In an exclusive preview extract from Battenhall’s Sports Social Review 2023, we step into the ring of YouTuber boxing.
On Saturday night (Oct 14), YouTube star and rapper KSI will face Love Island personality Tommy Fury at a sold-out Manchester Arena, in one of the most highly-anticipated boxing matches of the year. It will also be broadcast live on DAZN for £20 in the UK.
Clearly, this is no ordinary bout: it’s a collision of two worlds. Over the past few years, social influencers and celebrities have taken boxing into new territory and created a thriving industry that has engaged new audiences. The question is: how have they done it?
In 2017, UK YouTubers Joe Weller and Theo Baker uploaded a fight to Weller’s YouTube channel. The contest gained a lot of traction, culminating in rapper KSI vowing to fight the winner. A year later KSI stuck to his word, fighting Joe Weller in front of 8,000 people at London’s Copper Box Arena, with tickets selling for £66. The bout set a new benchmark for ‘YouTuber boxing’, with more than 20 million streams of the fight across both boxers’ YouTube channels, and upwards of £100k placed in bets before the fight.
Six years on, influencer boxing has evolved to engage even bigger audiences. Earlier this year, YouTuber Jake Paul took on Tommy Fury (half-brother of legend Tyson), in a fight that attracted huge audiences – including sporting royalty. Here are some of the record-breaking stats:
- A live audience of 15,000 in Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Arena (+87.5% vs Weller/Baker)
- Premium tickets selling for £270 (+309%), with a star-studded audience including Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin Hart and Mike Tyson
- 800,000 pay-per-view (PPV) viewers (KSI and Joe’s fight was free to watch online)
- Record-breaking bets, including a £335,000 bet by musician Drake on Paul to beat Fury
YouTuber boxing looks set to go the distance, but why are so many people drawn to these amateur-level bouts?
Promotion on social media is key – particularly what I term the ‘unconscious support ecosystem’ of influencer boxing. Take Paul and Fury’s fight as an example. Personal social followings aside, here’s an example of the fighters’ unconscious support ecosystem in action…
- His partner, and Love Island winner, Molly Mae: 13m+ followers
- Love Island connections mentioning the fight: Maura Higgins (5m+ followers), Curtis Pritchard (1.1m followers)
- Social posts from influencer fighters network: KSI – 60m+ followers
- Total audience exposure from top social connections: 79m+
- His partner, Jutta Leerdam: 4.8m followers
- Brother Logan’s popular podcast and personal channels: 36m followers
- Adin Ross, friend and podcast host: 17m+ followers
- Total audience exposure from top social connections: 57m+
These figures only illustrate the influencers’ immediate circles, meaning that without even breaking sweat, the fight was promoted to more than 100 million people without any paid support.
This demonstrates the power of influencers. These fighters can reach new audiences simply by relying on followers they already know hanging on their every word. It creates momentum and gossip in the build up, and vastly increases viewers and exposure.
These followers are familiar with subscribed and regular content from their favourite online personalities, so fight promotion serves as just another topic on the conveyor belt of regular vlogging content. Whether these audiences go on to watch the fight itself is virtually irrelevant.
Video view count
There’s also a key difference between influencer and regular boxers in the pre-fight build-up: their behaviour. Professional boxers are focused on winning the mental battle during a ‘face-off’, while influencers are more concerned with number of views.
This was demonstrated recently by KSI, who smashed viewing numbers in his face-off with Tommy Fury on DAZN’s channel ahead of Saturday’s clash. The video reached 2.4 million, surpassing the 1.8 million views Fury and Jake Paul achieved.
But things are moving fast in this arena. Logan Paul and MMA star Dillion Dannis have already eclipsed that figure, with 4.7 million views on DAZN for their undercard fight on the same night! One thing’s for sure: influencer boxing is becoming almost as high-profile as the professional sport itself – and has arguably more fans. The combination of this year’s three YouTuber face-offs stands at 9m+ views and counting.
All sports have something to learn when it comes to tapping into ‘unconscious support ecosystems’. Influencer followers aside, sports fans have become accustomed to seeing content outside of watching the sport they love – and whether it’s a Netflix documentary or a sports person’s YouTube channel, there’s a sport outside of the sport itself. And the championship belt they’re chasing? Engagement.
This is an article from the upcoming Battenhall Sports Social Review, which launches next week. If you would like to receive a copy before its release, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.