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Golden who? ESPN labels Bob Arum, Top Rank “the NFL of boxing” and recycles Al Haymon spin on exposure

By Zach Arnold | June 30, 2017

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It’s amazing how fast allegiances can change at ESPN. Four months ago, a bunch of C-level and B-level Golden Boy events were being heralded by the Mouse as a chance for the rebirth of boxing on basic television.


Bob Arum & Top Rank Boxing are being heralded by Joe Tessitore as “the NFL of boxing” after shifting events from HBO (slashing their budget) to ESPN. This includes booking Terence Crawford for an August fight in Lincoln, Nebraska. Tessitore pontificated, during a Friday ESPN radio interview to promote the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn fight, that Pacquiao could face Crawford in a passing-of-the-torch fight next Winter.

Arum experimented with Crawford on PPV last year because HBO didn’t want to pick up a fight. That fight reportedly sold 60,000 PPV buys and drew 378,000 viewers for an HBO replay. Yahoo Sports writer Kevin Iole quoted Bob Arum anticipating 125,000 PPV buys. The fight reportedly drew half that figure.

Getting exposure for Top Rank fighters is an issue for Bob Arum. It’s why he cut a deal with ESPN. What’s funny to watch is ESPN giving Arum more support than Golden Boy after Golden Boy filled the void when ESPN split from Al Haymon. Golden Boy went with the FS1-level cards. Arum is going in a different direction to build up future PPVs or perhaps a Disney bid for an ABC slot.

Network support for Bob Arum vs. Al Haymon

By any objective standards, today’s ESPN does a really lousy job of promoting sports outside of the NBA, NFL, or college football. They half-ass it. They simply don’t go all in with shoulder programming or ad inventory to promote a fight. They haven’t advertised the Golden Boy shows at all. It’s really a slap in the face. What Oscar De La Hoya has encountered with ESPN is similar to the kind of treatment that Al Haymon has encountered with the networks he has bought TV time. Haymon has spent tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, on networks like CBS and Fox to promote real fighters only to discover the networks giving little to no advertising support. Nothing. Haymon is left with the bill and not much else. That’s a recipe for disaster when TV networks are taking your money but not acting as full-throated partners.

To Bob Arum’s credit, so far he has got ESPN’s attention to at least run some shoulder programming, interviews, and themed advertising for the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn fight. Pacquiao is over a 6-to-1 favorite but the fight is on Horn’s home turf in a rugby stadium. Arum needs at least one of the fighters to shine bright in order to get ESPN/ABC involved in a bid for a much bigger fight down the road.

We’ll see how much effort ESPN actually puts into the partnership with Bob Arum. The one ace up Arum’s sleeve is Max Kellerman and First Take. Given how much oxygen ESPN has spent building up Stephen A. Smith, it’s the network’s natural ally to promote anything Arum wants. Arum is also a good guest with a rapier wit. At some point, though, Todd DuBoef is going to have to gain some experience hyping fights on television.

If you’re Al Haymon, you have to wonder what the hell happened. Haymon brought the checkbook. Haymon brought a very big stable of marketable fighters. He demonstrated the willingness to put major fights on broadcast television. Why is ESPN so cooperative now with Bob Arum when they could have done the same deal with Al Haymon two years ago?

Topics: Boxing, Media, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

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