Pacquiao-Horn a massive ratings hit, even with the often-elusive younger crowd

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines lost his WBO welterweight title to Jeff Horn on Saturday in Brisbane, Australia, but he was a big hit with ESPN’s boxing fans. (Getty Images)

ESPN’s broadcast of the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight Saturday from Brisbane, Australia, increased the audience among adults 18-to-34-years-old an astonishing 10 times compared to its lead-in, according to Nielsen ratings obtained by Yahoo Sports.

The boxing card’s lead-in was an MLS soccer game, which in its final 15 minutes posted a rating of 0.2 and an audience of 86,000 among adults 18 to 34. By the climax of the Pacquiao-Horn fight, the rating had jumped to 1.9 and the audience among 18-34 adults had increased to 879,000.

It had already been clear the card was a big hit among fans watching television on Saturday, but these 15-minute ratings are astonishingly good, particularly in the targeted 18-34 and 18-49-year-old demographics.

ESPN announced on Monday that it was the most-watched boxing telecast on cable since 2006 and averaged 2.8 million viewers. It also peaked at 4.4 million total viewers.

But Yahoo Sports obtained a more detailed ratings breakdown that show the fight did sensationally well among the 18-34 and 18-49-year-old audience demographics that advertisers covet and which boxing broadcasts on television have had difficulty reaching.

In the boxing card’s first 15 minutes, which featured a bout between Shane Mosley Jr. and David Toussaint, ratings increased by nearly 40 percent among 18-34-year-olds to 119,000 before jumping up to 879,000 viewers by the end of the fight — 10 times more than its lead-in.

The fight performed as well as anything on television Saturday, including broadcast networks and the top cable channels.

Reaching the younger audience was key. The UFC shines among the 18-34-year-old male demographic as well as in the 18-49-year-old demo. Advertisers are enamored with that group.

In recent years, boxing audiences were largely viewed as older, with the largest demographic frequently being 55 and over.

Jeff Horn (R) punches Manny Pacquiao during their bout Saturday for the WBO welterweight title in Brisbane, Australia. (Getty Images)

But not only did Pacquiao-Horn do well among the 18-34 and 18-49-year-old demographic, the audience stayed for the “SportsCenter” broadcasts that were devoted to the fight after it. The 1 a.m. ET “SportsCenter” was second among adults 18-49 on Saturday with an average of 1.852 million viewers. It only trailed the fight, which averaged 2.81 million viewers among the adult 18-49-year-old demographic.

“That reconfirms my theory that it’s not just the event, but everything that surrounds the event, that needs to be there,” Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. “College football does that. The NFL does it. So does college basketball. You tune in to see a game, and there’s a pregame show, a halftime show and then a postgame show. That’s treating it like a real sport, and that’s what I think ESPN did with our show and the people are there. That’s what they’re looking for.”

He admits the audience will likely drop for Top Rank’s next two cards on ESPN, featuring Vasyl Lomachenko against Miguel Marriaga on Aug. 5 and Terence “Bud” Crawford against Julius Indongo on Aug. 19, because none of those fighters are household names like Pacquiao.

But duBoef said that isn’t of concern. His plan is to consistently put on these types of shows to build awareness and interest among the audience.

Top Rank president Todd duBoef is the architect of a plan to bring major boxing events to ESPN. (AP)