ESPN and boxing promoter Top Rank have struck a seven-year rights deal that will put 54 boxing events on ESPN’s various outlets between 2018 and 2025, making the Disney sports outlet a growing force in so-called “combat sports.”
Under terms of the pact, ESPN will air 18 events on ESPN, and 13 exclusive prime time events on ESPN+, its new live-streaming subscription-based broadband outlet. ESPN+ will also feature 24 international events and undercard coverage of all 54 events.
The move comes as more sports outlets are gravitating to holders of rights for boxing, professional wrestling and mixed-martial arts contests. During a May press conference, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro suggested those types of events have a growing popularity with younger viewers. ESPN has also struck a recent deal with UFC mixed martial-arts fighting. “Combat sports in general are of interest to us,” Pitaro said. 21st Century Fox will devote a new night on its Fox broadcast network to WWE wrestling in 2019. And former ESPN chief John Skipper is leading the entrance of a new live-streaming sports service, DAZN, to the U.S., selling access to mixed martial-arts and boxing match-ups.
ESPN is also clearly using the new rights package to boost interest in ESPN+, which executives are counting on to generate new revenue in an era when subscriptions to cable and satellite companies have been in flux. ESPN’s core cable networks are expected to shed 14 million subscribers between 2010 and the end of 2018, according to data from Kagan, an S&P Global market-research firm.
CAA brokered the deal with ESPN on behalf of its client, Top Rank.
ESPN’s started to take a new swipe at boxing in June of last year, when it televised a bout between then-World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao and undefeated contender Jeff “The Hornet” Horn at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia. The fight 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,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling, in an interview at the time. “We hope to do more.”