Top Rank extends and expands deal with ESPN
Last week a press release was sent out announcing that ESPN and Top Rank would extend their current partnership to 2025. It read in part:
(Aug. 2, 2018) – ESPN and Top Rank, the world’s premier boxing promotional company, today announced the most comprehensive, exclusive rights agreement in the history of boxing. This new seven-year deal runs from 2018 to 2025 and includes 54 events per year, as well as a full offering of exclusive shoulder programming, classic fights and studio content.
“Top Rank on ESPN content will air on ESPN linear networks or stream on ESPN+ — the new multi-sport, direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service from The Walt Disney Company’s Direct-to-Consumer & International segment in conjunction with ESPN.
“This new agreement is the result of the huge success of the first year of Top Rank on ESPN. It will allow for a comprehensive alliance between Top Rank and ESPN’s leading networks and platforms to showcase even more Top Rank content, including live events, additional original programming and library content.”
It also added later, “In the new deal, the 54 live events provide fans with a consistent boxing destination that showcases not only the finest of U.S. and international championship matchups, but also comprehensive coverage of up-and-coming prospects and contenders.”
The exclusive live event breakdown per year is as follows:
– 18 events on ESPN
– 12 exclusive, prime time events on ESPN+
– 24 premium international events on ESPN+
– Undercard coverage of all 54 events on ESPN+
So it’s clear now – despite the scuttlebutt from those not in the know – this deal isn’t a time-buy.
After a hearty laugh, Todd duBoef, the president of Top Rank and the architect of this deal, told UCNLive.com, “I’m not even going to respond to that. Not even going to respond to that. Listen, this has been a lot of hard work; this has been a lot of great support and trust from everybody from the top down at ESPN and Disney to everybody at our team, to all the fighters and promoters that we’ve been able to work with the last 12 months to help make this happen.
“A lot of hard work came into work here; everybody did a lot of stuff. They are committed to it and this is a wonderful beginning.”
Beginning last year, the “Worldwide Leader” got into business with Top Rank, after years of basically relegating boxing as nothing more than a niche sport that was barely worthy of coverage on “SportsCenter,” except for a few major pay-per-view fights a year. Now boxing has moved up the network’s totem pole a few notches.
Last year as this deal was hatched, duBoef said it was about was about offering the network the complete “vertical” of the sport.
“I think the element of being able to present the sport of boxing in its entirety, not just on Saturday night and not just on certain fights coming for the U.S. but really looking at the sport of boxing similar to how you look at the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, having a complete offering,” he explained. “So we’re going to be having fights from around the globe. We’re going to be having shoulder programming, We’ll have news shows, journalistic shows, unscripted shows. All this stuff to try and present the sport in its entirety to all the fans that love it.
DuBoef views the commitment ESPN is making to boxing as immeasurable. After all, is anything a “major” sport if it doesn’t have a real presence on this particular network?
“We’ve always been bullish on the sport of boxing,” he stated. “I think we were unfortunately stuck in a bad paradigm and I think everybody else is waking up to, ‘Wait a second, the numbers that Top Rank and ESPN have been doing, the response, they do big pay-per-view business across the board – it’s robust.'”
There was a time when Top Rank, like many others, was closely tied and associated with the premium cable networks. Top Rank made the decision to leave HBO’s airwaves, perhaps sensing its flagging commitment to the sport. But while HBO may no longer be the “Network of Champions,” many other entities are now dipping their toes into the sport. Traditional forms of media (such as television) are now just part of the equation.
“It’s now just where everybody wants to jump in and figure out, ‘How do we get a piece of it?’ or ‘How do we get involved?’ Because boxing in itself has a unique narrative; it has a uniqueness to the sport, which is a unique match on a given night. It has global appeal; it has avid fans and it has patriotism, where it’s almost like a soccer match, the Mexico versus Puerto Rico rivalry,” said duBoef, who believes the sport of boxing is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the new technology.
“Those are all wonderful things you get from the sport of boxing and the other thing that’s great about the sport of boxing – there’s no season. It’s all year-round,” he pointed out.
Currently in addition to ESPN, you have Showtime, HBO and now DAZN. Each of these platforms has a clear relationship with various promoters, who will now have a vested interest in supporting their broadcast partners.
There is a chance that this business – which has seen various rivalries and “Cold Wars” in the past – could be fragmented to a point where certain fights are kept from happening. Will IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. (who is aligned with Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime) ever face WBO counterpart Terence Crawford (who is now on ESPN’s airwaves)?
When asked if boxing runs the risk of becoming too fractured for its own good, duBoef answered, “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think fragmentation is the issue. I think that one of the things that is so powerful about the sport is that it’s just not the United States. It’s ingrained in the United States; it’s ingrained in the UK and in Europe and in Africa and Asia has stars like (WBA “regular” middleweight titlist Ryota) Murata and (WBC junior bantamweight champion Srisaket) Sor Rungvisai. It’s so global, so I don’t think fragmentation is necessarily the issue.
“I think the issue is the presentation of it and presenting it, which we are doing it now with ESPN as a full, complete sport. I believe it’s only been presented as a Saturday night – and that’s it – or whatever the night is of a fight. We want to dig in deep. We want this to look no different than it if was the NFL, Major League Baseball, basketball, with all their programs and shoulder programming.
“And this is the first time we’re going to have a chance to see it.”
For boxing to reach its optimal levels, it will have to make the best fights possible on a consistent basis. Now with another major player on the scene (DAZN), does that muddy the waters even more? The bottom line is every single network/platform will want the best boxers and content for themselves and it wouldn’t serve their agendas to see a boxer who has fought multiple times on their stage then fight a significant bout on another channel (for lack of a better term).
What will be interesting to see will be the upcoming purse bid for the WBO 140-pound title between defending titleholder Maurice Hooker and Alex Saucedo. Hooker was one of the first signings to DAZN by Matchrooom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, while Saucedo is promoted by Top Rank. This is a very good match-up and you know both promoters and platforms want this fight.
And this here isn’t just about competing promoters but platforms.
Lightweight Teofimo Lopez and his father did not disappoint during their in-studio visit to “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” with Mario Lopez and me:
For the time being, UFC President Dana White is tabling his foray into boxing…Being told a rematch between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan is being worked on for September 28, on “ShoBox.” Mattice was gifted a very dubious decision in Sloan, Iowa, in their first match-up, a few weeks ago…Baker Mayfield showed some real flashes in his Cleveland Browns debut…Yeah, I actually watch NFL pre-season football intently; sue me…There will be a Season Two of “Succession,” right?…When does “Insecure” start back up on HBO?…I can be reached at email@example.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.