ESPN is keeping the lights on
While many of the (inter)national media was in Las Vegas to cover the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor event last weekend, Top Rank and ESPN hosted a Saturday morning breakfast at the Wynn Hotel, for selected members of the media, to discuss their new relationship that began on July 1 with now-former WBO welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao’s upset loss to Jeff Horn in Brisbane, Australia.
Over the past few weeks, ESPN and Top Rank have had broadcasts that have featured WBO super featherweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko and undisputed super lightweight champion Terence Crawford. Their next card is scheduled for September 22 in Tucson, Arizona, and it features a pair of Top Rank’s young beltholders in featherweight Oscar Valdez and super middleweight Gilberto Ramirez.
This get-together was moderated by ESPN’s lead boxing voice Joe Tessitore and was streamed on the Watch ESPN app and ESPN3. Much has been speculated over this deal. Is it a time-buy similar to what Al Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions did with various networks a couple of years ago? How long is this arrangement? And what is the network’s commitment to the sport?
There was no mention of any hedge funds on this day and sources describe the ESPN/Top Rank deal as a “partnership” and the deal is for four years (after being originally discussed as a decade-long commitment).
John Skipper, the President of ESPN INC., was unable to make the breakfast on Saturday but he provided a pre-recorded message that kicked off the proceedings, in which he stated, “We believe in the future of boxing…” Skeptics, whom have seen the network treat the sport as an afterthought over the past few decades, will need to be convinced of that but this much is clear: Boxing is now much more of a priority to the “Worldwide Leader.”
The following press release was also sent out:
“ESPN and Top Rank today announced a vast and exclusive, multimedia agreement to make ESPN the home of Top Rank in the U.S. and Canada. Under the agreement, ESPN will televise live fights on ESPN and ESPN Deportes and stream them on the ESPN App, will stream fights and other Top Rank content on the recently announced ESPN-branded direct-to-consumer streaming service via BAMTech and deliver select pay-per-view (PPV) fight events. It will also air all Top Rank content in English and in French on Canadian sister networks TSN and RDS. The next Top Rank Boxing on ESPN fight card, scheduled for September 22 in Tucson, Arizona, features two WBO World Title Fights with Oscar Valdez (22-0, 19 KOs, Featherweight) and Gilberto Ramirez (35-0, 24 KOs, Super Middleweight) title defenses.
“ESPN is excited to announce this new relationship with Top Rank, the most comprehensive and innovative media agreement in the history of the sport,” Burke Magnus, executive vice president of programming & scheduling, ESPN said. “We believe in a new vision for boxing that will super-serve existing boxing fans and create legions of new fans through the highest quality boxing content across multiple ESPN platforms – 365 days a year. Together, ESPN and Top Rank will build the superstars of tomorrow through unrivaled exposure, original content and cutting edge technology.”
In the first year of the deal, ESPN will showcase 18 main events in the U.S. on multiple platforms, including television networks, the ESPN App, the direct-to-consumer service and PPV events, in both English and Spanish, and on Canada’s TSN in English and RDS in French. Top Rank on ESPN content will be widely accessible across multiple platforms, including the ESPN-branded multi-sport direct-to-consumer streaming service, and will feature all undercards, select main events, re-airs of all ESPN and PPV events, Top Rank archival fights and more.
“Top Rank is thrilled to enter into this relationship with ESPN, the top sports media brand in the world,” said Todd duBoef, President of Top Rank. “This unprecedented partnership offers a 360 approach to the entire boxing vertical, including live world class events, unparalleled coverage as well as access to historical moments in the sport.”
“Creative Artists Agency (CAA) served as the media advisor to Top Rank on the landmark agreement with ESPN. Furthering its relationship with the leading sports and entertainment agency, Top Rank has retained CAA Sports to manage its official sponsorship sales efforts, working closely with ESPN.
