Licensing, Personal Endorsement, Boxing

Why Tyson Fury’s WWE appearance shows rare sports marketing acumen

The heavyweight boxing star's wrestling play appeals to 'Generation Meme' and guarantees crossover success, argues Copa90's chief business officer, James Kirkham.

by James Kirkham
Why Tyson Fury’s WWE appearance shows rare sports marketing acumen

The WWE is rightly lauded for its continuing marketing masterclass: for its record-breaking pay per view events, unmatched global reach, and merchandising sales that some music superstars can only dream of. It is a stellar business model, built around direct-to-consumer entertainment at its finest.

Because of this, WWE has also been seen as an amazing collaboration opportunity for the biggest fight stars in the game. WWE wrestlers become UFC challengers, and breakout stars like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson become Hollywood royalty. All of which means WWE is seen as a prime vehicle to boost your infamy, particularly in the US, and the behaviour of a generation of youngest fans is enabling it to happen.

British boxer Tyson Fury has a forthcoming re-match with Deontay Wilder to sell, and is signed up as part of a multi-fight UK£80 million deal with ESPN. He recently ensured that he – and not his American opponent – is the world’s most famous heavyweight, by causing a huge ripple around the world with his appearance on the WWE hit TV show, ‘Raw'.

Now whilst this isn’t the first time such a move has happened, coming as just the latest episode in a long line of super-crossover moments, this one breaks new ground because of the behaviour and consumption habits of an engaged young audience in 2019.

Muhammad Ali clashed with pro wrestler Gorilla Monsoon in the 1970s, last year Mike Tyson knocked out wrestling supremo Shawn Michaels with a right hook at Wrestlemania XIV and even more recently, Floyd Mayweather broke the nose of 'Big Show'. However, Fury’s contest with Braun Strowman involved most of the WWE roster and it will have more impact than all of the previous collaborations because of the millions of social impressions it caused instantly.

A moment like this, where we see the lineal heavyweight champion of the world theatrically brawling as part of the WWE’s premier show, is clipped up and shared around the world at the speed of a meme. News streams on Twitter, social streams on Instagram, Facebook stories, and everything else in between are awash with the same captured moment on millions of phone screens all around the world.

The surprising nature of the content helps the trajectory of the moment fly even further, as there’s a natural diversity to the audience. From wrestling fans to influential fighting blogs, from official boxing sites to associated fan sites, there are multiple points which all talk up the same entertainment event and each will nudge it even further forward through their own spheres of influence. They fuel the flames in their own way and it becomes instant discussion from playgrounds to offices around the world. So much for the end of the water cooler, socially driven sports entertainment has turned it into a lake.

You don’t need to have sat through the rest of the show to get what happened either, as meme culture has empowered young audiences, who are used to viewing animated looping GIFs as their means of chewing over the morning news, so it spreads like wildfire before half of the country is even awake.

The cross-generational appeal means parents and children can relive it over their morning cereal, one with a boxing interest and the other with a wrestling passion

Fury too will be aware that modern fans demand athletes like him entertain way beyond their sporting prowess. As with soccer stars whose cultural resonance goes way beyond being a mere brand icon, Raheem Stirling’s emergence as an anti-racism figurehead being a prime example, boxers and other sports personalities need to show willing. Fury’s continued effort to make amends for previous controversy and questionable remarks is part of a wider play to look more like the modern athlete that young fans expect.

This kind of wholesome entertainment will only help; the cross-generational appeal means parents and children can relive the night’s proceedings over their morning cereal, one with a boxing interest and the other with a wrestling passion, but both brought together by the same exciting moment. Just as in the movies when Johnny Depp took on roles in Pirates of the Caribbean and Charlie and the Chocolate factory so his children could enjoy his work, Fury relished making his own son’s dreams come true by starring in WWE, and being a part of the narrative of this ever-evolving universe.

After all, these children are the true modern sport fans, driving a new era of fandom with their behaviours. They don’t pay attention to the old rules, they live via mobile phones immersed in meme culture, switching between streams and always looking to escape the algorithm in search of something new and different. They’re worldly wise, culturally curious fans who enjoy the likes of gaming, soccer, and WWE with obsessive encyclopaedic knowledge and don’t delineate between online and offline.

When worlds collide like this, and the narratives of the different universes come together, it not only benefits the protagonists like Fury, but also provides an exciting alchemic moment to live in young fans’ memories.