By David Robinett
ESPN and Top Rank teamed up Saturday morning at the Wynn Las Vegas, on the heels of this evening’s Mayweather/McGregor event, to present a roundtable featuring various ESPN and Top Rank personnel, including Top Rank CEO Bob Arum and President Todd duBoef. The purpose of the gathering was to formally announce what was described as a “mega, comprehensive, multi-year agreement” with Top Rank for a series of fights to be presented on multiple platforms through the ESPN family of networks and other outlets. The highlight of the announcement was the emphasis on “vertical content,” described by the participants as content not just limited to live boxing on television, but re-airs, archival footage, and direct-to-consumer content through streaming services such as BAMTech.
Bob Arum explained the importance of the partnership with ESPN. “It means a lot, it really starts before I came into boxing when I was growing up and when boxing was a major, major sport in the country, where every newspaper had a boxing writer,” explained Arum. “It was a sport that was constantly before the public. And then [Muhammad] Ali helped keep the sport relevant. But as the years went on, for whatever reason, boxing became somewhat of a niche sport. Now with our partnership with ESPN, we have the opportunity to again make boxing a major sport.”
Burke Magnus, Executive Vice President of Programming & Scheduling for ESPN, echoed Arum’s sentiments. “Boxing has been underpromoted, undermarketed, and underexposed for a long time,” noted Magnus, before explaining that he believed that the new deal with Top Rank will change that longstanding dynamic. Magnus also emphasized the importance of distributing content beyond just television. “Beyond just building the sport of boxing, one of the newest things we’re getting prepared for is a world where consumers make their individual choices about content and how they get it. There will be big events, and there will be cards on ESPN, and we’ll present them regularly, but the direct-to-consumer products will allow consumers to get boxing content 365 days a year.” Magnus noted that in the first year of the agreement, there will be a minimum of 16 main event shows.
Ultimately everyone involved agreed that the Top Rank/ESPN partnership could open the door to growing the sport of boxing. At the conclusion of the roundtable, Arum expressed his hope of just that, predicting that success of this new venture would be evident “when people around the world, when people in the United States once again turn to boxing as the major sport it should be, and no newspaper will choose not send a reporter to cover a match that’s shown on ESPN.”
Top Rank President Todd duBoef, also defined what he believed would be the result of a successful partnership. “Right now people ask me ‘who’s next?’ I want somebody to say ‘when is that guy fighting?’ explained duBoef, stating that success will be people asking ‘when?’ not ‘who?’ DuBoef added, “The global appeal of this sport is only second to soccer, and in 5 or 10 years, we’re going to be right there with them.”