“The deal puts Top Rank and its best-in-class stable of global fighters at the core of ESPN’s combat sports offering across television, PPV and OTT,” said Alan Gold, Head of CAA’s Sports Media Advisory practice. “Top Rank has consistently and successfully built many of their fighters into global brands, and now will benefit significantly from ESPN’s broad distribution, sales and marketing support and outstanding storytelling.”
“The ESPN-branded multi-sport direct-to-consumer streaming service (being developed with BAMTech and debuting in early 2018) will be a key part of the Top Rank on ESPN multi-platform distribution. The service was announced earlier this month as part of The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of majority ownership of BAMTech. It will join a wide array of sports programming on service, including approximately 10,000 live regional, national, and international games and events, including Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, Grand Slam tennis, college sports and more.
“The new ESPN service will be accessed through an enhanced version of the current ESPN app and from authorized MVPDs. In addition to the multi-sport service, the ESPN app will continue to include the news, highlights and scores that fans enjoy today, and consumers who are pay TV subscribers will also be able to access the ESPN television networks in the same app on an authenticated basis.
“Top Rank will be a great partner with high-quality live content, perfectly fit for the new ESPN-branded streaming service we’re building,” said Michael Paull, Chief Executive Officer of BAMTech. “It’s another exciting opportunity for our direct-to-consumer platform to bring sports fans widespread access to their favorite sporting events.”
Well, it certainly sounds promising in theory. And if you’ve watched ESPN in recent months, they have ramped up their boxing coverage. Going back to the Saul Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. pay-per-view bout in early May, the network was there for much of the week, providing coverage of the event with live hits from Las Vegas. And the morning after, as “Canelo’s” bout with Gennady Golovkin was formally announced, they devoted a full segment that following morning on “SportsCenter” for a fight that takes place on September 16.
This past week, there was wall-to-wall coverage of May-Mac from Las Vegas, with various personalities like Teddy Atlas and Stephen A. Smith on the scene. The recent Top Rank events on ESPN have been given coverage on the network that has been absent since the heyday of Al Bernstein and Charlie Steiner.
The upcoming bout between Alvarez and Golovkin will be given similar treatment in a few weeks. While it’s not a Top Rank promotion, it’s part of the overall plan to increase the exposure of the sport on the network. What do they say about rising tides lifting all vessels? Todd duBoef, who was the architect of this deal from Top Rank’s describes it as ”keeping the lights on.” The way the NFL has coverage 365 days a year from the end of the Super Bowl to the NFL Draft, free agency, training camps, pre-season and the actual regular season, the hope is that a similar dynamic can be created on Bash Blvd. (This past Monday, Golovkin made an in-studio appearance on SportsCenter with Cari Champion to discuss his upcoming fight.)
While entering this deal with Top Rank, ESPN has a concurrent deal with Golden Boy Promotions, which is doing a series of cards (that are more developmental in nature) on the network that began earlier this year. This means ESPN could have up to 30-to-35 cards on its airwaves (and various platforms) in 2018.
There is a belief that you can’t really be a big or relevant sport without ESPN. After all, they literally created the X-Games and made it into the brand it has become by sheer power of their platform. For years, ESPN has shown college football but, as they invested into the SEC, they helped it become the most powerful and influential conference in the land. Other major properties and leagues that have left ESPN have found their profiles (hello, NHL) lessened.
But unlike other sports leagues like the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, boxing is fractured in nature and one might still wonder if ESPN and Top Rank will be able to put together the sport’s best match-ups with Showtime (which is aligned with the PBC) and HBO still very much in the picture. This remains to be seen: Will remaining alliances and loyalties further divide the sport?
The hope is that ESPN, with their vast resources and reach, can make the sport more mainstream than it has been in the recent past. But make no doubt about it: They are now in the boxing business.
The Canelo-GGG pay-per-view undercard has been announced by Golden Boy. In the co-main event, Joseph Diaz Jr. will face Jorge Lara in a WBC featherweight title eliminator. Randy Caballero faces Diego De La Hoya in a NABF super bantamweight title bout and lightweight Ryan “Blue Chip” Martin will face Francisco Rojo in a ten-rounder.
This card will begin at 8 p.m. ET.
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