ESPN Looks to 'Avengers' to Punch Up Promotion for Crawford-Khan PPV Fight

On Saturday ESPN and boxing promotion company Top Rank Inc. will distribute the Terence Crawford-Amir Khan welterweight championship pay-per-view boxing match, their first co-promoted PPV boxing event since the two companies reached an exclusive, seven-year distribution deal.

The fight, which has a suggested retail price of $69.95, is getting a major marketing boost from ESPN’s sister company Marvel Entertainment. Earlier this week ESPN released a 30-second spot that ties in the PPV fight with Marvel's blockbuster film Avengers: End Game, which premieres next Thursday (April 25).

ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions Matt Kenny recently spoke to me about the significance of the Crawford-Khan PPV event for ESPN and Top Rank as well as the fight’s big Avengers promotional tie-in.

Why do you feel pay-per-view is the right distribution platform for the Crawford-Khan fight?

When you think of the best pound for pound boxers in boxing, Terence Crawford is right at the top of that list. We’re couldn’t be more pleased about our partnership with Top Rank, and as we looked at the [boxing] landscape we thought this would be an appropriate time to do our first pay-per-view together. We felt that Terence and Amir would be the perfect main event for our first foray under this new deal.

The PPV category recently lost a number of marquee fighters to upstart sports streaming services. Is the platform still a viable outlet for big PPV boxing events?

Absolutely. We’ve heard feedback from distributors that boxing is still very much a strong performer in the pay-per-view space. At the end of the day, people are interested in big events, and PPV boxing has historically fallen into that category. We feel really confident heading into this weekend that Crawford and Khan are not only going to put on a great main event, but the undercard is stacked as well. We really think boxing fans are going to get alot of bang for their buck this weekend.

Is ESPN and Top Rank doing anything outside of traditional PPV marketing tactics for this fight?

WE could not be more proud of how ESPN and the Walt Disney Company have embraced this event and put forth a promotion that the industry hasn’t seen before. I think really the biggest example that we could point to is a co-promotion spot that just hit social media that features Crawford and Khan in a co-promotional piece with the theatrical release of Avengers: End Game next week. When you think about that, Avengers End Game is arguably going to be the largest theatrical release in movie history, and for us to be able to leverage that intellectual property to create an even bigger event feel for Crawford-Khan is something that none of the streaming services or our competitors can do.

Will ESPN and Top Rank look to distribute more pay-per-view boxing events this year?

We’re going to be incredibly opportunistic … I think that’s the best way to describe it. We are interested in putting on the best fights for boxing fans and want to be part of the [PPV] conversation, so we’re open for business and interested in putting the best fights forward. We’re really in the early stages of our long term deal (with Top Rank), and to have had [lightweight champion] Vasyl Lomachenko on ESPN+ last Friday and Crawford on pay-per-view this Saturday, we think we’re really helping to elevate boxing as a whole and to establish ESPN’s leadership position in the space. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.