A revamped social strategy
Influencers such as YouTubers Jake and Logan Paul stepping into the boxing ring have been partially responsible for the surging popularity of boxing among younger audiences, Kelly said. These social media personalities entering boxing matches has “opened their [fans’] eyes to the sport,” he said, and spurred more casual boxing fans to become diehard viewers of the influencers’ fights. Several Reddit users in a thread on the platform’s boxing forum credited the Paul brothers with reviving their interest in the sport, including one user who wrote, “I used to only watch the big fights with my family … but ever since this YouTube boxing started to take off I have bec[o]me a regular viewer.”
“Boxing was a little bit behind the times,” Setley said. “There wasn't really a platform to access it. And I think now that we're building Snapchat channels and driving giant TikTok growth, we're really putting this content out for these kids to be able to find now, where before it was a little harder for them to reach.”
TikTok provides Top Rank the most direct route to the Gen Z audience the company is courting. Since creating its account last year, Top Rank’s TikTok has amassed 1.3 million followers, with over 300,000 of those followers gained within the past two months. The company’s TikTok content is one of its primary vehicles for communicating fighters’ stories in a shorter, accessible format that also gives necessary context to audiences less familiar with boxing, Setley said.
“On TikTok, [narrative] is what drives,” he said. “If we mention Nico Ali Walsh is Muhammad Ali's grandson, that spikes interest ... We need to make sure that we’re educating people on the storylines, describ[ing] the rivalries, so that people who are more ‘off-the-street’ can understand the context of these videos.”
Top Rank’s TikTok videos also intentionally focus more on the league’s younger fighters, such as 20-year-old Xander Zayas, with the aim of “creating a link between these younger fighters and these younger fans so that they’ll basically grow up together,” Setley added.
The company’s Instagram page similarly seeks to showcase individual fighters by offering boxers the opportunity to have their content shared on Top Rank’s page via the Instagram Collab feature, which expands a post’s reach by making it appear on both the fighter’s personal page and Top Rank’s account.
Additionally, Top Rank’s social media team provides “Office Hour” opportunities to fighters to answer questions and share tips about how they can build their social media presence. In the weeks leading up to a match, fighters can come to the social team to get stats about the performance of their past content and receive polished photos and videos they can share on their accounts, among other things.
“The goal is always to build the stars,” Setley said. “If they have more followers, we're getting better tune-in on TV and better social numbers. We always want to make sure that we're building these guys along with us. We're a package deal, and our fighters are just as important as the brand.”
Top Rank has also started to incorporate influencers into its social media strategy—particularly 16-year-old Javon Walton, an actor who rose to fame in the HBO series “Euphoria.” Walton, an amateur boxer himself, has an Instagram following of nearly 6 million and 8.3 million TikTok followers, many of them part of the teenage demographic. Top Rank reached out to Walton after he tagged the company in one of his Instagram posts while watching a match, and Top Rank now invites Walton to fights to shoot photo and video content, sends him Top Rank merch and creates collab posts with him, Setley said.
The fast-paced format of TikTok videos aligns well with the “quick hits” that audiences seek from boxing matches and other combat sports, said Joe Favorito, a sports and entertainment marketing consultant. For years, sports leagues like UFC had focused their social media strategies around packaging exciting moments from fight broadcasts into short video clips—and boxing’s rising popularity within the last two years correlates with companies like Top Rank embracing a similar social content strategy, he said.
“No matter what sport you’re in, it’s home runs, catches, celebrations, the end of a round—that’s what it’s all built around,” Favorito added. For boxing, those moments boil down to peaks in the violence inherent in the sport, as “violence is what really drives interest” in boxing, he said. Those quick, thrilling compilations of big hits and knockouts—like those Top Rank shares on its social channels—are what boxing fans crave, he said.