Bob Arum assumed between two and three million viewers would watch the Teofimo Lopez-Vasiliy Lomachenko fight live on ESPN.
It still wasn’t until Nielsen’s numbers became available three days after Lopez upset Lomachenko on October 17 that Arum could breathe a sigh of relief. With viewership for boxing and other sports down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 88-year-old promoter sensed how important viewership of that fight was for the foreseeable future of boxing on free and cable television.
Arum figured if a fight as compelling and meaningful as Lopez-Lomachenko couldn’t lure a substantial audience to tune in, ESPN’s executives would be reluctant to invest larger license fees than usual to air more potential pay-per-view fights on the network instead.
According to Nielsen Media Research, Lopez-Lomachenko was watched by an average audience of 2,729,000. Viewership peaked at 2,898,000 toward the end of their 12-round main event, which Lopez won by unanimous decision at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
That made their lightweight title unification fight the most-watched boxing event on U.S. TV since Australia’s Jeff Horn upset Manny Pacquiao in the debut of ESPN’s partnership with Arum’s promotional company, Top Rank, in July 2017 (https://www.boxingscene.com/lopez-lomachenko-fight-peaked-2898000-viewers-averaged-2729000-million--152608).
“It just shows that there are a lot of sports fans that like boxing out there,” Arum told BoxingScene.com. “It’s crucial. Again, you’ve gotta understand, the people at the networks, particularly ESPN, are not, per se, involved in boxing. They like boxing. They realize that boxing can be good for them, but they’re not boxing people, as we say. And so, we had to demonstrate to them that if everybody works together and we get the right fights on television, and we give it to the public, without charge, the fans are gonna respond and watch the event. Now, that’s key. That’s crucial.
“For example, if we had a done a mediocre rating or a poor rating, they would’ve said, ‘See, why are we gonna invest money to do these fights? It’s one thing if we’re gonna do it on pay-per-view and we just make money from it. That’s one thing. But here, we’re laying out our money to do the fights. And if there’s no response, why would we do it again?’ I mean, could you blame them?”
Arum estimated that “over four million” viewers watched Lopez-Lomachenko on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ combined. ESPN doesn’t release viewership totals for ESPN+, but the network acknowledged that Lopez-Lomachenko was the most-watched boxing match on its $6-per-month streaming service since it launched in April 2018.
“The sports fans turned out,” Arum said. “Thank God we got numbers that were really tremendous. And the numbers on the network only tell part of the story, because so much of this depends on ESPN+. It was the highest number of viewers on [ESPN’s] digital platform for any boxing event, including the two Tyson Fury fights that were not pay-per-view. And those did tremendous numbers.
“With all the people watching on ESPN, the fact that they had such a tremendous result on ESPN+ is maybe even more important. This is not something that only benefits Top Rank. It benefits everybody in the business because as far as [Al] Haymon is concerned, the people at FOX and everybody else pays attention to this because that’s part of the business.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.