Last weekend’s world heavyweight title rematch between British boxer Tyson Fury and American Deontay Wilder was an event where “the anticipation going in, the during and the after effects were all in sync”, says Top Rank president Todd DuBoef.
“All three of those things came together in such a positive way,” he adds, speaking to SportsPro. “Typically rematches don’t always do the best. We don’t know, there’s always this uncertainty. What we do know is as a result of the amount of marketing and push that we put behind this second fight, these guys are household names now globally.
“Like the great fighters, that’s what happens, they become household names, they become interlinked to each other. Wilder and Fury may be linked to themselves just as [Evander] Holyfield and [Riddick] Bowe are, or Holyfield and [Mike] Tyson, or [Muhammad] Ali and [George] Foreman.”
Fury and Wilder were meeting for a second time after their first fight in December 2018 at Los Angeles’ Staples Center ended in a controversial draw, a result that created the ideal narrative for a lucrative rematch. There was to be no confusion this time around, though, as Fury dominated proceedings before the corner of his previously undefeated opponent threw in the towel in the seventh round.
What we do know is as a result of the amount of marketing and push that we put behind this second fight, these guys are household names now globally.
As referee Kenny Bayless waved an end to proceedings inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he also pulled down the figurative curtain on a broader promotional operation, one that had led some to christen the rematch as one of, if not the biggest heavyweight showdown since the turn of the millennium. Prior to the fight Top Rank founder and chief executive Bob Arum told Bloomberg that he expected the fight to make more than US$200 million, much of which would be generated from the two million pay-per-view (PPV) buys he was anticipating for the event.
As it turned out, it has now been reported that the fight was purchased by between 800,000 and 850,000 customers in North America, whilst piracy trackers VFT Solutions told Yahoo Sports that there were between ten million and 20 million illegal live views on the major social media platforms. Even with that many non-paying customers, PPV revenue still reportedly amounted to as much as US$68 million, representing the best return for a heavyweight title bout since 2002. Better still, DuBoef himself revealed on the night of the event that Wilder-Fury II had made just north of US$16.9 million in ticket revenue, eclipsing the previous record for a heavyweight boxing fight in Nevada set by Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield in their 1999.
“I think how you explain it is the coming together of ourselves and PBC (Premier Boxing Champions), and just being very creative and creating the interest behind the match and elevating it,” says DeBoef. “[Also] doing what we needed to do to create that sense of urgency that you had to be their live, that it was going to be a special night. And it was a special night, and as a result of that people walked away and said: ‘that was the best money I ever spent.’”
Making ‘the dream team’
The rematch was always likely to command more commercial dollars than the first fight – Wilder was making his PPV debut while his opponent was still relatively unknown in the US – but it is worth digging deeper into why the number of PPV buys more than doubled and gate receipts increased nearly five-fold from US$3.5 million.
With Wilder being represented by PBC, which has a partnership with Fox, and Fury signed with Top Rank to fight on ESPN, it was announced prior to the fight that the two broadcasting heavyweights would not only both be showing the fight, but that they would also be pooling their resources to co-promote the rematch in what was the first time they had worked together on a PPV event.
The collaboration led to what DuBoef (right) describes as an “unprecedented” promotional and marketing effort in the build-up to the fight. Fox, for one, produced more than ten hours of original programming around the fight and aired two commercials promoting the bout during the Super Bowl, reaching an audience of more than 100 million people in the process. ESPN, meanwhile, also created several originals that were available on its ESPN+ direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming platform. Both fighters were also encouraged to make several appearances at major sporting events in the run-up to the event to raise awareness.
“It’s like when they talked about the US basketball team for the Olympics, this was the dream team,” DuBoef says of the arrangement between Fox and ESPN. “They understand sports, they understand how to get to the audience, they’re such pros, they’re so great at it, and they did a great job.”
The partnership could even set a precedent for future boxing events, which would be a change of tact for a sport where exclusivity has long been king and complex negotiations often have to be overcome.
“Oh absolutely,” says DuBoef, when asked whether Top Rank and ESPN would look to co-promote future events. “I think it was seamless, I think it was collaborative and I think it was successful, so I think we all are just synced and linked together in putting combinations together to jointly make fantastic events.”
