Lucas Matthysse vs. Manny Pacquiao is on ESPN+…whether you like it or not


You could hear the collective groans of a vocal sect of boxing fans, as it was made official over the weekend that this Saturday night’s match-up, from Malaysia, between Manny Pacquiao and Lucas Matthysse, would be streamed on ESPN+, the network’s new app.


Like it or not, this is the future for “television” and for boxing.


“Well, that’s the key word: future,” said Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, a couple of months back. “And it takes people time to adjust to what is the future. Everyone’s not going to understand it. I tell people when they come up to me and say, ‘Hey, what’s this ESPN+? I want to subscribe.’ I say, ‘I don’t know; don’t ask me. Ask your grandkids.’ I mean, that’s the truth because it’s the kids who know how to do this.”


The app costs $4.99 a month and has already done a few international cards and last month’s bout between WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford and Jeff Horn was streamed exclusively on this platform, much to chagrin of some. Last year as Top Rank entered a deal with ESPN, it was believed that all its cards would be showcased on the main network.


Many have balked at this, believing – and perhaps correctly so – that fights should be on the biggest stages (such as the “Worldwide Leader”) and not behind another paywall. But this is the trend and soon Eddie Hearn and DAZN will soon be launching and will focus on major boxing cards from the Matchroom Boxing stable.


There was a time when cable TV was the new-fangled technology against which many bristled.


Arum recalled, “(Late billionaire and former chairman and CEO of Univision) Jerry Perenchio had one station before cable. You could buy one channel that had special programming. And of course it was HBO and the idea that people would pay money to watch HBO that really was slow coming, and indeed HBO was about to go out of business when satellite technology made it easier to distribute the signal. Without that it wouldn’t have made it. So we’re in a new era; we’ll always be in a different era, in that everything changes and everything stays the same. It still the consumer making changes.


“And that’s why we call ESPN+ ‘direct-to-consumer’ – it bypasses the satellite provider. It bypasses the cable systems,” Arum continued “This is your interaction with the supplier of the content: direct to you. That’s why it’s called direct-to-consumer and the financial wizards understand this because Netflix, which is direct-to-consumer, has never made a penny and its capitalization is more than Disney, which makes huge amounts of money. Why? Because everybody in the financial world is looking at direct-to-consumer as the wave of the future and therefore ESPN and Disney, no fools, have now started direct-to-consumer.”


Many have stated that this move was made to counter the tide of cord-cutting, which has cut into the number of homes ESPN is in.


$4.99 isn’t all that much, if you think about it. Some spend more than that on a specialty cup of coffee at Starbucks but some disgruntled fans, whom, after years of forking out a monthly fee for Showtime and HBO, and a multitude of pay-per-view events, have reached a tipping point. Last year Pacquiao played to huge ratings on ESPN, when he fought Jeff Horn. Beyond that many bars throughout the country – who regularly have ESPN on their televisions – aired the fight. Now this dynamic is lost.


However the bottom line is it behooves everyone involved in this venture to build up the subscription base for ESPN+. Originally this event was slated to be on pay-per-view but, as this promotion suffered various problems, it was too late to do a promotion of this sort, and it was destined for ESPN+, where even a faded version of the “Pac-Man” will get some people to at least try the free, seven-day trial.


So as the fight card featuring Regis Prograis, this weekend, signs off from New Orleans, the network will then go to the “World Series of Poker.” Anyone who wants to view the fight card from Kuala Lumpur in the States (at least legally) will need a subscription to “The Plus” – which is not to be confused with “The Ocho,” of course.


For some it’s not about the cost but the fact that, believe it or not, many still prefer to watch sporting events on large screen TVs and not on a tablet or smart phone. But some smart TVs and the Amazon Fire TV Stick will allow you to watch all of its programming, which includes the Top Rank archive of fights, and other exclusive content related to other sports, on the traditional big screen.


And yes, the 86-year-old Arum regularly goes onto ESPN+.


”At first, I didn’t know how to use it because I’m not very savvy, and then I started using it and the first time I used it, I was home on a Saturday in L.A., and I fooled around and, lo-and-behold, it was the Yankees-Cleveland game, at 10 o’clock in the morning, which I couldn’t get otherwise,” said Arum, who has ESPN+ hooked up to his television, iPad and phone.


“So I watched that whole game and then I started scrolling down and watching the classic fights. It’s unbelievable. The only problem was I was spending so much time using it and watching whole fights and whole programs that I wasn’t doing anything else. That’s the only downside of it. It really hooks you.”





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