From my perspective, this has been the most fascinating space to explore across the sports industry in recent years. The trend is most prominent across the combat sports space, especially with Jake Paul continuing in his stride to become boxing’s most valuable fighter. We also witnessed Jake’s brother, Logan Paul, take on none other than Floyd Mayweather in an exhibition bout generating over 1m PPV buys.
Jake claimed many accolades in 2021, including being announced as the 3rd richest boxer in 2020, the US’s 10th most searched athlete on Google, his KO on Tyron Woodley becoming Showtime Sports most viewed YouTube video alongside reportedly earning £15m+ from boxing in 2021. Although, it’s arguable his selling power could be fading away if he continues to follow on with boxing vs MMA crossovers. His bout with Ben Askren reportedly generated 1.5m PPV buys globally, whereas his more recent fight with Tyron Woodley accumulated 0.5m PPV sales. His rematch with the former UFC champion gained a shocking 65k in PPV sales. Therefore, the question lies with how much longer can Jake Paul continue trailblazing the boxing industry?
Jake Paul isn’t the only party to benefit from this trend. TikTok rivals, Triller, staged multiple combat sports events last year, including Jake Paul vs Ben Askren, Legends II: Evander Holyfield vs Vitor Belfort, Triad Combat (headlined by Kubrat Pulev & Frank Mir) alongside Michael Hunter vs Jerry Forrest. Triller had received much backlash from fight fanatics, especially for their Holyfield vs Belfort card, where the likes of Eddie Hearn expressed the fight should never have happened due to Holyfield being 58-years old, an age where nobody should consider boxing! Since this incident, Triller’s reputation in the sports event landscape could be damaged commercially and professionally.
History was made last summer with entertainment firm, Social Gloves, headlining the first-ever YouTuber’s vs TikTokers boxing event. Despite the anticipated excitement, the event was somewhat disappointing, considering it accrued 136,000 PPV buys compared to a projected 2.2m.
Another influencer boxing promotion entered the sector, known as Social Knockout, created the Middle East’s first influencer boxing event and the world’s first-ever Cryptocurrency only combat sports event. Consumers were only able to buy the event through KokoSwap cryptocurrency and photos alongside real-time moments during the event were only available to purchase through NFT’s. There have been two Social Knockout events thus far in Dubai, with the 3rd event rumoured to take place in the UK in 2022. The prospect of crypto-only events will be fascinating to watch in the influencer-led sport space, especially seeing the likes of Jake Paul, Logan Paul, and KSI increasing their investments towards NFT’s and blockchain currencies.
Combat sports has also led the way, with influencers pivoting into promoters. This year, Jake Paul set up his own promotion, Most Valuable Promotions, and he’s representing the no.1 Pound-For-Pound female fighter, Amanda Serrano. Jake has big ambitions to work with Matchroom Boxing to stage one of the most significant female boxing events in 2022, Amanda Serrano vs Katie Taylor. Amanda has gone from strength to strength since signing with Paul’s promotion as she’s being offered larger purses for events considering the brand power of Jake. After her fight on the Paul vs Woodley 2 card, she also announced that she officially became a millionaire. KSI also revealed he created his own boxing promotion in collaboration with Wasserman Boxing and the Sauerland brother’s last year; however, we’re still yet to see it come to fruition.
Influencer-led sport has been experimented with across other sports. We’ve seen Triller sign a media rights deal with US rapper Ice Cube’s, Big3 three-on-three league. Wolverhampton FC has created a music label, Wolves Records, to promote upcoming music talent, and one of their first signings is song producer S-X. Formula E launched an influencer collective, The Offset, featuring creators including Joe Weller, Josh Denzel, Schme150 and Bimini Bon Boulash.
This trend has sprung many benefits to the industry. It’s opened sports like boxing to a younger audience; it’s taught traditional athlete’s the importance of personal branding and content creation to leverage brand value and monetisation opportunities. In 2022, other sports properties could adopt a similar model to Formula E in setting up an influencer entity alongside using creators to be the leading voice of the new generation.