ESPN, Fox Sports Give Wilder-Fury a One-Two Punch

Fox Sports and ESPN hope their unprecedented joint marketing and promotional efforts for the Feb. 22 Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury heavyweight boxing rematch will deliver a major pay-per-view performance punch.

Fox Sports and Premier Boxing Champions promote Wilder, and ESPN and Top Rank represent Fury. Together, they’ve rolled out a massive marketing campaign for the Feb. 22 fight that started with spots in ESPN’s Jan. 13 LSU-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game telecast and included ads in Fox’s Feb. 2 Super Bowl LIV telecast.

“This has been a remarkable effort by many different stakeholders, both internally and externally,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN’s VP of programming for combat sports. “The Fox Sports team has been a great partner and it’s been very rewarding to see all the contributions from so many people.”

Fox Sports executive VP and head of programming and scheduling Bill Wanger said the magnitude of the fight brought both Fox Sports and ESPN together as promotional partners, and the ad push is reaching viewers. Fox Sports reported that its Wilder-Fury Super Bowl promo spot was seen by more than 105 million viewers.

Overall, Wanger said, Fox Sports has produced more than 10 hours of original programming around the fight, including a four-part docuseries dubbed Inside Wilder-Fury II and a fight countdown show currently in rotation on ESPN and Fox Sports platforms.

ESPN has also created several originals around Wilder-Fury II, including Ring Science, which is streaming on ESPN+.

Deontay Wilder (l.) and Tyson Fury at a Los Angeles press conference to promote their Feb. 22 pay-per-view fight, co-promoted by ESPN and Fox Sports.

Deontay Wilder (l.) and Tyson Fury at a Los Angeles press conference to promote their Feb. 22 pay-per-view fight, co-promoted by ESPN and Fox Sports.

“It’s really an unprecedented amount of promotion and level of cooperation among the two main media sports companies,” Wanger said.

The Wilder-Fury fight is the second between the two undefeated heavyweights; their 2018 bout ended in a controversial draw. That PPV event, distributed by Showtime, generated a reported 325,000 buys.

On fight night for Wilder-Fury II, a combined ESPN and Fox Sports on-air crew will describe the action. Fox Sports' Lennox Lewis will join ESPN's Andre Ward and Joe Tessitore for ringside commentary, while Fox Sports' Shawn Porter and Brian Kenny will team with ESPN's Timothy Bradley and Max Kellerman for live analysis.

ESPN and Fox Sports hope their collaborative on-air and promotional efforts will drive enough PPV buys from hard-core boxing aficionados and casual sports fans to reach the industry-standard 1 million buy mark.

Pushing for 1M Buys

“I think a million buys is reasonable given everything that’s being put behind it,” said sports consultant Lee Berke. “You have two strong, popular fighters. It's a throwback in a sense in that heavyweights have not been that popular on PPV lately. You have two media powerhouses promoting the hell out of it. And it's scheduled during a lull in sports between the end of football and beginning of the NCAA college basketball tournament and baseball. I think it will do well.”

Wanger would not project how many buys the fight would generate, but said he’s excited about its PPV potential. “The buys will be what the buys are,” he said.

While the fight marks the first PPV boxing co-promotion for Fox Sports and ESPN, similar recent team-ups have proven successful. Showtime and the UFC combined resources in 2017 to promote the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight, which drew 4.3 million PPV buys. That fight’s PPV performance was second only to the 4.6 million PPV buys generated by the 2015 Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight, co-promoted by HBO and Showtime.

This week, both ESPN and Fox Sports will ramp up marketing for the fight. On Wednesday FS1 and ESPN2 will simulcast the final fight press conference as well as Friday’s weigh-in. ESPN and Fox Sports studio shows will originate from Las Vegas, including FS1’s Speak for Yourself and ESPN’s First Take.

“This will raise awareness for one of the most anticipated heavyweight fights in a number of decades,” Wanger said. “We’re pulling out the stops.”

Along with traditional PPV carriage through In Demand, DirecTV and Dish Network, both Fox Sports PPV — which includes and the Fox Sports App — and ESPN+ PPV will stream the fight, which retails for a suggested $79.99, said representatives from both parties. ESPN’s Kenny said he would not rule out future marketing partnerships with Fox Sports on major PPV boxing events.

“ESPN is laser-focused on serving sports fans and should a collaborative approach with a partner like Fox Sports help stage, promote and produce the biggest fights, we are certainly open to exploring those opportunities,” he said.

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.