YouTube Stars Go Head-to-Head in Pay-Per-View Boxing Match
(Bloomberg) -- Logan Paul has built a loyal fan base and made millions along the way posting slapstick comedy stunts online. This weekend, he’s trying something more bruising as he takes on another one of YouTube’s biggest stars in a boxing match.
Paul, a 23-year-old American who has 18 million followers on the site, will face off Saturday against the U.K.’s second-most popular YouTuber, 25-year-old Olajide “JJ” Olatunji -- known as KSI -- who has 19 million subscribers. Neither is a professional athlete.
A boxing fight featuring non-boxers seeking to solidify their bases is hardly a new concept: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau helped boost his political career years before his party formed government by beating another member of Parliament in a 2012 match.
What makes the event at England’s Manchester Arena notable is that it’s a high-profile test of whether YouTube celebrities can successfully monetize their fame through the pay-per-view platform of the video service owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which faces competition for its personalities from rivals like Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch.tv. Promoters expect the event to generate an online audience of at least 1 million.
The pay-per-view passes will cost 7.50 pounds in the U.K. -- or $10 in the U.S. -- and promoters are selling tickets to the live event in Manchester for 35 pounds to 500 pounds each. There’s also sponsorship money: gambling company MansionBet will put its brand on the boxing ring.
The entertainers and their companies will take the bulk of the proceeds and YouTube will get a cut, too. The site has kept its distance from the event, however, and a spokeswoman declined a Bloomberg request for comment.
YouTube stars rely on ads placed alongside their videos to bring in money and many with the largest followings have been complaining that the site doesn’t offer enough ways to generate profits. YouTube has responded by paying its top talent upfront sums to use and promote new features, people familiar with the matter said this month, after introducing paid memberships, paid chats and a new merchandising program this year.
Pay-per-view, which has been around since 2012 on YouTube, has long been the way to show boxing matches. AT&T Inc. will try it out with golf by making a rare head-to-head battle between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on Thanksgiving weekend a pay-per-view event, on DirectTV and other platforms.
Success on Saturday depends on backers being able to convince a younger audience accustomed to watching content for free to pony up to see their favorite stars lay into one other.
Paul rose to prominence with comedy skits on the Vine video sharing platform, moving to YouTube when Vine closed. He has since branched out into acting, appearing in TV shows including “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” His videos were temporarily blocked from YouTube’s preferred advertising program after one he posted last year showed a dead body hanging from a tree in a Japanese forest that’s a popular destination for suicide, and the site reprimanded him for violating guidelines.
KSI built his audience with videos based on him playing the soccer game FIFA, but has moved into general vlogging and comedy videos, as well as music, releasing a hip-hop EP in 2016.
The months of hype around the match, helping to grow the brands of both stars, may be worth more than the proceeds from the day. Both entertainers slowed the pace of uploads over the past seven months of training in the gym, KSI’s promoter Liam Chivers said in a phone interview.
“I can guarantee if Logan and JJ had not done this boxing,” Chivers said, “they would’ve earned more money.”
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