Horn-Pacquiao a ratings ‘grand slam’ for ESPN, says Bob Arum

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – JULY 2: Manny Pacquiao (right), of the Philippines, fights Jeff Horn, of Australia, during their WBO welterweight championship title fight at the Suncorp Stadium on July 2, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. Photo credit: Jono Searle/Bradley Kanaris Photography


Despite all the controversy over newly-crowned WBO welterweight titleholder Jeff Horn’s victory over Manny Pacquiao last weekend in ‘”The Battle of Brisbane” in Australia, one thing is clear: There was a sizable audience watching on ESPN and its various platforms, at least much larger than those that typically watch boxing on premium cable networks.


The network put forth this release earlier this week:



The numbers certainly pleases Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who was on hand for the event, which drew over 51,000 fans to Suncorp Stadium and has since returned to the States.


“It’s a grand slam,” stated the veteran promoter on Wednesday afternoon, who believes the Nielsen ratings aren’t truly indicative of how many people actually viewed the broadcast on Saturday evening. “It doesn’t tell the whole story. The whole story is it doesn’t track those watching who weren’t home and I would bet, since it was a holiday weekend, that there were more people watching this at bars and restaurants. Every bar had this fight on – every single bar. There were more people watching this in bars and restaurants than those who watched it at home.”


Arum has a good point. Nearly every pub with televisions invariably has ESPN on at least one of them. And when was the last time you stayed at a hotel that didn’t have “The Worldwide Leader” available on its television dial? One of the problems boxing has had over the past few decades is it was difficult to find commercial establishments that consistently shared the fights (as opposed to how the UFC has made itself much more readily available).


“We did like four-and-a-half-million at home – we did double that outside of the homes,” opined Arum. “Everybody you talked to has watched the fight.”


It’s hard to quantify just how many watched this event at, say, a Hooters or the local bar-and-grill but I did receive these Tweets:







Being on the four-letter network during prime-time instead of a self-distributed pay-per-view or telecast by HBO meant this fight played to a much bigger audience. During fight week, ESPN played up this promotion consistently on “SportsCenter” and other shows like “First Take” (which did a special Friday night show that centered on boxing) and it ran a countdown clock on both ESPN and ESPN2. It was a ubiquitous presence on the network. “Everybody watched because it was promoted well by ESPN and it was FREEEEEEEEE!” stated Arum, who nearly made this scribe drive off the road (and no, not because I’m an Asian driver) with that last line.


In addition, the SportsCenter edition – which had extensive post-fight coverage – that followed the Horn-Pacquiao contest was its highest ever rated for that time slot.


It’s been years since ESPN has actually really covered boxing to this extent. Believe it or not, there was a time – long before it had contracts with the NFL, NBA and MLB – when it would provide vast coverage of major fights with Sal Marciano and later Al Bernstein and Charley Steiner on the scene. But, in recent times, outside of the occasional pay-per-view event, they relegated boxing to running the results on a scroll on the bottom of the screen.


While Horn versus Pacquiao was panned by the critics coming into the bout, the Pacquiao name still resonated with the public and the higher-ups at the network.


Arum explained, “The one thing about ESPN, when they get a hold of a project like this, there’s no halfways. They know how to run with it and, I mean, this went all the way up to the chairman of Disney (co-owner of ESPN) Bob Iger, who was emailing everybody during the fight. It couldn’t have been better for the sport of boxing.


“And the thing I loved about it – they didn’t hesitate to do the whole card, even though they weren’t the greatest fights in the world but still they were shown.”


During the broadcast, Joe Tessitore stated that ESPN was now ”diving headfirst” into the world of boxing, which means more than just broadcasting fights (where they have separate deals with both Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions) but actually producing shoulder programming and wrap-around coverage like they do for college football and the NFL. “They covered it like the major sport that it is,” stated Arum. “That’s the point we’re trying to make, that because ESPN has now launched it and is a part of it, boxing is now covered like a major sport.”


It can be argued that there was a “Pacquiao effect” in regard to the ratings, given his iconic status but how this fight was handled by ESPN is a template for future events. The next Top Rank broadcasts are scheduled for August 5 and 19 featuring WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko and WBC/WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford and will be given similar treatment.


Arum notes, “And it’s not going to be limited to ESPN fights; we’re going to do it with ESPN for HBO fights, Showtime fights. We’re going to treat this like a major sport.”





There’s been a lot of finger-pointing internally in the wake of Pacquiao’s loss to Horn (and poor Freddie Roach must have tire tracks all over his body, after getting thrown under the bus) and many have speculated over the status of the relationship between Pacquiao and Arum, who said this regarding their union.


When asked if there was a certain time frame or deadline for the rematch clause (held by Pacquiao) to be enforced, Arum admitted, “There is but I don’t know exactly what it is because I don’t have the papers in front of me but there definitely is. There always is but it’s not like tomorrow.”





The WBA has ordered a rematch between its junior featherweight titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux and Moises Flores…The “World Boxing Super Series” has officially announced that Dmitry Kudryashov has been added to the cruiserweight tournament…So with all these NBA moves, is anyone closer to dethroning the Golden State Warriors?…Anyone else remember Larry Holmes’ (in)famous line about Rocky Marciano not being able to hold his jock strap, during his post-fight presser, after his loss to Michael Spinks was shown live by ESPN? Yeah, I remember watching it back as a kid living in Valencia, California…Can we stop with all the fireworks now, please?…I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.





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