Joseph Parker v Hughie Fury: Does YouTube fight signal the start of a streaming revolution in boxing?

 
Joe Hall
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Parker v Fury will be the first heavyweight title fight shown live on YouTube (Source: Getty)

A month after Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor set new heights on the money a boxing match could make, a decidedly less-hyped affair could pose similar implications for the future of the sport.

Despite being a genuine heavyweight world title fight, this weekend’s meeting between WBO champion Joseph Parker and Hughie Fury in Manchester has struggled to capture even a fraction of the interest surrounding last month’s box office smash between the all-time great and a boxing debutant.

Yet Parker-Fury is an intriguing prospect as much for the way it will be watched than for how many will be watching.

In a first for British boxing, traditional broadcasters are being bypassed in favour of YouTube where Saturday's fight will be available for pay-per-view.

For promoter Mick Hennessy, the migration to digital is not only about attempting to reach a younger audience spread beyond national borders, but also about getting ahead of an exodus away from traditional broadcasters that he anticipates is coming.

“I’ve got teenage children from 13 to 17 and they watch everything on mobiles and tablets,” Hennessy told City A.M.

“It’s very rare that they’re actually sitting in front of a television. And if they are, it’s on smart TVs and watching apps like YouTube.

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“We feel like it could go out to a much bigger market and a much bigger audience. It can really open doors worldwide.

“We’re on YouTube in about 25 countries around the world — markets like the US, Mexico and Germany. Big boxing markets and we don’t have to worry about answers from a particular broadcaster in Mexico or sending off presentations to broadcasters in Germany, we can just pick and choose where we do it and just go. It cuts out a lot of people, a lot of organisations and takes us straight to where we want to be.

“If we get this right over the next couple of years, there’ll be nothing bigger.”

Parker v Fury, which will cost fans £14.99 to watch on YouTube, arrives at a moment when speculation surrounding a tech-led streaming takeover of the sports industry is at fever pitch.

Earlier this week Manchester United chief Ed Woodward said he anticipated tech giants Facebook and Amazon would soon bid for lucrative live Premier League rights.

Already Amazon has snapped up rights to live ATP Tour tennis and NFL games, while Facebook is streaming MLS football this season.

Badou Jack v Lucian Bute
How to watch a heavyweight fight in the future? (Source: Getty)

YouTube meanwhile has already played host to the Europa League and Champions League finals thanks to BT Sport.

For Hennessy, bringing the fight to YouTube is simply adding a live event to an arena where every other aspect of the boxing conversation already takes place.

As boxing has increasingly locked itself behind pay-per-view packages and disappeared from the mainstream media, boxing-focused YouTube channels have stepped in as the go-to hub for rumours, trash-talking and highlights.

“When I want to look at a show that’s happened previously, when I want to look at an interview in boxing, if I want to research an amateur or pro fighter — anything to do with the sport — the first place I go is YouTube,” says Hennessy.

“We’re already watching the majority of our boxing content on YouTube, the next step is massive live coverage of huge world title fights.”

Hennessy now hopes to stage four to six fights on the Google-owned video platform, which will split pay-per-view revenue with the promoter at ratio similar to a traditional broadcast.

Yet whether or not live boxing’s future is set solely for streaming after Saturday will become clearer once order numbers have been counted.

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“These are premium rights,” Daniel Horlock, senior commercial manager at international media rights company B4 Capital, told City A.M.

“It is for the heavyweight title. It is the only reason YouTube has granted the pay-per-view function to the channel.

“YouTube’s previous policy was to grant pay-per-view functionality only to channels with a significant audience and lengthy track record on the platform. They have clearly made an exception in this case as The Boxing Channel presented by Hennessy Sports has a very small amount of subscribers.”

If YouTube and other streaming sites are to eventually become the platforms for promoters to generate Mayweather money, Parker-Fury could hold some clues as to whether the stream will eventually become a flood.

Parker v Fury is exclusively live on YouTube. Go to www.youtube.com/parkerfury

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