A few weeks ago, Top Rank's CEO Bob Arum revealed the new direction for his company - a direction where their top fighters like Manny Pacquiao, Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford were being shifted from a premium channel like HBO to the free airwaves of ESPN.
While two of them have traded a lot of verbal jabs over the years, Arum admires the the television structure and marketing plan by the UFC and their company president Dana White.
“The UFC showed us that you need free television to advertise your product to people to become familiar with,” Arum said to The Las Vegas Review Journal. “Their deal with Fox helped make UFC the product it became, while we in boxing were limiting ourselves to premium networks.”
On July 1, Top Rank had their first major show on ESPN - which showcased their biggest star, Manny Pacquiao, who lost an controversial twelve round decision to Jeff Horn in Brisbane, Australia.
The contest became the most-watched boxing event on cable since 2006 and the peak of 4.4 million viewers gave ESPN their highest-rated boxing event since 1995.
Arum believes the way HBO has been building up pay-per-view events has become tired and boring. He points directly to the lackluster performance of the recent HBO Pay-Per-View rematch between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev. Also citing the UFC's strategy, Arum now feel confident in his ability to properly sell a future pay-per-view card.
“I always believed that once we could get our best product on a network like ESPN, with the way ESPN promotes its shows with college football, professional football, that we would do (big) ratings,” Arum said. “Nothing against HBO and Showtime, but they are premium channels that mostly do entertainment and a little bit of sports and boxing. They are not sports stations, and no one covers sports better than ESPN.”
“We limited our market to that premium television, which was really in the business of selling ‘The Sopranos’ and selling other great shows to subscribers, that didn’t have the bandwidth to promote the sport. Initially, they did and then it was less and less, so you see a fight like we had with Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward on pay per view, and HBO was scripting, they did the old tired ‘24/7,’ which was never revised. They put it on after some show and it maybe did 100,000 viewers.
“That’s not the way to promote a major sport. UFC knew how to promote a major sport using FS1, using Fox. Doing product free to the public, so when they did a PPV show they had a built-in audience.”