A brave new world: Twitter beefs can become Facebook Live fights now
Boxing’s latest tactic in the eternal chase for a younger audience, to bolster an aging demographic, is the streaming of quality matches on Facebook Live. Golden Boy Promotions enters the fray tonight, offering an engaging fight between Jesus M. Rojas, 26-1-2 (19), and Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr., 26-1 (14), (9 p.m ET/6 p.m. PT). Credit Oscar De La Hoya, as he experiments with and explores all the possibilities granted in the internet age. Golden Boy’s first offering is an evenly-matched main event between Puerto Rican Jesus Rojas and Mexican-American challenger Diaz for Rojas’ WBA “regular” version of the featherweight title. The fight will be streamed live at the Golden Boy Fight Night Facebook Page and, judging by other Facebook offerings (the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tourney and Showtime’s boxing Facebook page), it should be a seamless viewing experience for boxing fans of all ages.
Golden Boy Promotions is contracted to provide five cards on the Facebook platform this year, hopefully as compelling as the Rojas-Diaz showdown, and anticipates the audience reception will allow for a continuation in 2019. It is a practical solution for the firm, which was recently left out of the direct-to-consumer streaming game. The ESPN+ app chose Bob Arum’s Top Rank as its provider and Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn struck a billion-dollar deal to deliver 16 cards a year for the soon-to-be-launched (in America) DAZN streaming service. Kathy Duva, president of Main Events, will also make use of the Facebook platform but has not yet announced a date for her first show.
De La Hoya was one of the first boxers to embrace social media in the 1990s and feels comfortable in the emerging direct-to-consumer venue, “Everybody is shying away from linear TV and going to digital programming, so we feel this partnership can only evolve boxing and get a new audience into the sport.” De La Hoya is not holding back on his enthusiasm for the project and has high expectations since his company retains all the video rights to the streaming broadcasts. At the press conference announcing the deal, De La Hoya threw out an exceedingly large number of expected viewers that ventured into the 10 to 15 million range! That number would shatter normal viewing figures for boxing on HBO and Showtime by nearly tenfold.
Most insiders say those numbers are unattainable and ESPN+ has not announced viewership numbers on its streaming platform for comparison but De La Hoya’s confidence is undented. De La Hoya told Forbes Magazine, “Those numbers are aggressive but we feel strongly with the platform that Facebook has and JoJo Diaz as a champion, we can reach those numbers.” Along with the actual fights Golden Boy’s in-house production unit will create support programming, such as fighter bios and the usual all-access training camp vignettes, they will also offer a unique angle to replays of previous bouts by the feature boxers, in which the boxers provides commentary on their own fights.
Facebook is gaining traction as a viewing option with sports fans; it has broadcast college basketball and football games but reached peak viewership numbers with Mexican soccer games. The latter is a great signal for boxing events, as Liga MX (Mexico’s top soccer league) and boxing share a similar demographic pool. Unverified reports and speculation is that Facebook right fees for the Golden Boy events run from $250,000 to $1,000,000 per card. Given a reach of 2.2 billion regular users, it lends a minuscule statistical credence that De La Hoya’s fanciful viewing numbers are attainable. Along with the platform, Facebook is providing technical support to enable real-time viewer interaction and give other ways for fans to engage through Facebook’s social video platform.
Importantly as long as there is a sizable audience, there is no network schedule to put their demands on when, where or what time the promoter wants to deliver its product. In this fashion, Saturday afternoon boxing, which older fans would enjoy, could make a return. Facebook’s North America Live Sports Programming Lead Devi Mahadevia said they will entice major celebrities, prominent influencers and top-tier boxing authorities from print, TV and the internet onto the broadcast. However De La Hoya enters the partnership with one main goal: “We want to make it younger, fresher and the key word for us is ‘interaction.’ We want the fans at home to be able to interact, while the show is taking place live.”
In order for this to become an unqualified success, De La Hoya needs to deliver great content. Golden Boy’s first offering definitely has competitive quality, even if it is lacking in star appeal. Rojas has just risen from “interim” to “full champion” within the sanctioning body, after Leo Santa Cruz was elevated to “Super Champion.” No matter the merit of his world title, Rojas pronounced himself ready for anyone at featherweight, “I’m ready to come back after almost a year off. I’ll defend my title for the first time on a very important Golden Boy card, which will start a new association with Facebook. Diaz Jr. is tough, intelligent and fast but I have the power and the experience to score a spectacular win against him.”
The 31-year-old pressure fighter enters off a seventh round knockout of former interim titleholder Claudio Marrero and is an experienced operator, having faced off against champion Jorge Arce and fellow contenders Jorge Lara and Abraham Lopez. Rojas has been staying focused and training in Puerto Rico and had no reservations about traveling to Diaz’s backyard. In recent interviews, Rojas said he views Diaz as a steppingstone to bigger fights. His ultimate goal is a showdown with Leo Santa Cruz and wants to prepare himself for that kind of fight by engaging Diaz head on instead of chasing the more fleet-footed challenger.
Despite being the challenger, Diaz is viewed by many as the favorite entering the showdown. There is good reason for that, given the 25-year-old southpaw represented America at the 2012 Olympic Games and his only loss has come against elite WBC beltholder Gary Russell Jr. A well-prepared Diaz has obviously scouted Rojas and the dangers the champion represents to his title fortunes, “Jesus Rojas is a dangerous fighter. He’s coming off two great wins and stopped both of them. He constantly applies pressure and has great conditioning. He’s going to keep on coming forward.”
Assuming Diaz takes the setback against Russell as a learning exercise, there is nothing preventing him from winning a world title. If you take Diaz at his word, he garnered valuable experience from errors committed in the Russell fight, “I’ve watched the tape about 100 times. I looked at all the mistakes I made. I saw that if I would have just been more aggressive, started off earlier and used my jab, that the outcome would have been different. I would be world champion right now. Things didn’t go as planned but it was a lesson learned.”
The more expansive skill set seems to rest in Diaz’s hands and his ambition has not been diminished by one loss, “I’ve always said that I’m going to be a world champion. I learned from my last fight and now I know the adjustments I need to make in order to have a world title around my waist. I’m going to make a big statement in the 126-pound division. It’s also an honor to be the main event of the first-ever Golden Boy show with Facebook. It shows the faith my promoter has in me to be a leading name in the new era of boxing.”
(Editor’s note: Rojas’ title is no longer up for grabs for Diaz, as Diaz failed to make weight on Friday, after two attempts. He came in officially at 126.6 pounds.)
That new era of boxing may see a practical and profitable merging of Facebook with championship boxing, which Mahadevia views as one of his priorities. “Through this unique partnership, a global community of sports fans will have free access to some of boxing’s most exciting live bouts and be able to interact with the action like never before.”