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ESPN Punches Hard Into Boxing in Pact With Top Rank

ESPN said it would make a new push into the boxing ring by striking a multi-year deal with Top Rank, one of the sport’s biggest promoters.

Under terms of the pact, the Disney-owned sports-media juggernaut will have the exclusive ability to televise and stream live Top Rank fights in the U.S., as well as deliver pay-per-view events with the promoter’s matches.  ESPN intends to include Top Rank content in a new direct-to-consumer streaming service recently announced. ESPN will also air all Top Rank content in English and in French on Canadian sister networks TSN and RDS.  The next “Top Rank Boxing on ESPN” fight card is scheduled for September 22 in Tucson, Arizona, and will feature Oscar Valdez  and Gilberto Ramirez both defending their respective World Boxing Organization titles.

“We believe in a new vision for boxing that will super-serve existing boxing fans and create legions of new fans through the highest quality boxing content across multiple ESPN platforms – 365 days a year,” said  Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming & scheduling, in a prepared statement. ” Together, ESPN and Top Rank will build the superstars of tomorrow through unrivaled exposure, original content and cutting edge technology.”

ESPN has signaled its intent to step more definitively into the boxing ring in recent months. In July, it aired a bout between World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao and undefeated contender Jeff “The Hornet” Horn at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia. The fight, which was also telecast on ESPN Deportes, marked the first time since 2005 that the popular Pacquaio had taken part in a fight that was not limited to pay-per-view.

“We sort of came across this opportunity to really plant a flag back in the sport of boxing in a big way,” Magnus told Variety before the fight aired. “We hope to do more.”

In recent years, more TV networks have returned to boxing, though the biggest names in the sport have moved to pay-per-view matches and premium cable outlets like Time Warner’s HBO and CBS Corp.’s Showtime. ESPN is the latest broad-audience outlet to try to make the sport more available, and does so as its business has come under more scrutiny. As its subscriber base erodes and its top-dollar rights agreements with sports leagues come under the microscope, there has been a new focus on financial discipline at ESPN. The streaming and pay-per-view rights will give it some leverage as subscribers migrate to new viewing behaviors that do not require a traditional subscription to Comcast, Charter or Cox.

Top Rank has a long association with Pacquiao, and promotes rising stars like Juan Manuel Lopez and Nonito Donaire, Jr. “Top Rank has consistently and successfully built many of their fighters into global brands, and now will benefit significantly from ESPN’s broad distribution, sales and marketing support and outstanding storytelling,” said Alan Gold, who heads CAA’s Sports Media Advisory practice, in a statement. Top Rank has retained CAA Sports to manage its official sponsorship sales efforts, working closely with ESPN, and served as Top Rank’s adviser on the deal.

In the first year of the deal, ESPN will showcase 18 main events in the U.S. on multiple platforms, including television networks, its ESPN App, the direct-to-consumer service and pay-per-view events, in both English and Spanish, and on Canada’s TSN in English and RDS in French. The deal allows ESPN to make Top Rank content – including undercards, select main events, re-airs of ESPN telecasts and pay-per-view matches, and archival material – available across its various outlets.

 

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