“Hey Boxing – stop being so damn basic”

Wilder vs Fury II made one thing very clear – boxing is ready for a marketing upgrade.

The fight night scene…

A week before Wilder vs Fury II, a friend asked if I was excited. The hype on all forms of media (traditional and digital) was out of control, but I gotta be honest – I was feeling rather “MEH” about it. 🤷🏾‍♀️ I watched their first bout at a bar with my fight friends and stood screaming all 12 rounds, then walked out pointing back at the cascade of TVs yelling “Run that back!.” I knew the rematch would happen. And a short 14 months later the rematch was here. And yet there I was. Meh-ing during fight week. I should be hyped! So I did the 1 thing I knew would get me in the mood…I hit the 15N fwy towards Las Vegas.

As soon as I entered MGM you’re immediately hit with with a beautifully roped off mock boxing ring. Standing center inside the ring was a replica WBC belt adorned with dozens of flags representing the countries of previous heavyweight champions. I stared for what felt like a sincere 45 minutes and something happened…I got those “holy shit it’s Fight Week” goosebumps.

T-3 days before the most anticipated Heavyweight boxing fight of the decade (arguably if not more…).Yet besides literally standing in the casino where the fight was going to take place, there was little to no other emotionally triggering, hype-prompting, omg-this-is-so-cool sharable moments. I was back in Mehland! 😠 Sure, every now and then a typical fan thought floated across my mind like “I wonder what kinda shit they’re going to say to each other at the weight-in…” but then that very quickly turned into more industry related questions like – “damn, who’s even sponsoring this?”

I officially switched from fan to professional.

Lost opportunities…

While in observation mode, I saw many opportunities for brand activations, pop-ups for boxing legends, and the space for tech-based entertainment that simply was not capitalized on to help drive-in casuals.

The die hards were locked in and weren’t going anywhere. The problem is that to for boxing to evolve with the times and attract a wider, younger, more active audience – nothing was accomplished. The seeds were planted, but never watered or cared for. Yes, the basics of mainstream attention and money spent on boosting select Facebook posts for digital real estate was done. But that’s my point – everything was basic. In a space where sports has become its own ecosystem of entertainment and content – the marketing behind boxing remains basic. Wilder vs Fury II was truly a compelling, story-driven, competitive bout with the fight capital of the world as its backyard. The nonstop foot traffic from tourists could have produced a wealth of consumer data that could have been used to inform business and marketing decisions for future boxing related events for the next 3-5 years.

While Heavyweight Boxing won overall, the industry got an L on engagement. The experience of Fight Week was seeded with so much promise to create rich activations and opportunities for fans to learn of boxing history. The fight itself showcased notable living legends in “The Real Deal” Evander Holyfield, “Iron’ Mike Tyson, and “The Lion” Lennox Lewis. But if you’re going to go through the effort of highlighting them during the live event, why not seduce fans before and after for those that might not even see the event for whatever reason.

The sport experience goes far beyond the box score. Smart leagues recognize that. While not always recognized for their commitment to social listening, the NFL has at least integrated a number of brand activations to give fans bonus activities to engage with. For example, the Dallas Cowboys set up an AR-based (augmented reality) photo booth inside their home AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas, letting fans “Pose with the Pros” and take selfies with the Cowboys player(s) of their choice.

Bridge yesterday, today, and tomorrow with a beyond basic marketing strategy

Very rarely does the reality of a sporting event live up to the hype. Wilder vs Fury II actually did. Yet my experience of switching back and forth from fan mode to work mode, two key takeaways stand out to me:

  1. Keep feeding the loyal boxing community with a connected, omnichannel sport experience.
  2. Capitalize on the new eyes with story-driven content and live brand activations

Point 1: Community management is about maintaining your fans. There are levels of fan loyalty and identification, often contingent upon a variety of psych factors and external group identities (ie: regional, cultural, racial, social, etc.). Either way, fan-to-sport commitment must be sustained and the responsibility lies on the sport’s federations, corporate partners, and brand affiliates. Get someone in the room that understands fan studies and how it intersects with past, current, and emerging forms of digital communication and media distribution. A good place to start – my original framework for community management – The 3Es: Emotion, Engagement, and Experience.

    • Create emotionally binding content
    • Sport + story = a visualized human experience
    • Participation creates loyalty as a byproduct of ownership
    • Socially active consumers are your digital infantry of support
    • Increased contact points can:
      • Improve knowledge w/new info
    • Extend social relationships
    • Let them in on the inside joke
    • Turn precious moments into valuable assets
    • Products and services come and go…but great experiences have no expiration date. Make one.

Point 2: New eyes to sport often are compelled by the story. Who’s the champ? Who won the last time? Who’s the bad guy? Good guy? Story is how we make sense of the world and information around us. Because of its long, notable, and international history, boxing has long been referred to as the ‘prestigious grandfather of sport.’ Yet despite that lineage of pressure, Wilder vs Fury II still presented a wealth of storyful bait to lure casual eyes. The trick now is to convert curious intrigue to promoting customers, and you do so by delighting them continuously with quality content. Given the obvious advancements in media distribution and tech integration, boxing has a clear opportunity to capitalize on the newfound attention by enacting on the head and shoulder model of programming. As illustrated, the “Head” is the actual live event itself. Below it lies the “Shoulder” programming which is comprised of secondary content that complements the head/live event with supplementary, cross platform content. 

This block of secondary material gives credence as to why sports networks have become 24/7 – because there is no offseason. By supporting the Head/live event, shoulder programming is emotionally anchored in the sport experience and often contains fan favorite material that keeps them engaged and delighted. Let’s face it – months and often years goes by before we see our favorite boxer in the ring again – so new fans need a reason to sustain their early interest. That’s where in-venue, cross channel, brand activations become critical.  

Boxing warrants a sincere self-audit. Look at what worked in the past (given the resources afforded to it at the time). Now look at what works today (given the resources we’re afforded right now and projected to have in the future). It’s not slowing down. So for boxing to remove the “get off my lawn” stench that’s stained on the basic marketing tactics, I hope to see more integration of social channels that embrace user generated content, more platforms for authentic voices in the space to engage with the community on the sport’s behalf, and more brands willing to go beyond the handful of marquee fights and create memorable experiences for fans to interact with.

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