Todd duBoef: Crawford-Benavidez viewership proof boxing isn’t an ‘old-person sport’
When it was revealed Terence Crawford’s fight with Jeff Horn would only be available on ESPN+, the network’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, many boxing fans and media whined and groaned.
Top Rank was clearly limiting Crawford’s visibility, some complained, despite the promotional outfit’s deal with ESPN that promised to broaden their stable’s outreach.
There was always a vision, and when Crawford returned to linear ESPN for his first welterweight title defense, a 12th-round TKO of Jose Benavidez Jr. on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska, it all came to fruition.
The bout delivered 2.708 million viewers at its peak, according to Nielsen Media Research. Those figures earn Crawford-Benavidez the distinction of most-viewed fight — boxing or MMA — on broadcast or cable in 2018. (Khabib Nurmagmedov’s tapout of Conor McGregor reportedly generated 2.4 million buys, but pay-per-view is not included in the above research.)
The Top Rank Boxing on ESPN event is the second-most watched combat sports program since 2012 behind only Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn in July 2017 (the company’s first fight as part of its new offering on the network.) Crawford-Benavidez — at 2.611 million average viewers — exceeded the combined totals of Showtime Championship Boxing’s last four broadcasts (ESPN is in approximately 91.45 million homes to just 29.7 million for the premium cable network.)
The fight received an attractive lead-in from the Alabama-Missouri college football game, and the viewership dipped to 1.8 million at one juncture during the Shakur Stevenson-Viorel Simion undercard bout. But by the time “Bud” was in the ring, around 11:30 p.m. ET, viewership had picked back up.
“We’re starting to figure this out,” Top Rank president Todd duBoef told The Ring on Tuesday. duBoef was instrumental in the orchestration of Top Rank’s partnership with ESPN and is heavily involved in the company’s efforts on television and streaming platforms.
“When Crawford fought on ESPN+ everybody criticized, ‘people aren’t going to care.’ This is very powerful to see the network response coming off ESPN+; they’re seamless platforms.”
duBoef noted that Crawford almost doubled his viewership from his last time on linear ESPN, a third-round knockout of Julius Indongo in August 2017. Proof, he believes, that casual sports fans are growing accustomed to Crawford’s name. duBoef owes the 31-year-old’s increased recognition to frequency.
The win over Indongo was also Crawford’s first time fighting on the network, and given the drama of the 12th-round finish, it’s likely Crawford’s attractability will only rise.
Top Rank isn’t resting on its laurels. Crawford, an unabashed Green Bay Packers fan, was at Lambeau Field for the team’s Monday Night Football win over the San Francisco 49ers just two days later, the luxury of cross-promotion at ESPN.
For too long, a major criticism of boxing has been that it’s a sport geared toward an older audience. Top Rank Boxing on ESPN is connecting on key demographics, proving that old age is simply a myth.
In the treasured 18 to 49 age group, over 1 million viewers turned into to watch Crawford and Benavidez. For 25 to 54, there were 1.5 million watching. Over 55 contributed only a third of viewership.
“We’re keeping the lights on at all times,” said duBoef, whose company will be right back on ESPN+ Saturday with middleweight contender Ryota Murata against Rob Brant. “People are talking and there’s chatter out there. We’re activating the public again. They are engaged.
“It’s an old-person sport when it’s on an old-person platform. The end.”
Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for RingTV.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger