YOU may have recently come across a video taken in Bordeaux, France featuring a classically chic couple sipping wine outside a restaurant as a fire burned fifty yards away. Strangely hypnotic, the video managed to capture the pair’s indifference to all that was burning around them, both literally and figuratively, and, in light of how it was discovered, shared and discussed, also say something about us as a population.
For it was of course on social media I saw this video. Where else? Social media, this fire that rages constantly around us, is something you either pretend doesn’t exist or you treat it the way that French man and French woman treated the fire warming their glasses of red wine. Which is to say, you acknowledge its presence, if only to prove your own sanity, and then you look away. You carry on with your day. You seek warmth from humans instead.
That’s the idea anyway, albeit an approach easier for some than it is for others. For some, social media is every bit as pervasive and vital to their life as defecating, or scrubbing dirt from pores, or cleaning food from their teeth. It is a relationship as twisted as any other, like that of the relationship between an addict and alcohol, the role of which is to both enhance and destroy, or the relationship between divorcees whose hatred for one another has to be put to one side for the sake of their child.
In other words, once hooked, or committed, you’re stuck with it. You don’t control it; it controls you. Moreover, such is our collective acceptance and participation, social media is now normalised to such a degree we can’t remember a time when it wasn’t around; a time, that is, when we couldn’t express our every opinion or inform the world of our every move, as though this is somehow perfectly normal behaviour. In it together, we are able to convince ourselves it’s normal by simply turning to someone equally unhinged and saying, “Well, look, we all do it.”
This, for boxers, will always represent a tough balancing act. After all, they are, by nature, largely solitary individuals who have single-mindedly worked on mastering a craft since they were young. They are not, despite evidence provided by the odd exception, showmen or natural-born entertainers. Nor, in most cases, do they want to be selling themselves, or telling the world how great they are long before it has been proven in the ring.
“It varies from fighter to fighter,” said Scott Hammerton, Head of Social and Digital Media for Matchroom Boxing, a role he has held for six and a half years. “Some of the younger fighters are really immersed in it and have grown up with it, so they’ll be posting anything and everything. All we do is sit down with them when they sign with us and go through a crisis management course which focuses on things that could go wrong – like a hacking, for example. Also, we talk them through best practices: what they should and shouldn’t say. But obviously in the end it’s their own voice. They are the ones pressing ‘send’. We can only guide them on certain things.
“If a fighter manages their own social media, they can get content out immediately. A lot of them understand that side of it and just crack on themselves. Then, as you go through the levels, you might find they have their own team with videographers and their own social media manager.”
Interestingly, while many jobs divvied out by big-name boxers blinded by their fame and wealth do not warrant being called jobs, the job of social media manager is, in 2023, one that probably does serve a purpose. Certainly, in the case of promoters, social media is an essential tool; probably the sharpest and most powerful currently in the toolbox, in fact. It is also an ever-evolving, slippery beast, one that presents itself differently and functions differently from one year to the next.
“A few years ago, it was just Facebook,” said Chris Ridgway, Head of Content for Wasserman Boxing and Misfits Boxing. “It’s crazy to think back then we thought that was difficult, when you now have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, digital marketing, and email campaigns. Social media is often overlooked by the older audiences – they use TV and maybe Facebook – and the average user on Twitter is not the same as the average user posting Instagram stories. My mum and dad still call Instagram ‘that Instagram thing’. So, you have to take into consideration these differences when posting to the various platforms. Your audience will never just be in one place.”
It is for that reason social media teams now exist. It is for that reason, too, fighters can’t go anywhere these days without a conga-line of people following them with phones held up in the sky like Rafiki elevating Simba.
“When I joined, we used to be in a really small cupboard office and there were six of us,” said Hammerton. “Now we’ve got our own wing at Mascalls (Lane, Brentwood), where 25 people now work. Back then social media for us was pretty much me, a mobile phone, and a laptop, and then leaning on one or two freelancers as and when we needed a camera. Now our content team alone in the UK has expanded to about eight people, full-time. It’s ramped up significantly in those six and a half years, for sure.
“Given the size we are now, and the amount of content we’re producing, we’ve been able to hire in specialist areas. When I joined, I was a one-man band across everything, but now if you did that you would be diluting each of the platforms.”
Like boxers preparing for the different styles of opponents, social media managers in boxing must forever be aware of changes, both in what is trending and what is happening with technology. For it doesn’t take long in this game for a once-slick southpaw to lose his speed and find himself suddenly at the mercy of an even greater technician with even more elaborate skills.
