So here we are. Whether you love, hate or are totally indifferent to him, Jake Paul has become a force in sport that is difficult to ignore.
His recent boxing match against boxer/fellow influencer Tommy Fury, is believed to have s 500,000 pay-per-view buys, at a cost of $49.99. It drew headlines – indeed the headline – in major outlets such as BBC, ESPN and CNN. Paul is believed to have walked away from the fight with a purse of around $10 million, with his opponent picking up $4 million. For context, Tyson Fury (Tommy’s half-brother), the World Heavyweight champion and arguably one of the best in history, is understood to have made $23 million from his last fight against Derek Chisora, who made $3 million.
Anyone that watched the Paul-Fury fight will likely have been someone underwhelmed. The quality of the fighters is believed to be of a similar standard to regional domestic level, certainly far from the elite sport that it was pretended to be. But in the end, it didn’t matter. People were watching to be entertained, not educated on the nuances of elite sport.
The proliferation of influencers is nothing new, of course, but continues almost unabated. It’s estimated that the influencer market grew from $1.7 billion in 2016 to $9.7 billion in 2020. Sports, by contrast, has broadly struggled to tap into the Gen Z mindset and grasp their attention, with almost universal declining participation and viewership. So as these two worlds threaten to collide, what can sports organisations learn from the likes of Jake Paul, as they make their plans for the future?
Creativity – Everyone now knows the importance of being ‘active’ on social media, but relatively few has fully grasped the concept of being ‘creative’. With a combination of videos, photoshoots and new partnerships, media personalities such as Paul have mastered the art of showing (off) their everyday lives in a way that helps followers feel a true part of it. The result? Paul now has more than 22 million followers on Instagram – of the International Federations, only FIFA and the ICC can claim to have accounts with more.
Controversy – Boxing has lent itself well to influences such as Paul because it thrives on controversy. Throughout his career, in and out of sport, Paul has perfected the technique of ‘calling out’ opponents, big and small, and turning them into arch enemies. While the ‘in-ring’ product might not the best, the drama surrounding it is difficult to deny – and often compelling.
Variety – Paul is quick to define himself as a ‘professional boxer’, but the reality is he is much more than that. He is, for example, also a Promoter, representing the likes of the women’s featherweight World Champion Amanda Serrano, as well as the founder of a betting company, a social media influencer and presenter of a podcast, with almost 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube. More verticals not only means more sources of income, but more potential opportunities to engage new audiences.
Sports organisations should certainly not aspire to be like Jake Paul. His brash approach means he polarises opinion - and there have been many occasions where he, and those close to him, have crossed lines that should be guarded against by professional organisations. Moreover, sports organisations operate with a number of legal limitations that Paul does not.
But the spirit of entrepreneurship is something that can be learned from. In order to connect with Gen Z, and the generations to follow, sports organisations need to appeal to a diverse audience and show themselves to be innovative and bold. This means trying different things which, by nature, will sometimes fail. But if strategised carefully and enacted cleverly, will result in more wins than losses.
For what’s it worth, Paul lost his fight against Fury. But who cares?