Let’s be honest. To deliver the most lucrative fight in boxing history, there is only one currency that really matters; the currency of hype.
For an industry that sometimes struggles to evidence ROI, the world of sports marketing has to view this fight as a heavenly gift. The aim is clear – generate enough hype for each boxer to earn $100m, or the fight doesn’t happen. Simple.
The hype train has well and truly left the station, with verbal grenades being thrown back and forth on social media. It’s fair to say the role of communications has already supercharged interest, and in the days and weeks between now and August 26th things will only get more intense. This is a story that has a lot to give.
The unique nature of the competitors makes for a fascinating spectacle. Just imagine that at the height of his powers Olympian Steve Backley swaps his javelin for darts and invites himself to the Oche in a serious contest against Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor. It’s laughable, but many would say a fair analogy. Even in the classic underdog story of the Rocky films both competitors were at least boxers! Stallone himself has waded into the pre-fight fray by backing McGregor but most commentators would tell you this is a story of the underqualified, not the underdog.
Bookies have Mayweather as the overwhelming favourite with odds as short as 1/12, yet more punters are backing the ballsy UFC star. McGregor can still ‘win’ by losing well so in terms of reputation, Mayweather (and boxing at large) arguably has more to lose. However, if a pre-requisite to driving positive reputation is the ability to innovate and capture the public’s imagination, both sports are winning in the early rounds.
Given the amount of exposure this contest has already received, complacency poses a greater threat to Mayweather and McGregor than they pose to each other. With a story like this, an early surge of publicity was inevitable. The smart thing from a communications perspective would be to adopt a mind-set of every day being the day before the fight. Keep the story fresh with new angles and target new audiences amongst previously uninterested fan groups globally. Continued “trash talk” will only take the commercial opportunity so far. Interest in the US and Ireland is a given. What if McGregor used his passion for luxury cars to recruit another group of ‘super fans’? Both fighters dress as sharp as their banter, so maybe fashion brands beckon? This story has the potential to adapt over time, recruiting more fans (and therefore money) along the way.
Maybe the biggest commercial opportunity of all sits with the prospect of a return match. Would the real winner not emerge from a duel code contest? First boxing, then UFC? Rugby’s Clash of the Codes in 1996 between Wigan and Bath addressed an age old debate about union verses league. In that respect, UFC President Dana White should be credited for agreeing to the spectacle and maybe creating a new sporting debate? I suspect Showtime already has the paperwork drafted.
For those in the business of sports marketing, events occasionally come along that transcend their own vertical and span the cultural spectrum. McGregor v Mayweather isn’t just a boxing match, any more than it is just a UFC bout. It is an entertainment moment in time with the potential to dominate conversation for months. The financial expectations may be huge, but so are the potential rewards. Strap in, because this story isn’t going anywhere. For the fight promoters noise equals hype, and hype equals PPV subscriptions.
This contest still flirts dangerously between an intriguing physical combat of sporting prowess and a circus spectacle. The world will watch either way, so in the land of pay-per-view, who cares!