Do you know who KSI and Logan Paul are? Perhaps you have a vague awareness…? You may even have a broad knowledge of them but, even in this case, do you know that they are soon to become two of the best-paid sports people in the world despite having no professional nor elite sports background?
KSI (his name is actually Jay Jay) and Logan Paul are best described as YouTubers. KSI developed his following by playing computer games and specifically FIFA and recording these experiences for others to view. Approximately 5 years ago, he began to play virtual football matches against the famous and those in need of a boost to their profile. Logan Paul is a vlogger and built his following releasing fast-paced and edgy video content on a daily basis covering the details of his life. The blogs are directed squarely at young people or “Logangers”. Logan shot to notoriety in 2017 when he uploaded a series of vlogs from Japan culminating in a shocking video where Logan and his entourage dressed up in costumes and entered the “Suicide Forest”, a wooded area outside of Tokyo famous as a site where desperate people go to hang themselves. Logan “got lucky or “got unlucky” as it turned out as he did actually find a recently deceased man hanging from a branch. Logan filmed the man and uploaded the content to YouTube. This upload caused international outrage and Logan became a pariah for a time. This status is playing nicely to the boxing fans who are willing to pay to see him lose, a classic boxing archetype. It should be noted that Logan has apologised and removed the content although the incident will live very long for many people.
So why is this stuff relevant and even important enough to blog about? Well, the answer to that question lies in the reality that Jay Jay and Logan seem to have completely overturned the assumed model of how fame is developed and, importantly, how commercialised sport becomes profitable. On August 25th the two entertainers will fight in a six-round bout and it is anticipated that they will achieve an audience of over 100 million viewers generating in the region of £250 million profit. At a time when elite boxing audiences are declining year on year, two non-elite boxers will provide a showcase event that may become the second most profitable boxing event in history. Interestingly, the most profitable event was Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor in August 2017, an event that many people would also describe as "not a traditional boxing event".
It has always been believed that elite performance combined with traditional media and sponsorship deals is the way to successfully commercialise sport. KSI and Logan turn this model on its head by completely removing one third at least of this assumed model. KSI and Logan are not elite boxers yet millions of people are prepared to pay for their contest. Why is this? In my opinion, the answer lies in the process of narrativisation. Both KSI and Logan, despite frequently objectionable demeanors, are masters at engaging audiences over a long and slow cycle. They are masters at telling stories to their followers and providing daily insights into their lives. This idea is not new and the KSI v Logan contest could be compared to experiences of watching X Factor or Pop Idol. The difference is that, in the X Factor model, it is a fat cat at the top who truly benefits commercially. The contracts won by singers at the end of the process are, in reality, meagre offerings for a great deal of work, whereas these two fighters retain their own rights and are contracted to nobody other than to YouTube for this specific event and any sponsorship deals they choose to sign.
Secondly, the KSI v Logan match clearly demonstrates that the model of traditional media winning the rights to and broadcasting sporting events may well be a feature of the past. YouTube, along with Amazon and Netflix will soon accelerate past traditional carriers such as the BBC, ITV, and Sky in live sports coverage. Five years ago, this would not have been possible, with the proliferation of high-speed fibre optic still in its infancy. But, today, the technology is in place in North America and across Europe for live, online streaming to be reliable, easy to access and highly interactive. Carriers like YouTube (owned by Google) will continue to provide their traditional offerings of content creator videos (hey, even I started on YT!) but will soon become a leading player for live sports, films, and TV more broadly. The numbers of people consuming this media on TVs will drop dramatically and pubs will begin to offer services where you attend the bar to connect to their premium stream on your device rather than watching the big screen. Some businesses may even offer distance viewing if contracts permit them to do so.
Finally, the KSI v Logan match demonstrates that traditional sponsorship of sports will die. Billboards, playing kit sponsors and half-time adverts will diminish and a new model of sponsoring the online media build-up, vlogs and podcasts will replace them. Sponsors will become more proactive in identifying smaller-but-growing channels and celebrities and make deals which help to boost those individuals into the stratosphere.
In other words, KSI and Logan Paul are not simply holding a boxing match. They are redrawing the map of what it means to produce, broadcast and profit from commercialised sports. If media companies, businesses, sports performers and yes, even up-and-coming YouTubers, want to understand the future of commercialised sport, they need to take a very big look at what KSI and Logan are building. Oh and my prediction for the fight? I believe KSI will retain his belt by outpointing Logan over six rounds. I also predict that each fighter will profit to the region of £20 - £40million each. Not bad for two pre-amateur fighters.