— Fred Sternburg (@TooFred) August 26, 2017
The month of August leading up to the Mayweather-McGregor fight saw some of the premier fighters in the sport fight on ESPN. Manny Pacquiao fought Jeff Horn, Vasyl Lomachenko fought Miguel Marriaga, and Terence Crawford fought Julius Indongo. Those fights now serve as the introduction to Top Rank on ESPN as the two companies enter into an exclusive 4-year agreement.
HBO and Showtime have dominated boxing broadcasting over the last twenty years. This is the first time ESPN has made itself a major player in boxing. According to Dan Rafael at ESPN, there are already 18 cards available for broadcast during the first year of the deal.
The Creative Artists Agency (CAA) was the media adviser to Top Rank during discussions and will manage its sponsorships. CAA is one of the biggest competitors to WME-IMG.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Ari Emanuel called Top Rank Founder, Bob Arum, and Top Rank President, Todd duBoef, about buying the Top Rank library, which includes famous Muhammad Ali fights. Ari Emanuel runs WME-IMG, who purchased the UFC for $4 billion a few months before the call to Arum and duBoef. Ari Emanuel was looking into taking part in the boxing business that Dana White later confirmed.
The following details are provided by the Hollywood Reporter:
Under terms of the deal, Top Rank will create a direct-to-consumer boxing vertical with international reach (the sport remains popular in the U.K. as well as in Asia and Latin America), and ESPN will get a minimum of 16 fights a year to run on ESPN (or ABC in primetime), with a minimum of two additional direct-to-consumer live boxing cards exclusive to ESPN’s upcoming multisport digital service that’s set to launch in early 2018. Also included in the deal are at least 50 additional hours of programming on ESPN each year, including studio shows, documentaries and other boxing programming. As for the Top Rank library that Emanuel coveted, ESPN is getting the rights, and archival fights will be available on the ESPN OTT service.
For decades boxing has taken the short-term money from premium channels like HBO and Showtime who pay for the rights to broadcast boxing matches. What resulted was short term gain but the loss was large fan bases for the better fighters and no brand building for the sport and the new professional fighters. By putting the fights back on cable television and having a wider reach than what they previously had, Top Rank can build up fighters so that there are more PPV-caliber fighters that can generate half a million buys or more.
The library and constant calendar of fights also provide a source of content for the new over the top (OTT) service that Disney and ESPN are opening up. As more people are cutting the cable cord, ESPN is preemptively building out their own distribution method and this deal with Top Rank shows that boxing could be a big part of the content provided.
The Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) has tried to build the sport with questionable success. However, the PBC bought time on channels like ESPN, Spike, and other networks. Top Rank is making their push into capable in the form of a partnership with ESPN. We will see how the execution goes for Top Rank and ESPN over the next year.