If there’s one sport where the crossover of influencers was least expected, it’s boxing. Over the past five years, influencer boxing has evolved from marketing gimmick to tactic as social media heavyweights headline live-streamed and in-person events, attracting large audiences and introducing new fans to the sport. Though still in its early stages, this emerging form of influencer marketing could open up new marketing avenues for revenue and brand awareness as well as enable creators to increase their audiences and increase their earnings through advertising and brand deals.
Recently, YouTube mega influencer—known for his long-running series Content Cop—Ian ‘iDubbbz’ Washburn and his wife who’s also an influencer, Anisa, organized the Creator Clash. The in-person boxing event took place in Tampa, Florida on May 14, 2022 and pitted 18 YouTubers—who were heavily trained by professional boxing coaches for six months—against each other to raise money for charity. In collaboration with Real Good Touring, the fight united popular YouTube creators across gaming, animation, tech, comedy, finance, dancing and more for a four-hour event featuring 11 different match-ups that were livestreamed on Moment House.
In total, the creators altogether have over 22 billion lifetime views and over 131 million followers. Among the creators that participated in Creator Clash were: Alex Ernst, Arin Hanson (GameGrumps), AB (H3Podcast producer), DAD, Doctor Mike, Graham Stephan, Harley (Epic Meal Time), Hundar (Muscle Party), iDubbbz (also the producer of the event), I did a thing, Justaminx, Matt Watson, Michael Reeves, Odd1sout, Ryan Magee (SuperMega) and Yodeling Haley.
“These creators want to show respect to boxing while putting on an entertaining show that reflects their personalities . . . Influencer boxing has previously been very money-driven and our goal is to bring attention back to the sport while delivering fun and interesting personalities for an all-around great show for some great causes,” said iDubbbz in a press release.
The livestream, which featured live commentary and interviews, was a hit, drawing in 1.3 million views and about 12,000 comments and raising $1.3 million for the American Heart Association and the Alzheimers Association of America. In addition, more than 100,000 people tuned in online via pay-per-view (PPV) on Moment House, according to Tube Filter.
Viewers raved about the event’s entertainment value and praised iDubbbz and the influencer-fighters for coming together for a good cause. One YouTuber commented: “There’s something absolutely refreshing about seeing this dumb trend actually step into a space of respect for the sport, where creators aren’t fighting because of some bullshit drama, but instead out of a place of mutual respect.”
Another opined, “This was such a high quality event! HUGE PROPS to hosts and all the teams involved in making it happen! this is way better than any boxing event on tv.” While yet another wrote, “This was incredible. I can’t believe such an authentic and exciting internet event happened in this day and age. Much love Idubbbz.”
Creator Clash, which is reportedly returning for a second event next year, was presented by Fansly and even inspired Everlast to donate gloves to the fighters—reflecting the sponsorship potential influencer boxing offers marketers as the worlds of gaming, esports and sports continue to collide.
Influencers and brands today can thank YouTuber Logan Paul for igniting the trend back in 2018 when he went up against British YouTube star Olajide Olayinka Williams Olatunji, better known as KSI, in England. The fight reportedly drew in 1.2 million viewers and generated a projected $3.5 million in ticket sales.
Then in 2020, Triller co-owner Ryan Kavanaugh and Snoop Dogg teamed up to launch a professional boxing league called The Fight Club. Triller Fight Club’s first bout, between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. in November 2020, drew in 1 million viewers. In addition to bringing together the two boxing legends, it featured a fight between former NBA slam dunk champ Nate Robinson and YouTuber-turned-fighter Jake Paul, Logan Paul’s brother.
Last summer, Logan squared off against boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. in an exhibition match dubbed “Bragging Rights” at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The bout—which ESPN deemed Mayweather the winner of—gave the boxing champ a chance to lure Logan’s younger Gen Z fan base and brands the chance to advertise on both fighters’ trunks. According to Tube Filter, the duo brought in more than a dozen sponsorship deals with companies like DraftKings, Fashion Nova, and OnlyFans.
In a Showtime Sports interview ahead of the match, Mayweather boasted that he’s “fighting a YouTuber who thinks he’s a real fighter and […] getting crazy money for it. I’ve already made $30 million just building up to the fight. Just the buildup, I’ve already made $30 million.”
Among Mayweather’s brand deals: a partnership with OnlyFans that required him to share exclusive, behind-the-scenes boxing content and clips about his personal life on his OnlyFab account. The boxer’s entry outfit featured logos from sponsor BetOnline and trunks logos included EthereumMax.org, Fashion Nova and its offshoot NovaMEN, Limitless X and SMILZ.
Logan, too, attracted brand sponsorships. The lineup of logos on his trunks included Atari and its cryptocurrency Atari Token, SuperBid, Mavathltcs and Fashion Nova. Following the match, Atari tweeted that it and Logan have “much more than this in store.”
Logan also partnered with Current for a $10,000 cash giveaway and highlighted the business on his walkout robe and in a prefight video on his YouTube channel the day before the fight. He and another sponsor, Blockfolio, promoted the fight by listing a giveaway that promised to reward 10 people with $10,000 each in Ethereum.
Tube Filter notes Logan told TMZ he anticipated making around $20 million and it’s been reported that Logan was slated to receive a $250,000 base salary plus 10 percent of PPV sales, but those figures haven’t been officially confirmed.
Influencer boxing has its share of hiccups too. On June 12, 2021, a PPV boxing tournament billed “Social Gloves: Battle of the Platforms” featuring YouTube and TikTok personalities prompted a lawsuit after it posted only 136,000 PPV sales—a fraction of an expected 2.2 million in sales, according to lawsuits filed by its livestreaming platform and talent against the organizer Austin McBroom.
Despite the legal dispute, LiveOne—the Beverly Hills-based entertainment company that livestreamed the event—told the LA Times it plans to stream several other similar events and that 70 influencers have expressed interest in participating. According to reports from Billboard, LiveOne agreed to pay out $3 million to “applicable payees” from the Social Gloves event last year.
More recently, LiveOne announced it’s creating a reality TV show called Ultimate Social Boxing. The show will see 32 male and female influencers move in together to train and fight each other for a grand prize of a $1 million boxing contract with the new international Ultimate Social Boxing League, which LiveOne is set to launch this summer. The finale will be a livestreamed PPV event at a music festival.
In April, Triller Fight Club announced a slate of national and international events for 2022 incorporating world-class professional boxing, Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) and Triad Combat.
“When we started Triller Fight Club over a year ago, the goal was to see if we could bring excitement to combat sports and deliver a product that Gen Z would love. Between Triad Combat, TrillerVerz, and large Fight Club events, we have done just that. Now that we have perfected the product, it’s time to roll out a consistent schedule so we can dominate combat sports,” Kavanaugh said in a press release.
In addition to boxing trunks sponsorship opportunities, fan meet-and-greets, social media challenges and branded merchandise, brands and organizers could tap into the rise of influencer boxing through NFTs. NFT-based tickets to influencer matches can serve as programmable money, providing unlimited potential for new revenue opportunities, for example, the resale of NFT tickets as collectibles. In fact, according to Deloitte’s 2022 Sports Industry Outlook, sports NFTs are projected to generate over $2 billion in transactions in 2022—nearly double that of 2021. The firm also says 4 to 5 million sports fans will have an NFT sports collectible by the end of next year.