“I like the fact you can never rest on your laurels when it comes to social media,” said Ridgway. “Just when you think you’ve got it cracked, it changes on you. Imagine being the Facebook expert five years ago. You would think the world was at your feet. But then everything changes and all these other social media platforms come along. It’s now the same with Twitter and Instagram. They are both in danger of the same thing happening to them. You just start to figure these things out and then a new trend comes from out of nowhere. I do enjoy that aspect of it, but sometimes it’s quite frustrating as well.”
To go back to other addictive substances previously mentioned, much of what makes social media so initially appealing is also what, finally, makes it so deadly and destructive. This idea can be applied to how we consume it, how it ultimately changes us as human beings, and how our behaviour adapts to cope with the fear and uncertainty.
“Last night we had the (Anthony) Joshua launch party in Battersea,” said Hammerton, “and other platforms were ripping our content and using it as their own, which gets me a little bit irate, to be honest. In a world of social media and immediacy, though, I think it just happens now, unfortunately. It’s the good and bad thing about social media. It’s so immediate you can get information the second something happens, but also it’s then out there for other people to capitalise on it and pass it off as their own. We can hire a crew to get a nice shot of Anthony Joshua, for example, and then within seconds of it being released it is plastered across other platforms by other channels. That’s something I’m not 100 per cent comfortable with.”
No more comfortable for Hammerton is the idea of spending every hour of the day either staring at a screen, pecking at it with his fingers, or simply wondering what’s happening on this screen when at last granted the luxury of looking away. It is, sadly, a problem for most people in 2023, only for Hammerton a fixation with screens and the movements of human beings is all part of the job.
“My screen time hours are quite disgusting and the missus is not best pleased about that,” he said, laughing. “Day-to-day, I’ve got to be on it every ten or fifteen minutes really. I follow the news and am always conscious of scheduling something that may clash with some breaking news released by another promoter. You feel like you have to be immersed in it at all times because of the nature of the job. It’s not a nine-to-five job and we make that very clear when we hold interviews. It can be tough. It does put a strain on friendships and relationships. But as the company has grown, it has lifted some of the stress I experienced when it was just me on my own.”
If it’s essential for the Head of Social and Digital Media to be online, it’s no less essential for a professional boxer in this day and age to share the same habits. They call it “showbusiness with blood”, after all.
“Yes, I do,” said Ridgway when asked if boxers needed to have a social media presence. “There will of course be exceptions to the rule, and I get that, but social media is now way beyond where it was five years ago.
“Look at someone like (Guillermo) Rigondeaux. Undoubtedly one of the best and most talented boxers out there, but he did nothing on social media and never really got the big fights or big money-making opportunities. You then look at someone like Floyd Mayweather, who really embraced being in front of the camera and really embraced the changes to boxing promotion.
“They are two extremes, and I get that, but if you’re a fighter now it’s clear what you have to do. If you’re knocking people out and looking great doing it, that just makes you a high-risk, low-reward proposition if you have no audience or social media presence to back it all up. Why would a promoter or broadcaster look at you if you don’t bring that sort of thing to the table? And why would other opponents think about fighting you if there’s nothing in it, commercially, for them? If you work for Sky Sports, or DAZN, or BT Sport, or Channel 5, you’re going to want to be working with fighters who are talking about the upcoming show to a large audience. If some guy has over 100,000 followers with an engagement rate of eight per cent, before I even see his boxing ability I am interested.”
On that note, it was particularly sobering, not to mention depressing, to see lightweights Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez arguing over who had the most “followers” on a live DAZN broadcast last year. “How am I irrelevant,” Haney said that night, “when I have more followers than you?” A sign of the times, and a sign of things to come, the reality is, the currency of so-called “followers” has only grown in value and will, it seems, continue to do so.
“I think so, yes, given the way the world is going,” said Hammerton. “Even if you just think about ticketing, a lot of ticketing websites are all digital now. It’s not a physical ticket posted anymore. From that point of view, if you’re on a commission, and a lot of fighters are, having social media would be imperative to them getting their money. You also have the issue of sponsors. A lot of fighters want to be portraying their life and their character in the hope of securing sponsors. They can do that easily on social media.
“For us, it’s gone beyond just promoting the events now. Maybe when I joined one of the KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) was an emphasis on ticket sales and therefore we would use social media to drive people towards events. But, going away from that now, we’re actually trying to build profiles of fighters. That’s something we’ve pushed heavily in the last year or so. We’re not just promoting Matchroom events now, we’re promoting the fighters themselves; distributing content, making content, and giving it to the fighters to use as promotion. That comes back around, of course. If we can help improve a fighter’s following and engagement on their own channels, in turn it will help the overall event.”
