This weekend (Saturday 9th November), YouTube stars KSI and Logan Paul go head-to-head in a rematch of their drawn August 2018 boxing fight, which left unsettled scores between the pair.
The initial clash was heavily criticised in the build-up by much of the amateur and professional boxing community as an orchestrated publicity circus by two notorious YouTubers. However, the viewing figures spoke for themselves – described as “The Biggest Internet Event in History”, the fight was purchased by 1.5 million viewers worldwide, and viewed by at least 1 million others through pirated streams on Twitch. With the follow-up fight billed as professional, meaning no headguards and lighter gloves, and one of the sport’s leading promoters, Eddie Hearn, pulling the strings, could this be the future of boxing entertainment?
From a financial perspective, this rivalry already punches well above its weight compared to other boxing showdowns. It was speculated that KSI walked away with around £83 million from the first fight, even before lucrative sponsorship deals and advertising revenue are factored in, after the pair agreed that KSI would pocket the profits of last year’s fight, with Paul to cash in from this weekend’s match. By comparison, Tyson Fury’s five-fight deal, signed earlier this year, is reportedly worth a similar amount.
Hearn is a convert to the bout himself, despite initial reservations about its credibility within the boxing world. The potential revenue from the fight undoubtedly played a role in the promoter’s interest, but Hearn may be right to identify the opportunities presented to the sport more widely. Between the pair, they have amassed 40 million followers online, many of whom represent an untapped market to the boxing industry.
Yet whilst YouTube has a huge viewing audience, those behind the scenes of the fight have been eager to transfer the coverage back to more traditional platforms. Liam Chivers, KSI’s agent, cited YouTube’s lack of promotional budget and support, and its hefty hosting fees as several reasons for seeking out other platforms. Sports broadcasters have leapt to cover the fight, with Sky Sports Box Office and BBC Sounds set to provide live TV and radio coverage in the UK respectively, and DAZN have pocketed the global TV rights, suggesting this is more than simply a publicity stunt. The bout presents particular opportunities for DAZN to make in-roads with new audiences. Its subscription-based model, priced at $19.99 a month, means that fans of the YouTubers will have to shell out twice what they did for the previous fight, but the event could open viewers’ eyes to the more conventional professional boxing events that are shown on the service.
The increased attention that the boxing community have shown towards KSI vs Logan Paul 2 is indicative of how ‘celebrity’ fights could offer boxing promoters a way to draw in new audiences. Whilst skeptics remain as to whether promoters and broadcasters should be rolling out the red carpet to two YouTube stars without a professional bout between them, even a small proportion of converts to the sport could mean a huge new wave of fans, and a sizeable new subscriber base for broadcast platforms.
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