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The upcoming Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight has generated more interest in boxing for general sports fans since Mike Tyson prowled the ring. Pundits are wondering whether the spectacle will break the all-time boxing pay-per-view record of 4.6 million buys—the betting odds say yes—and even though the bout is most likely to end up as a horrible mismatch, sports fans can’t get enough of the pre-fight promotion.
That’s been great news for Showtime. The premium cable network that’s hosting the Aug. 26 pay-per-view is touting enormous social media numbers after this month’s four-day, three-country fighter press tour that was, at times, jovial and clever but also sprinkled with misogyny, racist comments, and homophobia. Some of the optics were terrible, but there’s no doubt that curiosity in the fight is at an all-time high.
As the network shared, Showtime and UFC combined to receive 33 million total views from the livestreams they hosted for all four press conferences. Twenty million of those views came from YouTube, while more than 13 million people watched on Facebook Live.
Brian Dailey, Showtime’s vice president of sports digital media, didn’t know beforehand what kinds of quantitative numbers the network could pull from the press tour, but the numbers wildly exceeded his expectations.
“The amount of interest in this event is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Dailey told the Daily Dot on Friday. “The coverage it received on major sports outlets, we’ve never seen anything like that. Last week’s numbers speak for themselves. … We weren’t sure what to expect, but this is a number we’re proud of. It indicates there’s quite a bit of interest.”
To say the least.
Showtime has been on the forefront of social media for the past few years—in the past, it’s streamed a heavyweight title for free on YouTube, and it’s showcased world-class boxing matches on Twitter—and its mission is to become the undisputed sports leader on social media.
For Mayweather-McGregor, the strategy was to produce high-quality live content from all four press events, and Showtime will do the same during fight week, streaming press conferences, the weigh-in, and other media availability. For the first time, people can watch an entire fight week unfold directly from their computers, tablets, and phones. Although the fight is seen by most boxing fans as a joke—after all, it features a 40-year-old boxer who hasn’t fought in 23 months vs. an MMA star who’s never competed in a boxing match—the interest in the bout is outrageously high.
Even for a YouTube comedy channel like Bad Lip Reading, the event has piqued a large number of page views. In the week after Bad Lip Reading skewered the Mayweather-McGregor trash-talk fest, the video had received more than 4 million views. The channel’s previous video, on The Force Awakens, had recorded 6.7 million views since it was published in April.
The easiest comparison to make for this fight in terms of a general sports fan’s interest is to the 2015 tussle between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, which set the all-time pay-per-view record and recorded decent streaming numbers at the time. (It was a much different era as far as streaming capabilities are concerned, the Mayweather-Pacquiao kickoff press conference generated 455,000 views and 3,700 shares in the first 48 hours.)
While the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight had interest from the boxing and general sports fans communities, it lacked the UFC fanbase that McGregor will appeal to and, based on the press tour, it also lacked the pro wrestling community that seems to have come along for this latest ride.
With these kinds of theatrics, it’s hard to blame those wrestling fans.
“With these type of events with two amazing performers who can work the mic, we’re attracting those wrestling sports entertainment fans, too,” Dailey said. “They really have wrestling personas. I figured it would attract some of those fans to some degree, but given the numbers, I assume we pulled in quite a bit … We’re looking at a far broader audience.”
Not just for Showtime and all of its digital platforms, but for online betting oddsmakers, as well.
When the match was first announced, Bovada made McGregor a +1000 underdog, meaning you could wager $100 in order to win $1,000. As of this week, though, McGregor’s odds had fallen to +375. That means most of the gambling money that’s coming in thus far has largely been wagered on McGregor to win.
That scares the hell out of the sports books, because if Mayweather actually loses, they’d be on the hook to pay out much more money than originally expected. Kevin Bradley, the sports book manager for Bovada.lv, credits the press tour and all the coverage it received for bringing even more money to his coffers (and more risk, as well).
“We knew this fight would be big, potentially even bigger than the Super Bowl, but now we are almost certain it will be,” Bradley recently said. “The recent trash talking and promotional tour is only encouraging bets, and at this rate, we cannot even imagine how much we will take on it.”
The next step for Showtime is simple: Keep the conversation and engagement rolling for the next month. Keep the interest high. This week, the network released a 30-second preview for its All Access show, a four-part online series that will document the buildup to the Mayweather-McGregor encounter.
But aside from that series and the fight-week coverage, Showtime is content to let the interest incubate and grow organically.
“All Access will be our steady content play over the next couple of weeks,” Dailey said. “That’s all we’ll need to do. These other stories are coming about by themselves without anything from us, whether it be rumors, speculation, predictions, and people going back and forth about whether Conor has a chance. It’s all happening. Traditionally in a promotion, we have to work a little harder to keep it top of mind and keep folks interested. In this event, I don’t really feel that need.
“There are no concerns that this is going to go off the radar.”
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.