With this boost in profile, of course, comes an inevitable downside. It’s a sort of deal you make with the devil, not unlike the deal celebrities once made with tabloid newspapers and the paparazzi. If it’s attention you want, fine, we can provide you with that. Yet, the moment the milk turns sour, just know that the attention will just as quickly become criticism – or worse.
“The trolling element is a big one,” Hammerton said of social media’s drawbacks. “That’s not good for anyone, but especially the young fighters. Take Campbell Hatton, for example. When he boxed at Tottenham (against Sonni Martinez in 2021), granted it wasn’t his best performance, and granted it was a close fight, but if you saw some of the tweets after that… one or two of them is borderline, but it was almost bullying given the sheer amount of them. For a young fighter to have to see all that is not great.”
Ridgway, meanwhile, a father of three, calls Instagram “so fake” and prays his children never find out about it. He also believes the slow death of traditional news outlets, including this one, has been grossly exaggerated.
“Last week the world and his dog wanted to catch up with what happened between Simon Jordan and Eddie Hearn on talkSPORT, with social media the main platform pushing it,” he said. “It went mad for a day or so and then it disappeared, as all things do online.
“But if we’re speaking to Boxing News, that carries so much weight, traditionally. And you have to remember that the people at the top of the tree from a broadcasting perspective are guys who have been through the mill. You rarely get a 25-year-old in those positions. They have seen what outlets have stood the test of time. So, if we have a big fight next week and a fighter is featured in Boxing News, that’s a really big deal.
“In the social media world, what’s the equivalent of that? It’s being interviewed by iFL TV or Boxing Social, probably. That’s great, but, because they are constantly uploading content every hour of the day, it’s a different kind of coverage. The big boys still hold significant weight.”
“I can see it both ways,” said Hammerton. “I’m probably a bit more of a traditionalist, to be honest. But, with that said, I also understand we need to reach new audiences and tap into different markets. During the Joshua fight week, we had people from other areas of showbiz coming to cover the fight, and if we want to hit the average man on the street, that’s one way of doing it. I think we’ve got the core boxing fans pretty well covered, but to hit the average man on the street I guess we need to be thinking outside the box. That’s why we cross over and we collaborate with these guys who may not be flavour of the month in boxing.”
According to their social media analytics, Hammerton says attention spans are shortening and engagement appears to be getting lower and lower year upon year. He does, however, detect a rising interest in feature-length content and stresses that different platforms work for different audiences and that immediacy and access will likely always triumph.
“I have seen Conor Benn still in his wraps after a fight posting his post-fight tweet and Instagram post,” Hammerton said. “That is then out the door within a matter of minutes of him getting out the ring. From that angle its power is only growing. We are seeing more teams of content creators coming into arenas with fighters and giving fans a run-through of their fight-night experience now. They get to see everything that goes on behind the scenes. I think that’s a plus point, personally. The ability to showcase different elements of fight week elevates the occasion.”
Speaking of which, a new type of boxing occasion has arrived thanks in large part to the Wasserman-promoted Misfits, an appropriately titled group headed by their fearless leader KSI. A purist’s nightmare, Misfits have facilitated the entry of influencers, YouTubers and OnlyFans girls into a space typically reserved for those who at least know how to make a fist and, in doing so, brought with them two things more important in this day and age than either skill or substance: eyeballs and cash.
“I’ve had some good, very talented young boxers who would fit the bill, but they just hate the idea of being on camera,” said Ridgway, who works with the Misfits as part of his role at Wasserman. “Most guys, if you asked them to dance in front of a phone to some pop song, wouldn’t do it. But someone like Salt Papi (a Misfit), who has a fake name based on a silly one-liner, embraced that and started to work with the following he got.
“Now, is he as good a boxer as some of the pros in his weight class? No, he’s not. But is he going to be attractive to a broadcaster? Clearly. He brings his own promotion, he can box a bit, and he can command and control an audience.
“Every promoter is saying boxers need to learn from these Misfits, but it’s our job to translate that to boxers. We’re the middlemen. I’m not going to tell Harlem Eubank how to throw a left hook, nor tell him to do a silly dance in front of a phone. But I am going to tell him, ‘This is what we need you to post. This is the best way to get eyeballs on your fight.’ It’s up to us to learn what these Misfits guys are doing and then figure out how we can translate that to boxers.’”
In the end, whether you choose to watch the fire burn, ignore its threat entirely, or jump face-first into it, one thing is for certain: nobody is going to be putting it out anytime soon.