Seamless ESPN-FOX Fury-Wilder Promotion and Broadcast Sets New Precedent

Bobby Burack
Wilder, Fury, ESPN, FOX.
Wilder, Fury, ESPN, FOX. / JOHN GURZINSKI/Getty Images
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Boxing's horror stories don't include a clown, a spirit, a shapeshifter, or doppelgangers. Just as frightening is the reality of dream fights never happening. Or occurring years and eras too late. So late that the present and future of the sport is halted.

The fighter often receives the blame. Sometimes they deserve a portion of it — but it's far less of the pie than the promoters, and, in particular, the networks should receive. There is a long history of rival networks letting ego and greed come before working together to put on the fights the fans spend years clamoring for. This past Saturday's ESPN-FOX partnership of Wilder-Fury II could've reshaped and reinvented that precedent.

Last week, both Bob Arum and Joe Tessitore bragged on my podcast how seamlessly ESPN and FOX had worked together on the fight. Arum compared it to the days of HBO and Showtime when they "fought more than the fighters themselves." Tessitore, who called the fight, claimed it felt like "one big family/network." The two were in a big text chain sharing links and chatting about the fight. The broadcast and promotion echoed this cooperation. Wilder-Fury II benefited from the two-network collaboration. The sum was better than its parts. 

The fight received mass promotion from both networks. From games on ABC, interviews on ESPN, appearances on FS1, and getting ads during the Super Bowl, watched by over 100 million viewers. This was the first fight to ever receive advertising during the event, according to Arum.

A fight of this magnitude, with this level of stakes, and of this hype is nearly guaranteed success. The pay-per-view numbers are not in yet, but the muscles behind both Disney and FOX gave it the requisite buzz to reach its ceiling — however high that may be. The intrigue, the pre-fight show on ABC, and the two biggest sports networks going all-in bode well for the total.

While it would've still been substantial, this fight promoted by merely one network wouldn't have reached this level of heights. Of course, under that scenario, the fight wouldn't have even happened; Wilder's PBC is with FOX and Fury's Top Rank is connected to ESPN. This is why this past Saturday was the single most valuable night for any sport since the night the Cubs won the World Series.

The top fighters, the juicy potential rivalries, and the matchups with the Hollywood-scripted storylines often differ in promotion and network alliances. In order to get the fights the fans want to see, when they want to see them, opposing networks have to unite at least for a night. Unlike, the long, dragged out Showtime and HBO complications (see Mayweather-Pacquiao), Wilder-Fury II on ESPN and FOX laid the blueprint for the future of boxing.

Together, FOX/PBC and Top Rank/ESPN can anchor boxing in the discussion more than once every two years. The collaboration was a win in every existing way. That certainly includes the broadcast teams, which featured top-level performances from Tessitore, Max Kellerman, Mark Kriegel, Kate Abdo, Lennox Lewis, Andre Ward, and Brian Kenny. The success of the broadcast performance, promotion, and showcase means it's inexcusable to not build upon it all. Beyond Wilder-Fury III, the foundation has been laid for a Terence Crawford-Errol Spence matchup-- a dream bout to determine the true pound-for-pound king.

The other layer in this is DAZN. Boxing is fragmented between FOX, ESPN, and DAZN (and some Showtime). The sports streaming service has the rights to two of the sport's top stars: Canelo Álvarez and Anthony Joshua. There are more obstacles for ESPN and FOX to work with DAZN than there were with each other. ESPN (via its steaming service ESPN+) and FOX can each offer the pay-per-view showing on its platforms. DAZN is not in that business. In order for it to be beneficial, the fights would have to be on its $20-per-month service. Thus, a multi-fight agreement would likely be necessary to ensure DAZN airs at least one of the fights exclusively.

The new most-desired fight would come from a DAZN/ESPN joint promotion. After Fury's domination of Wilder, all eyes are Fury-Joshua. Arum told me last week he doesn't have an interest in this fight as he doesn't see Joshua getting out of his clash with Kubrat Pulev victorious. Though, this is boxing, and that is the fight to be made. (For what it's worth, I'm not picking Pulev against Joshua.)

Saturday's results far exceed crowning Fury as the heavyweight champion. It made him the face of boxing. It bolstered him to superstardom. It showed boxing at its best and what it can be. It also showed what it now should be. 

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