Boxing was one of the most popular sports in the United States through the first half of the 20th century. Popular champions like Muhamad Ali, “Sugar” Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson then carried the sport through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
But the overall boxing audience has shrunk and gotten older in recent decades as premier fights moved away from network television towards pay-per-view, with the first HBO PPV event airing in 1991 between Evander Holyfield and George Foreman.
A new partnership between Golden Boy Promotions and Facebook hopes to shift those declining demographics by attracting a broader and younger audience to the sport. The leading boxing promotion firm announced plans on Monday to air five fight nights on the social media firm’s Facebook Watch platform by the end of the year. The boxing promoter will take big events straight to the fan, instead of going through a broadcaster like HBO or ESPN. Kathy Diva’s Main Events promotional firm will also contribute fighters to the events.
“Everybody is shying away from linear TV and going to digital programming, so we feel this partnership can only evolve boxing and get a new audience into the sport,” says Golden Boy founder and CEO Oscar De La Hoya.
The first fight will be August 11 and feature Jesus Rojas defending his WBA World Featherweight Title against Olympian Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood. Golden Boy will produce the fights and provide shoulder programming through its in-house production unit. Shoulder programming will include rebroadcasts of past fights featuring commentary from the boxers themselves.
De La Hoya has big expectations for the fights, which will be the first where content is controlled by the promotion company instead of a broadcaster like HBO or Showtime. De La Hoya is shooting for an audience of between 10 million and 15 million for each event or ten times the average Golden Boy promotion on HBO. “Those numbers are aggressive, but we feel strongly with the platform that Facebook has and JoJo Diaz as a champion we can reach those numbers,” says De La Hoya.
Facebook is making a big play in sports through Facebook Watch. The platform’s original sports programming has featured series on Tom Brady and the basketball’s Ball family. Live streaming events include college basketball and football, soccer, surfing and 20 MLB games. Now it adds boxing to the mix.
The draw of Facebook is unmistakable. It had 2.2 billion monthly active users as of the first quarter of 2018. Fans will be able to access the fights at no cost around the world. De La Hoya doesn’t see any reason why Facebook can’t secure 1% of the global Facebook or 22 million people for a high-caliber fight.
Facebook will pay a rights fee estimated to be $250,000 to $1 million per event, according to sources. It is comparable to what HBO or Showtime would pay to secure a night of fights on their premium channels.
The broadcasts will incorporate real-time fan interaction and engagement through Facebook’s social video platform. “We want to make it younger, fresher and the key word for us is interaction. We want the fans at home to be able to interact while the show is taking place live,” says De La Hoya.
Streaming is a growing outlet for boxing matches. Boxing is already part of the ESPN+ OTT service, which has a deal to stream live events from Top Rank’s stable of fighters. U.K.-based Matchroom, which promotes Anthony Joshua, plans to air 16 fights a year on Perform Group’s DAZN streaming service.