One of the biggest stories in recent sports history is the upcoming boxing match between Floyd Mayweather, the 40-year-old boxing champion with an untarnished 49-0 record and Conor McGregor, the 29-year-old UFC lightweight champion. A fight of this magnitude can seemingly market itself but omni-channel marketing efforts, intentional or not, have made August 26th, 2017 a historic date. In order to analyze the marketing of this colossal match, we will start from the beginning of its promotion.
In July of 2015, McGregor was interviewed by Conan O’Brien, who asked the Irishman if he would ever switch sports. McGregor responded with, “If you’re asking would I like to fight Floyd Mayweather, I mean, who would not like to dance around the ring for $180m?” This question was clearly not a serious one, which is why it wasn’t until December of that year that Mayweather responded. In an interview with FightHype, Mayweather complained about the praise and awe that McGregor received from knocking out former featherweight champion Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds, claiming he would never receive the same praise due to the color of his skin. McGregor quickly responded to Mayweather, pointing out Ireland’s history of horrific oppression and the fact that simply possessing the last name “McGregor” was once “punishable by death.” He then told Mayweather that he would have no problem fighting him if the boxer wanted to arrange a fight.
After these jabs were thrown, the two began feuding back and forth over social media and essentially using their own popularity as free marketing. Regardless of whether or not the fight would take place, the rivalry would certainly increase the popularity (at least temporarily) of both athletes.
Fast forward to March of 2017, when Mayweather told his fans he would come out of retirement to fight McGregor. The fight was made official on June 14th, with both fighters posting the agreement on their social media accounts. Mayweather’s post included a promotional video that confirmed that Showtime would be hosting the battle.
In July, a 4-city promotional tour was scheduled for Los Angeles, Toronto, New York and finally London. This was the first large scale, face-to-face encounter between the two competitors that fans would be able to see in person. Free tickets were released to the public. The event was also streamed across different services, from Facebook to YouTube. Fans at the events increased the hype by posting their experiences to their own accounts and sharing the event with their friends. The head of Showtime encouraged fans to buy the Pay-Per-View for $100 to watch the fight in high definition.
Being at the New York Press Conference myself, the story between the two fighters became a lot clearer to me, solely based on crowd reaction. After booing everyone who was not Mayweather, McGregor or Dana White, the crowd erupted with applause and cheers for the UFC champ. Mayweather, on the other hand, received a more mixed reaction, with the crowd (full of Irish fans) yelling insults about his personal scandals. After the show, the Irish fans continued the party outside, chanting in the company of concerned police officers all through the night.
Now, with only a month (and a couple of days) left until the fight, I think about real story of the event’s marketing. Years in the making, the only true marketing began less than 100 days from the fight. The real marketing strategy, whether intended from the start, has been social media. Fans took sides in 2015 and have been treated to an online feud that seemed to be going nowhere (thanks to repeated efforts to make the fight appear impossible to put together). With MMA gaining traction, especially with younger crowds, and boxing diehards dropping like flies, the story became much more than two men in a boxing ring. It is old vs new, MMA vs boxing, and underdog vs undefeated.
After two years of late night TV, Twitter, Instagram, interviews and press conferences, we are not far from the biggest fight the world has ever seen. If you have not heard anything about it, you must have been living under a rock, because people around the globe are gearing up for the “Billion Dollar Bout.” Give the marketing guys a medal, even if it’s just the fighters themselves.