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Boardroom Q&A with Top Rank Boxing CRO Brian Kelly

“We’re in a very advantageous position when it comes to delivering to a multicultural audience,” the exec tells Boardroom ahead of Fury-Wilder 3. “There’s a narrative here.”

There’s no name in the world of boxing as enduringly steady as Top Rank. Since the days of prime Muhammad Ali, Bob Arum’s outfit has helped to set the pace for boxing promoters and tell the story of the Sweet Science.

But of course, we no longer live in 1973. The rules of the fight game have changed. Ours is a world of Trillers and Pauls. And that’s where Brian Kelly comes in.

The first-ever Chief Revenue Officer at Top Rank Boxing, it’s Kelly’s job to stay utterly true to the 90-year-old Arum’s vision while putting on banger events — Saturday’s Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder III in a co-promotion with PBC, for instance — and doing right by a roster of fighters that’s never had so many platforms upon which to cultivate brands and make dollars.

Ahead of the spectacle and bacchanal of the Gypsy King’s trilogy fight with the Bronze Bomber this weekend in Las Vegas, Boardroom spoke to Kelly about his role with Top Rank, boxing’s big opportunity with Gen Z, and whether or not Bob Arum is on Snapchat yet.

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SAM DUNN: There’s a lot of evidence out there that young people are legitimately into boxing. How do you think this happened?

BRIAN KELLY: I think the beauty of boxing is it’s very much tailored to the consumption behaviors of the Gen Z audience, which is very much in the highlights-driven capacity.

Boxing, and combat sports in general, are probably the only sports that can last only five seconds or last 50 minutes. The attention span and engagement — it’s peaked as the audience in this younger generation is waiting for this moment to erupt. It can then be amplified across all the various social channels.

SD: How do you zero in on this emerging group of fans?

BK: It’s really tapping into social media to help tell our story, and not just what’s happening in the ring itself, but the stories outside of the ring. This Gen Z audience, they root less for teams and more in favor of specific athletes. And [it’s] not just how they perform in the ring or the hardwood, but the story that’s told beyond — the music they’re listening to, the cars they’re driving, the food they eat.

SD: How does this match up with how the Top Rank audience looks right now?

BK: We’re in a very advantageous position when it comes to delivering to a multicultural audience, not just from a social standpoint, but from a linear and streaming standpoint.

You take a look at boxing right now, it’s the No. 2 sport among Hispanics. It’s No. 4 among English-dominant bilingual Hispanics. 57% of our audience is multicultural, and when you take a look at the rest of the sports landscape from a multicultural viewership perspective, Top Rank actually ranks No. 1 versus all the other major sports on the TV side. No. 2 is the NBA at 51%. The UFC and NFL are 33% and 29%.

There’s a narrative here. There’s a very engaged, loyal, passionate audience, particularly among the multicultural skew, that Top Rank delivers. When I’m in the marketplace talking to and engaging with brands, they’re actually surprised at that statistic because Top Rank’s story has not been amplified. It hadn’t been articulated in the marketplace.

SD: What are some of the brands you’re having these conversations with?

BK: There’s a number of brands over the last year and a half that have made an effort to hone in on new audiences, specifically multicultural, and on the Hispanic side more specifically. It’s hard for brands to activate their message within this multicultural demographic. The fact that boxing can deliver this very engaged audience is resonating really, really well.

A lot of brands have very specific multicultural messaging, budgets, and agencies. They’re eager to learn more about what Top Rank can deliver and how we deliver this audience. We just signed Boost Mobile to a four-fight partnership kicking off next Friday, Oct. 15, running through the remainder of 2021. The betting states are where we’re seeing some good traction, as well as insurance, energy drinks, beer and spirits, streaming studios, and QSR.

SD: Bob Arum has been in this game for a long time. When you get into this cutting-edge marketing and partnership talk, what does it take to get on the same page?

BK: Bob — 90 years old — is an incredible man. He’s the Bobfather. But one thing that I’m most impressed [about] with Bob is his eagerness and willingness to not only learn, but make sure that Top Rank continues to be the undisputed leader in boxing. That requires progressive, innovative thinking.

The way you run this business 50, 40, 30 years ago is drastically different from how media is consumed today, but Bob has really allowed me to take this incredible property and keep us relevant by doing the things we need to be doing across social media and the way we’re engaging with our fighters.

How can we bring them more into the ecosystem and help elevate their brands, which elevates the Top Rank brand and keeps an audience engaged? You have to fish where the fish are; if there’s a large audience consuming content across TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, we need to have not just a presence, but a dominating presence on these platforms. Brand and audience development are incredibly important KPIs for our company, and that’s how we do it.

We love having the crown jewel on a Saturday night — that’s what our fighters do and that’s what they love to do — but there are a lot of other ancillary opportunities for us to grow brands and grow our audience.

Bob understands that, and because he’s 90 years old and not on social media as aggressively as we would like him to be, he’s really allowing me to use my skillset and expertise on this side of the business to continue to grow Top Rank, because it’s another child for him.

SD: I would love to see Bob on TikTok. I’m sure those conversations have already been had.

BK: We have a couple of ideas we were floating around. Creating a Bob Arum cartoon, you know, we have a few ideas in the vault that we’re juggling with.


Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder III takes place on joint pay-per-view on both ESPN+ and FOX Sports on Saturday, Oct. 9. The main card begins at 9 p.m. ET.