For Top Rank, it is a little more than two years since the company signed an exclusive seven-year deal with ESPN, opting for a mix of linear and DTC distribution – the arrangement includes fights on ESPN+ – over its previous arrangement with premium television network HBO. DuBoef believes the move has not only opened boxing up to a wider audience, but says it also keeps the sport in the spotlight for longer.
“What we did was we shifted the entire vertical and brought it over to one partner, and that was ESPN and Disney,” he says. “They give us the latitude and they give us the bandwidth to have constant storytelling – or as I say keep the lights on all the time for the sport of boxing – and that just trickles down. The after bloom of this event, it’s still in our headlines in America, it’s still everywhere.
“I just think it’s a wonderful type of situation where you’re able to get that and have a partner that understands it, and just treats it like another major sport here in the United States.”
Exposing the gem
Given Fury’s complicated background, Top Rank’s decision 12 months ago to sign him to a multi-year, UK£80 million contract might have appeared a risk at the time. Now, though, it seems a masterstroke.
DuBoef notes that he evaluates fighters “from a little bit of a different perspective” – based on “ability, marketability, opportunity”, he says – and reveals that he was convinced to sign Fury after listening to the boxer on an episode of the Joe Rogan podcast.
“I had always thought that Tyson Fury was an interesting one,” DuBoef continues. “He was an interesting character, his size, the name, everything just kind of had it going.
“I listened to the podcast and I’m like, ‘I’m absolutely in love with this guy and how real he is.’ He self-deprecates, he’s just true, and I’m like, ‘this guy is a gem, he’s an absolute gem.’
“The gem was how real and authentic he was, and what we had was a platform that could allow that story to be told – expose the gem, pull the gem out of the rough, shine it up and let people see it, and that’s what we did. We did it in a pretty quick fashion to turn this around in less than 12 months and to make him today one of the great sports stories in the world.”
Up until last year’s defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr, Fury’s fellow Brit Anthony Joshua had long been held up as the golden goose of boxing’s blue-riband division. However, with Fury now seemingly soaring past his compatriot as the biggest heavyweight draw, calls are now louder than ever to put the pair in the same ring.
The gem was how real and authentic he was, and what we had was a platform that could allow that story to be told.
“We’d love to do a Fury fight with Joshua,” says DuBoef. “Obviously we have contractual commitments with Wilder as we did going into this. Where we are today is a much elevated place than where we were a week ago, and I think there’s endless opportunities and there’s endless opportunities for the sport.”
There has already been plenty of talk regarding how much a potential matchup between Fury and Joshua would stand to make – Frank Warren, Fury’s promoter in the UK, says it would be as big an event as the 1966 Fifa World Cup final – but DuBoef is not convinced that it would necessarily be bigger globally than another fight between Fury and Wilder.
“I’m not sure,” DuBoef considers. “Maybe in Europe and the UK. Joshua’s coming to America, he stubbed his toe with Ruiz, so I’m not sure which is a bigger fight. Tyson Fury has established himself as the world and lineal heavyweight champion, and the biggest personality in the sport, so I think at this point if it’s Fury against Wilder or Fury against Joshua they each offer a different component to one another. I think Wilder offers more to the interest in the United States and I think Joshua offers more to the interest in Europe and UK.”
��And a song to send everyone home. ��
The King has conquered the American Heavyweight landscape.
What’s next? #WilderFury2 pic.twitter.com/Phn0b38TlF
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) February 23, 2020
Top Rank on the market?
As for the future of Top Rank, which over nearly 50 years has established itself as one of the most powerful players in the world of boxing, Arum recently told Business Insider that he has considered selling a minority stake in the company to help globalise the business.
Among those the 88-year-old revealed he had held discussions with are agency giant Endeavor, sports streaming subscription service DAZN and multinational telecommunications firm Liberty Global.
Business Insider’s story noted that should any deal be agreed, DuBoef would not sell his stake in the business. The Top Rank president says now that there has been no movement on that front, but says the door is open for discussions.
“Nothing to discuss, but we’ve been involved in this business for so long,” DuBoef begins. “Obviously people come to us all the time and think that what we’re doing and what we’ve done has been terrific in shifting the whole boxing platform to make it ubiquitous and global and extend our reach across the board, so we just want to perpetuate that, and if people want to be a part of something bigger as an enterprise we would welcome any conversation.”