Anthem Adds Richard Schaefer To Its Corner as It Builds Boxing Business
Exec named president of new Anthem Sports Group
Looking to add punch to its combat sports business, Anthem Sports & Entertainment has named boxing veteran Richard Schaefer as president of its new Anthem Sports Group.
As part of a reorganization, Schaefer will oversee Anthem’s Impact Wrestling, its female mixed martial arts brand Invicta Fighting Championships and its Fight Network sports channel.
“We believe in the combat sports,” Anthem CEO Leonard Asper told Broadcasting+Cable. “Despite the existence of the WWEs and the UFCs of the world, there’s a wide-open ability to be more prominent and build a bigger business within the combat sports arena.”
With Fight Network and AXS TV, Anthem is vertically integrated and able to distribute and promote its own events and programming. It has been adding an expanding set of digital and streaming free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels to make its programming more available, especially to younger viewers. “Will we end up having a boxing vertical of content that will be streamed globally? Yes,” Asper said.
Anthem also sells its content to other distributors. “It just goes wherever it makes money,” he said.
AXS is contractually obligated to have sports programming. Since it has become a destination for combat sports, “getting into boxing is a big part of rounding out the trifecta.”
Schaefer, who has worked with boxer Floyd Mayweather and MMA champion Jon Jones and served as CEO of boxer Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, said there’s still life in the boxing business.
“At the very highest level, boxing still delivers ratings and the cost is relatively low, " Schaefer said.
Boxing’s Big Draw
He pointed to the recent Jake Paul fight against Tommy Fury. “I heard that it did about 750,000 homes here in the U.S. and 500,000 homes in the U.K,” he said. “You’re talking about an event which generated just in pay-per-view revenues north of $70 million. There are not too many sports that generate $100 million in one night.”
As a purist boxing fan, that match might not have been the best, but fights like that bring in younger viewers, he said. “The business is going to benefit from that event,” he said.
Schaefer expects to put together boxing cards that would be televised weekly, rather than a series of one-off fights. A regularly scheduled series is more attractive to advertisers, he said.
He also envisions other boxing programs, including a series that would be a combination of the UFC’s Contender Series and America’s Got Talent with a group of young, talented amateur boxers telling their stories and the audience and a celebrity panel of judges picking one to win an Anthem boxing contract.
Asper endorsed the idea. “I’m excited about it, because we have the distribution platform as well,” he said. “We can sign young fighters, we can give them the exposure, we can put on weekly shows, we have the distribution in-house and there is not one promoter in the world who has that capability. Right there, that sets us apart from the rest.”
He noted that few non-pay TV channels provide viewers with as much access to combat sports as AXS. “So that’s part of our strategy,” Asper said.
Anthem is making some organizational changes with Schaefer coming aboard. Scott D’Amore was promoted to president of Impact Wrestling. He and Shannon Knapp, president of Invicta, will report to Schaefer.
The company named Lou D’Angeli as VP of marketing for Anthem Sports Group. He had previously held a similar position at Cirque Du Soleil. Before that, he was with WWE.
Anthem also retained Mike Pine & Talon Partnerships as strategic advisers focused on securing sponsorships and new revenue for Impact Wrestling and Invicta FC. While Pine & Talon’s initial emphasis will be placed on the sports group properties, it will also aim to generate revenue for Anthem’s entertainment content as well.
Reorganizing the company’s sports group and moving up a weight class with more combat sports was part of a broader strategy to have more current and fresh programming on its channels, led by AXS, Asper said.
In addition to sports, AXS features programming for people interested in music. Last year, the network launched Parking Lot Payday, a pop-up game show in the parking lots of concerts. People who answer trivia questions win cash or access to the band.
“When you think of linear channels, the ones that will stick around are the ones that have sports and the ones that have an immediate connection with the audience,” Asper said. “That’s part of our overall AXS strategy that we’re engaged in right now.” ■
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.