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Ratings KO Proves Out Top Rank’s Decision

ESPN’s live coverage of the controversial July 1 Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn welterweight championship boxing match was a knockout on the ratings front, averaging 2.8 million viewers despite the main event starting well after midnight on the East Coast.

The fight, which ended in a controversial decision win for Horn, was Pacquiao’s first non-pay-per-view appearance in eight years and marked a strategic move by boxing promotion company Top Rank to offer quality, competitive boxing matches featuring high-profile champions on basic cable.

Top Rank in August will offer fights featuring junior lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (Aug. 5) and Terence Crawford (Aug. 19). Both fighters have had the majority of their prior fights air on HBO.

Top Rank president Todd duBoef recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the controversial Pacquiao-Horn fight, the company’s decision to move premiere fights from premium television and pay-per-view to ESPN, and what it means for boxing’s future. An edited transcript follows.

MCN:What did you think about the Pacquiao-Horn decision?
Todd duBoef: I wasn’t in Australia for the fight, but everyone who was there in person thought it was a very close fight. As you know, a lot of times when you’re there in person it feels different than when you watch it on television. From my perspective, watching it on television, I thought Manny clearly won. More importantly, I thought it was dramatic and terrific television.

MCN:Were you satisfied with the ratings performance of the fight?
TD: The numbers were off the charts, especially when you take into consideration that the fight was happening in Australia as well as the time of night the fight took place. Timing-wise the fight was set up for the traditional pay-per-view window and not set up for linear distribution. [The fighters] walked in the ring at 12:03 [a.m. ET] which is not in the primetime window that most big sports events take place. I think it shows how powerful the sport is on a global basis.

MCN:How did Top Rank come to the decision to distribute the Pacquiao fight on ESPN instead of via pay-per-view or on the premium cable channels?
TD: We’ve had different conversations with different people as it related to where our product is best shown. My theory has been that boxing needs a 360-degree television perspective and needs to be presented more on a main sports platform. When I say 360, I’m talking about not just the live event but all the content associated with the live event, and I think what ESPN did was fantastic. I think their promotion in advance of the fight, their post-fight coverage and everything they did actually presented boxing like the major sport that it is. The general sports fans are on the [linear and digital] platforms. They’re not necessarily on the premium platforms.

MCN:With two Top Rank-promoted championship fights scheduled for August on ESPN featuring fighters that have fought most of their careers on HBO, is this a trend for Top Rank, in terms of offering its big boxing events on linear television?
TD: Yes, I would say more of a trend. I think to have that platform — which turns the lights on for the sport — is fantastic. For us to use our assets toward turning those lights on for the sport on a consistent basis, not just once every six or eight months, is important for the long-term health and awareness of the product.

MCN:Having said that, there’s already talk about a rematch of the Pacquiao-Horn fight. Is that a possibility since this was such a gripping fight, and would you look toward pay-per-view distribution for that one?
TD: I think there’s obviously a natural conversation about that. Everybody that watched that fight was entertained. The fight had an ebb and flow to it and it was dramatic. I think people were a little disappointed in the decision, but it got people talking about the sport, which was good. We haven’t talked to Manny — he initially said yes [to a rematch] but at the end of the day he has a real job as a politician so when he’s ready we’ll have that conversation. After that if we go forward, then we can talk about whether we’ll be back on the same platform.