Top Rank inks new seven-year ESPN deal
About 38 years ago, then-upstart Top Rank staged its first cable network boxing card live on ESPN. The company, led by CEO Bob Arum, recently announced a new seven-year deal that will see the Las Vegas-based promotional firm and the network working hand-in-hand, in a deal that will see 54 Top Rank cards per year in various formats of the network.
In short, this is great news for boxing fans, who can see the best of both burgeoning talent, along with today’s champions, on weekly cards throughout the calendar year.
Arum has always been a visionary in the sport, and that is why, five decades after he made his first foray into the fight game, he is still the long-running survivor and leader in a game that historically chews up and spits out fledging, wanna-be promoters.
Arum and Top Rank, run by Arum’s stepson Todd duBoef, has thrived in a difficult business because Arum knows the only constant to any consistent, successful format is the ability to change and adapt with new and growing markets.
Sports content viewing is changing, and Arum knows that streaming is the way of the present and future, for most sports viewing.
So with Top Rank impressing ESPN over the first year of their initial contract with some outstanding match-ups, ESPN decided to up their deal, and lock the company into a long-term agreement that will see Top Rank talent performing on ESPN, and the new ESPN+ app. This will be a huge platform for the company’s talent, shown live on the cutting edge of sports viewing.
In a recent interview (speaking from the NABF convention in Reno, Nevada), Arum, at 86 years young, was excited and anxious to get right back to work under the new deal with the network that he started with almost four decades ago.
“We knew that the old format that we had a few years ago wasn’t working. We sat there, hat in hand, and waiting for HBO to give us a date. We knew we had to do something to survive,” said Arum. “So Todd duBoef, who is the president of Top Rank, pitched an idea where we provide content on a particular network. We tried ESPN; we tried NBC. We tried Fox, and we made the greatest progress with ESPN. So we did a deal with ESPN, and, our first year, we were to do 14 shows from August (2017) to the end of July (2018). They came to us, and they were so enamored with us that they upped our compensation and then we did a deal where we program boxing on ESPN and ESPN+. Gradually it will transition from linear ESPN to ESPN+. The future with how we watch will be streaming.”
While Arum is all about the present, he certainly hasn’t forgotten the roots of the company, and it isn’t lost on him that, 50 years later, he is still working with ESPN.
“We started with ESPN, in April of 1980. They had been up and running for five months, and we had a 15-year run with them. ESPN ultimately became the leader in sports television but it was boxing that was the only real live programming they had in the beginning. Every technological change that ever took place has used boxing to attract people, whether it was radio, television or premium TV. And now living through the premium TV era, we are now emerging into an ESPN deal that relies very heavily on streaming. The future for boxing, the future for all sports, as is the future for entertainment, is in streaming,” said Arum.
While there is usually a stage for champions in the game, Arum is thrilled that there will be a platform for up-and-coming fighters as well. The fighters in the support bouts can get exposure, and that can only help build the profiles of the fighters along with bringing an audience on board to follow them.
“This is great for the young kids. Every fight that we have on the card will be shown on the app. In the past, the kids, up and coming, would be in great fights but nobody would see them but now a big audience will be watching each and every fight,” said Arum.