This Saturday (Oct. 9) ESPN and Fox Sports will team to deliver the third pay-per-view fight between heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and top challenger Deontay Wilder. Industry observers are cautiously optimistic that the fight could match or surpass the more than 1 million PPV buys generated for the February 2020 second bout between the fighters, in which Fury stopped Wilder in the seventh round. Fury and Wilder’s first fight in 2018 ended in a draw.
“We think Fury-Wilder III is going to be huge,” said Mark Boccardi, senior VP programming and marketing for PPV event purveyor In Demand. “When’s the last time we had such a highly anticipated trilogy, much less a heavyweight trilogy? Between the growing popularity of Wilder and Fury and their in-ring skills, this has the makings of a mega-event.”
ESPN and Fox are hoping to maximize PPV buys for the fight — which was rescheduled to Oct. 9 from its original July 24 date after Fury tested positive for COVID-19 — through an aggressive, multi-platform marketing campaign that featured spots in high-profile sports events like Monday Night Football, marquee college football games and baseball post-season telecasts.
ESPN VP of programming and acquisitions Matt Kenny spoke to me in the final days leading up to Fury-Wilder III about the PPV appeal of the event, Fox Sports and ESPN’s marketing strategy for the fight and ESPN’s plans for future PPV boxing events. An edited version of the story appears below.
Picture This: Do you feel that there’s as much momentum heading into the third Fury-Wilder fight than there was for the first two fights between the two champions?
Matt Kenny: Yes. We couldn‘t be more excited for Saturday night. We’re talking about Fury and Wilder — the two fighters at the top of the heavyweight division — in a trilogy match. They've obviously participated in two iconic bouts with incredible promotions in their own right, so we couldn’t be happier to partner again with Fox Sports to help bring a massive event like this to not just boxing fans but mainstream sports fans as well.
PT: Is there a greater promotional push for this fight than the previous two events?
MK: The best way to describe it is in both instances, the promotion was incredibly strategic and well thought out between us and Fox. Fury-Wilder 2 took place in February of 2020 after the Super Bowl, so we were able to capitalize on all the live events that led up to that date, including the Super Bowl itself. What we're finding here is we're doing the exact same thing, but again being opportunistic with the live events that we have in front of us as we push towards Saturday night. For instance, we had promotion within Monday’s Raiders-Chargers Monday Night Football game, and then the following night we had promotions within the Yankees-Red Sox [MLB] Wild Card game, which was the most watched baseball game on ESPN since 1998. We have had massive events that we have been able to leverage to create exposure and awareness for the fight, and that'll continue to be the case as we head into the weekend.
PT: Having said that, are you confident that the fight can match Wilder-Fury II in breaking the 1 million pay-per-view buy mark?
MK: We don’t get into projections, but what I can say is we are incredibly optimistic for what's ahead. It really starts with the event participants at the top of the marquee, and that’s Fury and Wilder. They have a long track record, and there are no shortage of human interest stories related to this bout. Both ESPN and Fox are continuing to walk hand-in-hand to help tell that story and to help present these athletes in a way in which boxing fans won't want to miss it.
PT: Does former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s recent upset loss take some luster away from Fury-Wilder III since the winner was projected to fight Joshua in a mega PPV unification fight?
MK: The best way to answer that question is to say that this is boxing and anything can happen. Obviously that was a fight that many fans were interested in seeing, but at the end of the day, again anything can happen in boxing. I think fans on Saturday night are going to be in for a treat, and where it goes from there nobody knows.
PT: Do you believe that the PPV boxing category in general can remain a viable option for big events going forward in a very crowded TV sports marketplace?
MK: We do. We really like to be opportunistic and we like to think of pay-per-view as one of several distribution options that we have, depending upon the nature of the event and our relationship with [boxing promotion company] Top Rank. We have live events that air on ESPN and we have exclusive events that are on ESPN Plus. We also have pay-per-view events, both on a non-exclusive basis, like Fury-Wilder III, and we're excited about the ESPN Plus pay-per-view exclusive for the Terence Crawford-Shawn Porter fight on Nov. 20. So we do believe that pay-per-view is very much a viable option, and we just like to be opportunistic as we consider which live events we put where.
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