On Sunday, Top Rank chief operating officer Brad Jacobs will be one of 10 people inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (based in Canastota, New York)’s class of 2023. Jacobs has held the COO role with Top Rank since January 2010, and has played a critical role in their events, broadcasting deals, and more across that span. He also has had his own Global Productions company since 1989, and has served as a consultant for USA (1987-1998) and Roy Jones Jr./Square Ring (2001-2006). Jacobs spoke to AA by phone this week, and said this induction is a special moment for him.
“It’s an important point where your work peers recognize your efforts in business over the long haul, sort of that you haven’t been doing this in a vacuum. It’s an honor. There are so many great fighters, participants, non-participants, executives, that have formulated this sport over the years. To even be considered as one of them is an honor. And to be voted in is very special.”
Jacobs said the induction has him reflecting on his career a bit, but also looking forward to what he still wants to do.
“You start thinking about what when you got into the business, what you’ve accomplished in the business, things you may have changed, whatever it may be. It’s funny, because you look at it as a body of work over a long period of time. But the other side of it is that I’m still very much in it and have no plans to stop.”
He said he enjoys his Top Rank role for the many different aspects of the company he gets to be involved with.
“As the chief operating officer, I get into a lot of different areas with the company, from our production to our in-arena. I get involved in some social media and other areas on an ongoing basis. And that’s something that I like: I like knowing and hearing what’s going on and being involved with that.”
Jacobs said one notable change there recently is their shift from working with HBO (which shut down their boxing side in 2018 after a 45-year run) to ESPN (who they started with in 2017, and have expanded their work with since following early success):
“I would say we’ve evolved from a company that was somewhat dependent on an HBO or someone else to give us a date for our fighters to perform, and we’ve turned that into having a media partner that looks at this as more of a yearly operation than a nightly operation. That’s really changed the approach to fighters and how they return, especially maybe after a loss. All of that’s super important. And we’re always looking at the future: new technologies, new partners, things of that nature. We’re not looking at just today, we’re looking at five years from now and 10 years from now.”
Jacobs had previously spoken to AA about the importance of putting big fights on the linear ESPN network in particular, and he thinks that’s still important where it makes sense. But he added that the overall ESPN partnership they have involves more than that, including pay-per-views on streaming and promotion for various fights on ESPN’s studio properties.
“We want to be able to deliver the biggest fights to the widest audience. And that is certainly on ESPN’s linear channel. But there are fights that are just financially out of the reach of that, and those are the fights that go to a pay-per-view, like [Devin] Haney-[Vasyl] Lomachenko [which aired on ESPN+ PPV this week] or something of that nature. But on an ongoing basis, we want to deliver that to the linear channel, but also to the streaming channel of ESPN+ from time to time for the bigger fights.”
“It’s definitely one of the more important parts of our relationship with our media partner, ESPN, the sheer numbers of eyeballs we get. And also the in-house promotion of those events, guys getting interviewed on SportsCenter, First Take, and those kinds of things, the Max on Boxing show, these outlets that you would not have otherwise.”
Jacobs’ support for linear ESPN comes at an interesting time. That network’s number of subscribing homes continues to drop due to cord-cutting, and while linear TV bundles are still a key revenue stream for them, they’re making plans to offer their linear network over-the-top in the next years. Jacobs said linear ESPN still has great reach at the moment, though.
“Even if it’s reduced, it’s still a huge number of people where it’s available to watch. And especially with the promotion of the events, as I mentioned, the morning shows on ESPN, SportsCenter, these other things. If these were strictly only available on social or some other way, you wouldn’t have the sheer numbers of people that are available to watch it.”
He said Top Rank’s multidomain partnership with ESPN means they’re involved beyond linear, though. And they appreciate working with ESPN for the younger audience there.
“At the same time, we’re very much into the streaming business, we’re very much into the digital business. We have very large and engaged social followings. We’re involved in all parts of it. The beauty that we have with ESPN that differs from the old days with HBO is the HBO subscribers skew older, there are less potential viewers. ESPN skews younger and has triple the amount of people that were available to HBO. That’s not denigrating HBO in any way; they served a great purpose during their tenure. But I think the change in audience is helping the sport. We have younger demographics and people who will be interested in following the sport for a long time.”
Another past interview Jacobs gave to AA was on their June 2020 return to live fights with a bubble in Las Vegas, which made them one of the earliest North American sports to return to regular competition. Jacobs said he’s quite proud of how that went, looking back.
“I actually look at it as one of the major accomplishments of my career. We basically were the only sport that came back that early. The UFC started a little earlier, but they do their own production, they do everything in-house. We were the first live production by ESPN of any sporting event at the time. And our staff, we designed a protocol that was very stringent. That gave us the latitude to stage the events.”
“And at that time, if you remember, everybody was very scared, leery of being near each other, let alone two guys in the boxing ring swapping sweat and blood and all the fun stuff that comes with it. But we worked closely with ESPN, we worked closely with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and everybody on a huge list of protocols that would cut down on any potential spread of COVID. It was a very difficult thing, but a very rewarding thing at the same time.”
Jacobs said there were some challenges, but that bubble wound up producing an incredible amount of live sports content at a time when there wasn’t a lot of that.
“We wound up with 25-plus shows in the bubble. There was a time where we were doing two-plus shows a week; you’d have a Monday weigh-in, a Tuesday fight, a Wednesday weigh-in, a Thursday fight. There were a lot of people, including ESPN staff, that stayed in the bubble from the end of June until early August and did not leave. It was a task, and toiling on a lot of people, but at the same time, I think if you ask anybody who was involved, they were happy and thrilled that they were.”
It’s a big weekend for Jacobs, with Top Rank putting on a big Josh Taylor-Teofimo Lopez fight (for Taylor’s WBO junior welterweight title) Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN+), and with his Hall of Fame induction following Sunday. He said he’s thrilled for the induction as a chance to share time with his kids and look back at the many memories he’s had from his work in boxing.
“My kids will all be there, which is exciting. And I get to reminisce about the USA Tuesday Night Fights days, and the Roy Jones days, and all those kinds of things with people. So I’m looking forward to it.”
[Top image of Jacobs from a 2022 Boxing Social interview on YouTube]