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The spin stops here: ESPN underachieves with Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn drawing 3M viewers

By Zach Arnold | July 4, 2017

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Bob Arum and his business partners, including ESPN, didn’t pay Manny Pacquiao a reported $10 million dollars to draw 3 million television viewers.

ESPN’s spin on Monday, bought hook-line-and-sinker by media fish, is that the rating for the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn fight last Saturday night was the network’s best showing in 10 years. When you put it that way, basic media types will take it at face value as ESPN saying they were happy with the initial results of their new marriage with Top Rank. Rephrase the news as Manny Pacquiao drawing three million viewers on ESPN and suddenly things become much clearer.

Who’s to blame?

The easy scapegoat is Pacquiao. He’s 38 and his reputation was permanently damaged by the Floyd Mayweather fight. The stink bomb of all stink bombs. The fact that he struggled to draw three million American cable viewers should signal the alarm in the Top Rank offices. That’s bad.

I don’t buy Pacquiao’s ceiling on cable as less than 3 million viewers. Most combat sports fans probably don’t either.

The problem is ESPN. They simply are incapable of long-term marketing & hype campaigns for sports outside of the NBA or NFL. Their marketing of MLB is dreadful. Their day-to-day coverage of baseball coverage is, at best, mediocre and has been recently scaled back.

Incompetence is bad enough. A lack of desire to be great is an entirely different insult to level at ESPN. I’m ready to level it.

ESPN’s recent shotgun marriages with both Golden Boy & Top Rank signal an understanding of how bad they blew the Friday Night franchise. They half-assed it, just like they do with so much other network programming, and decided to outsource content to Al Haymon’s PBC in order to save money. He had the fighters and the cash. They had the air time. And look what happened. The network did next to nothing in advance marketing to hype Haymon cards. They barely mentioned his name. They gave next to no air time in interviewing fighters or building shoulder programming content in the weeks, if not months ahead of major fights. Al Haymon was the john and ESPN was the pimp. A very lousy pimp.

After ditching Haymon, ESPN tried to save face with a new TV deal featuring Golden Boy cards that had been on FS1. ESPN has so far treated Golden Boy fights on the network with less hype and marketing than the 4th of July Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Joe Tessitore came out of nowhere to return to boxing duties on ESPN two Saturdays ago for a Golden Boy event in Frisco, Texas that ran head-to-head against the Andre Ward/Sergey Kovalev fight. There was no advance warning or heads up at all. What makes that remarkable is that Tessitore is viewed and treated as the rising star, the impending ace, of ESPN and is all over their college football & variety programming. Tessitore returns to boxing and nary a peep.

A week after the Frisco event, Golden Boy had an ESPN2 fight that was buried an hour before NBA Free Agency marathon wall-to-wall coverage. And not only that, the fight had next to no advance notice to ESPN viewers.

Management in Bristol has no idea what they are doing, nor do they care about details big or small.

What’s next for Bob Arum?

Bob Arum’s nightmare scenario unfolded in Australia. Manny Pacquiao didn’t stop Jeff Horn. Horn won a terrible unanimous decision. Manny got paid $10 million dollars. The fight drew three million viewers in America.

Now what?

A re-match will happen. Likely Australia, but Las Vegas certainly seems to be an option. Has ESPN lowered their ratings standards enough to put in a bid to air the re-match on cable or on ABC? What is the ceiling for the rematch? Does ESPN even know how to market the fight? The network choose not to discuss Jeff Horn until the fight took place. He was treated as a nobody. Screaming Stephen A. Smith buried Horn right before the fight started. It was a clown show. Never in ESPN’s judgment did they ever consider that Horn would have a close enough fight with Pacquiao to build him up, either for a re-match or for more TV fights.

ESPN spent fight week hyping a marketing campaign in which they claimed that the marriage to Top Rank would create “a resurgence for boxing” because a) Top Rank is the NFL of boxing and b) it’s ESPN. Nevermind the fact that we got to this point because HBO slashed it’s boxing budget and didn’t want to pay for certain TV fights. For ESPN, marrying up with Top Rank was more about giving themselves a chance to market Bristol as boxing’s savior than it was about actually promoting the upcoming fights.

Which brings us to Terence Crawford. Crawford is the fighter Top Rank needs to succeed the most on the ESPN platform. Crawford is the crown jewel. The plan, as hinted by Joe Tessitore, was for Crawford to end up facing Manny Pacquiao in a passing-of-the-torch fight. Instead, Pacquiao is stuck with Horn in a re-match. Crawford has Julius Indongo on home turf in Nebraska.

There is clearly an increase in fan interest in Terence Crawford. 806,000 viewers for the John Molina fight and 961,000 viewers for the Felix Diaz fight. Crawford vs. Indongo should do better than a million viewers on ESPN. But I don’t know and I can’t say for certain that’s the case. ESPN is the wild card here and that should scare some people in the boxing business. Are they going to spend a week hyping Terence Crawford? The network spent one week hyping Manny Pacquiao and bombed. They need to spend a month, by their standards, hyping Terence Crawford.

If Crawford’s fight with Indongo disappoints or bombs in the TV ratings, Bob Arum will have every legitimate reason to give ESPN a tongue lashing. ESPN blew it on the Pacquiao/Horn fight. Will their navel gazing continue to produce disappointing results?

Topics: Boxing, Media, Zach Arnold | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

2 Responses to “The spin stops here: ESPN underachieves with Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn drawing 3M viewers”

  1. Chris says:

    Well said. I think the upcoming fights for Lomachenko and Crawford will pull in good numbers. But ESPN absolutely needs to step their game up with how they handle Boxing on their network.

    Also force feeding Stephen Smith down the viewers throat is major turnoff. I was watching the fight in a room full of casual Boxing fans. And every time he opened his mouth, people turned to me asked “Does he know what he’s talking about”? I shook my head and responded “No but for some reason ESPN loves this guy”. When your casual Boxing fans are reacting that way to someone on your broadcast, it’s not a good sign.

    The ironic thing about Manny “passing the torch” to Crawford, is that it’s a fight they had zero interest in. But then he winds up going to war against Jeff Horn who was supposed to be less dangerous opponent. If they rematch and Pacquiao wins, no way does he take a fight with Terrence Crawford, who would an absolute nightmare for Manny at this stage of his career.

  2. Diaz's packed bowl says:

    How about running a story on how UFC blows it again with 213. 3 main event fights fall out with NO replacements. No prob, just toss a phony belt out there…

    Now they cut Mousasi who is on a 5 fight win streak. While post usada Weedman who just lost to him and has a 3 fight loosing streak is still with the ufc?!?!?
    sorry, but UFC is totally @#$ed up. Their decisions so many times are stupid, racist, and spiteful.

    Imagine if they had kept Mitrione, dumped the worthless eye gouging hapa and signed fedor for a fight or three? For one thing Bellator would not have had a ppv. They would have most likely signed hapa to their regret. As it is ufc has such a shitty HW division, that grizzled 20 year mma vets like Olienik(I watched him fight in afc back in 1997) and Hunt are trashing the “new blood”.

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