Secondary pandemic effects led Vasyl Lomachenko and Teófimo López’s lightweight title fight to end up on ESPN Oct. 17 rather than pay-per-view, and more big fights could be headed to cable going forward. Lomachenko-Lopez was originally expected to be a PPV in May before being pushed back due to COVID-19.
Top Rank Boxing was one of the first organizations to return with live events in June, and conversation around rescheduling Lomachenko-Lopez heated up in July. According to Top Rank president Todd duBoef, it was ESPN that first pushed for putting the fight on its main network.
“We have linear, direct-to-consumer, and pay-per-view outlets as options for us,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN VP, programming and acquisitions. “What that does is allow us to have really meaningful and creative conversations with our partners to figure out what makes the most sense for any particular event.”
ESPN declined to disclose financial details, but Top Rank CEO Bob Arum told BoxingScene.com that the network is paying more than it otherwise would. At the same time, the two fighters also accepted less. “They were anticipating larger purses because there were different revenue streams when we talked [about the original May 30 plans],” Arum said.
In exchange, Lomachenko, Lopez and Top Rank will get increased exposure as boxing looks to grow its fan base. Meanwhile, ESPN secured a night of marquee programming at a time when uncertainty still swirled around the possibility of college and pro football this fall.
With a down economy and fans largely unable to gather in groups to offset PPV costs, Arum has been critical of those continuing to charge upwards of $100 for events. “Why are all these fights now on pay-per-view?” he told iFL TV. “Because it’s a money grab.” The lack of gate revenue also changes the economic equation.
“This is a great opportunity to expand the profile of the sport and the athletes, and that’s a long-term perspective that typically hasn’t been seen in the category,” duBoef said. “This year created the opportunity for this and once we see the results… it could be a very positive thing.”
Leading up to the fight, ESPN networks will air about 50 hours of programming aimed at promoting the Oct. 17 bout. On Oct. 4, the first half of behind-the-scenes follow doc Blood, Sweat and Tears: Lomachenko vs. Lopez debuted on ESPN. ESPN+ subscribers also have access to a library of Lomachenko and Lopez’s previous bouts.
Said Kenny: “We clearly are looking to create an environment where linear events can help drive direct-to-consumer, and where direct-to-consumer can help drive linear.”