Boxing: will a new breed of fans change the sport forever?

Boxing: will a new breed of fans change the sport forever?

Boxing has been in the news recently but not as we know it.

The white collar, YouTube boxing match between KSI and Logan Paul could be the start of a new phenomenon. Both competitors owe their fame to social media with a combined following of over 26 million, and it was social media that allowed fans to get intimately involved in the build-up to the fight and on the day itself.

That fight epitomised how different generations consume boxing in different ways. For many of those watching, this had little to do with the sport but was rather an opportunity to watch two famous people attempt to really hurt each other. What’s even crazier is that people were prepared to pay money to watch these two amateurs battle it out. £6 if you were in the UK (which eventually became £7.50 closer to the night) and $10 in the US.

Indeed, the customer journey in all respects was long and sometimes painful for the audience themselves. In order to watch the fight you had to be in front of a desktop, (a necessity that in this age of mobile dominance seems at odds with the spectacle of two influencers trading punches on YouTube). The next step was a payment page to add bank details input and that was finally followed by the fight itself. A long sequence, yet the fight amassed 6.6 million views online with over 5 million on YouTube and another million on Twitch.

While the traditional boxing establishment expressed concerns over the safety of white collar boxing, the cohort of Youtubers and their millions of fans were more engrossed than ever. For them, this was a simple way to see their favourite Youtubers enter a boxing ring and swing wild punches at one another without anyone really caring who won. Both men have had their fair share of controversy and this fight was no different: obscenities were hurled from both fighters in the lead up to – and on the night of – the fight, while both sets of fans chanted and cheered for blood.

The question of what this has to do with the sport of boxing is the elephant in the room. Are these millions of passionate, money-paying young people (the holy grail for many sports marketers) boxing fans, or are they YouTube fans? Sadly for the suits, it’s presumably the latter – but that simply highlights how much power and influence these two social media stars have. And there are plenty of others out there like them.

The final result – a draw – summed up the quality of the boxing on display. But extraordinarily, it now stands as the fifth largest pay-per-view event in history and the largest non-professional fight in the history of the sport. Broadcasters, including ITV and the BBC viewed and reported on this match as if it were a proper fight. If you turned on in time to see the legendary Michael Buffer introduce the boxers you could have been fooled into thinking it was an actual fight – with Anthony Joshua next up on the bill.

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Product of determination ???? #FightWeek #AJBXNG

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And what about AJ? With his fight just one day away, all eyes are on the 6’6” British heavyweight and his 21 back to back wins. He will go into another box office pay-per-view bout at Wembley Stadium this weekend as the WBA, WBO and IBF Champion but with rather a lot more to lose this time. His opponent is former WBA champion, Alexander Povetkin, another big man with a big reputation who is challenging Joshua for his belt. There’s a lot on the line this time – much more than there was when KSI and Logan Paul took to the ring.

True boxing fans would say that Joshua’s fight is the real deal; the promise of one prize fighter conquering another for a genuine sporting prize. But the sheer numbers in which young fans devoured the YouTube fight suggests that for the next generation, the charm lies not in the sport, but in the spectacle of social media celebrities beating each other up.