This Tech Company Is Streaming the Mayweather-McGregor Fight for UFC, Sky Sports
Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor finally meet in the boxing ring on Saturday night in Las Vegas after months of pre-bout hype and a string of preening press conferences rife with insults and posturing.
Boxing’s biggest fight since Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao in 2015 is expected to generate upwards of $700 million in global revenue from ticket sales, television pay-per-view, sponsorships, and betting on the appropriately nicknamed “Money Fight.” The matchup of career boxer Mayweather and McGregor, an Irish professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion, could set a record by approaching 5 million pay-per-view sales.
Part of the hype and excitement, from a business standpoint, stems from the fact that the fight represents an overlap of two big sports audiences, with the potential to draw in fans of boxing and mixed martial arts alike. More than 50 million people are expected to watch in the U.S. alone (with groups of people likely watching on most pay-per-view TVs) and millions more could see the match across the world. Various parties stand to profit quite a bit from Saturday’s fight, from CBS’ Showtime (the U.S. pay-per-view provider) to UFC (aka Ultimate Fighting Championship, McGregor is the organization’s current champ, and UFC is one of streaming rights holders for Saturday’s match to international broadcasters like the U.K.’s Sky Sports.
And, then there’s NeuLion, a Long Island-based digital video service that will stream Saturday’s fight to more than 180 countries around the world on behalf of rights holders such as UFC, Sky Sports, Sky New Zealand, and Eleven Sports Network. Few, if any, boxing fans will have ever heard of NeuLion, (and, the company’s name still won’t be very visible on Saturday either) but the company’s technology and manpower will play a pivotal role in getting the stream of the Mayweather-McGregor fight into the homes of millions of people this weekend.
Chris Wagner, NeuLion’s executive vice president, told Fortune that his team will not be anywhere near the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET). Instead, a team of roughly 100 people will staff data centers in New York and London that will receive a live feed of the fight from Showtime producers in Nevada via satellite and then set about distributing that live-stream to customers for NeuLion’s various rights holder clients. NeuLion’s role boils down to three elements, Wagner said, which are disseminating the actual live-stream of the fight, as well as handling the entire transaction process for customers looking to pay to stream the fight through UFC.TV, Sky Box Office, or one of the other rights holders the company works with. The third element involves building the apps that are branded for each rights holder, where customers go to purchase the stream, as well as any customer support during the fight.
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“We take that live signal and turn it into an Internet format for just about any type of device you can think of,” Wagner said. NeuLion will deliver the high-definition fight stream online for mobile phones, tablets, desktops, connected devices like Roku and Apple TV, connected Smart TVs, and game consoles.
Because it’s a major live event, Wagner said there will be plenty of challenges and potential troubleshooting. One of the biggest hurdles involves the huge volume of transactions, and resulting streams, that NeuLion expects to flood in the hours before the fight. “It’s a live event and everybody shows up at the same time—it’s just like a stadium event and everybody has to get in the stadium,” Wagner said. “So, part of our technology has to sort through and speed up how people sign up, transact, and then get into the service.”
Fans are paying almost $100 for the fight and they don’t want any interruptions of their service or any snags in the transaction, so NeuLion has been testing the process in the days leading up to the event to ensure it will run smoothly on fight night. “It’s a lot different than streaming movies [where] the traffic gets really spread out and the complexity of the workflow is a lot different,” Wagner said.
NeuLion is no stranger to streaming live sporting events, with customers such as the NFL, NBA, the Tennis Channel, and the English Football League. The company’s biggest audience to-date came during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, when NeuLion worked with Univision to stream matches for the Spanish-language audience in the U.S., pulling in a collective 10 million unique views over the tournament, including 1.6 million for the most-watched match. Wagner expects the Mayweather-McGregor fight audience to draw a much larger streaming audience for NeuLion’s rights holding partners, especially considering that Sky Sports will be the exclusive streaming home for the fight in the U.K. and Ireland (McGregor has a huge following in his home country).
Wagner expects a lot of streaming transactions to come from outside the U.S.: “Our expectation is that the international audience is going to be primarily a streaming audience, just because there’s limited legacy cable and satellite distribution outside of the United States.”