursday night NFL pregame show, and a countdown show that aired on both networks).

But according to iSpot.tv data, it hasn’t matched the unprecedented promotion given to the rematch in February 2020; iSpot’s numbers show Wilder-Fury III promos received about 600 million fewer linear impressions on around 1,500 fewer airings than the previous fight.

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There are several logical reasons for the drop-off (think: time on the calendar, competitive fall advertising marketplace, changes in the promoters’ marketing strategies), but some boxing insiders believe the current approach speaks to the realization that no matter how much money and promotion is invested in boxing, it remains a niche sport with a niche audience.

JWS’ Take: There is a plenty of boxing available on multiple media platforms and a lot of investment in the sport. But Wilder-Fury II showed the sport is not growing the fan base or transcending hardcore fans. One must look back to the 2015 bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to find a championship-caliber fight (i.e., not one involving Jake Paul or Mike Tyson) that attracted the casual observer. Some 4.6 million people bought the ~$100 PPV.

Meadowlark CEO John Skipper believes Wilder-Fury II’s inability to draw far beyond the hardcore fan, even with the robust promotion it received, stems from the absence of organization across the sport. “These matches don’t add up to anything,” Skipper said. “They’re all distinct points of light in a big old sky. They don’t connect. One fight happens and it doesn’t lead to anything else. There’s no clear unified champion. There’s no playoffs. There’s no sequence of events.” Skipper would know. Remember, he was formerly the executive chairman of boxing-heavy DAZN.

To be clear, no one we spoke to suggested the second Wilder-Fury fight was a failure. The PPV was reported to have generated 800K-850K buys—more than a respectable number, particularly relative to the fights have come since. No “real boxing” PPV has gone over 1 million buys since HBO did it with Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin in 2018.

But considering Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum predicted Wilder-Fury II would become just the fifth boxing match in history to do more than 2 million buys, it’s understandable if the networks were underwhelmed.

When it comes to Wilder-Fury III, there is an assumption that the second fight did not expand the audience enough to justify its unprecedented marketing muscle, so the decision was made to pull back this time. “At a lot of networks, including ours to some extent, the amount of marketing [is] commensurate with what we think the fight can or should do,” Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza said.

Fox Sports and ESPN insist there has been no difference in their approach to this weekend’s fight, saying in a joint statement, “The combined effort of ESPN and FOX Sports to promote Saturday’s heavyweight championship—via marketing, promotion and publicity—has been strategic, well-coordinated and equal to the previous fight.” Fox noted the only difference was that they had higher profile events through which they could promote the fight the last time around (see: NFC Championship Game, Super Bowl). To that point, excluding the two Super Bowl spots (which tallied 164 million impressions), iSpot.tv data showed the Fox promos delivered only about 8 million fewer impressions (175.6 million vs. 167.1 million III) for this fight. The ESPN+ promos saw impressions fall from 40.1 million to 20.9 million.

Top Rank says it did not cut its marketing budget for this fight, either. But the promoter did acknowledge allocating its resources differently, which helps to explain why there were fewer linear airings. “For Fury-Wilder III, strategically we’re leaning in more on digital promotion and advertising as we’ve seen tremendous success on those platforms leading to strong PPV buy rates,” said Top Rank president Todd duBoef. “We feel those are great mechanisms to leverage leading up to this fight.”

Of course, targeted digital advertising is not an effective means of reaching a broad audience, which supports the narrative that boxing’s TAM may not span far beyond the hardcore fan.

The absence of a standalone Premier Boxing Champions campaign (which last time generated more than 385 million impressions on 1,800-plus airings) and DirecTV promotion (another 18 million impressions) was a significant factor in the reduction of linear impressions and airings, too.

It’s also important to remember this fight was originally scheduled to take place in July. Top Rank’s duBoef acknowledged the postponement forced an adjustment in their planning, saying, “There has been a unique cadence for us to get the promotion going again.”

To be clear, waiting to promote until the week of the event is not necessarily a bad decision—particularly with evidence that spending weeks out bears little fruit. “In today’s media marketplace, the most fertile climate is the last week,” Espinoza said.

Having said that, a more traditional marketing approach would promote the fight in stages and include a period that focuses on cultivating interest before trying to draw in the consumer within days of the event.

Arum has predicted this weekend’s fight would outpace the second fight. Considering the competition and general lack of buzz, that seems unlikely. Excel Sports Management VP, Business Insights & Analytics, Adam Grossman said, “The second fight had significantly higher conversation (think: media mentions, social media posts) at this point prior to the 2020 event than this weekend’s fight does now.”