Triller Plans More Sports Content Following Mike Tyson Exhibition Boxing Fight

Via Forbes

In May, Ryan Kavanaugh watched a video on Instagram of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson training in the boxing ring. Kavanaugh, a former billionaire and longtime film and media executive, was blown away by what he witnessed.

Tyson, who had battled weight and personal issues since his last professional fight 15 years ago, looked fit and impressive throwing punches. He hinted he would be returning to competition.

Kavanaugh saw an opportunity, so he reached out to Sophie Watts, a longtime friend who was working with Tyson.

“I said, ‘Hey, is there a potential fight here or is this just a gimmick?’” Kavanaugh said. “She was like, ‘It doesn’t have to be.’”

That conversation helped launch the comeback of Tyson and led to this past Saturday night’s exhibition fight at Staples Center in Los Angeles against Roy Jones Jr., another famed boxer who won titles in four weight classes. Tyson, 54, and Jones, 51, fought to a draw at the Staples Center.

Although both fighters are well past their primes, the event caught the attention of the sporting public, particularly among older fans nostalgic for the days when boxing was a big draw and Tyson was atop the sport for reasons both good and bad.

And for Kavanaugh, the fight brought attention to Triller, a company he hopes will someday become the next big social network and help propel the next phase of his career. In 2013, Forbes pronounced Kavanaugh a billionaire when he was just 38 years old after Ron Burkle invested $350 million in Relativity Media, a media company Kavanaugh co-founded in 2004. But in July 2015, Relativity Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after several of its films flopped. Relativity Media filed for bankruptcy again two years ago.

Kavanaugh, who left Relativity Media in late 2016, is now a principal of Proxima Media, which last year acquired a controlling stake in Triller, an app founded in 2015.

Triller is primarily known as a place where users can upload music and videos and a competitor to the much larger TikTok. But the company decided to own and promote the Tyson-Jones Jr. fight as a way to expand its offerings.

“We wanted to make this the catalyst for Triller’s live events and sports business,” Kavanaugh said.

Triller didn’t actually broadcast the event, which was available on pay-per-view and online on Fite.TV and drew more than 300,000 buys. But Tyson and Jones Jr., as well as fighters on the undercard, uploaded exclusive content on Triller, including a docu-series showing Tyson and Jones Jr. preparing for the bout. Triller’s logo was prominently displayed on the ring canvas and corners during the fights, as well.

Triller also appealed to its youthful, music-oriented audience with an undercard bout featuring YouTube sensation Jake Paul knocking out former NBA player Nate Robinson and musical performances from rappers Snoop Dogg, French Montana, Swae Lee, Wiz Khalifa, Saint Jhn and YG. Still, although most people using Triller are in their teens and 20s and didn’t watch Tyson and Jones Jr. fight in their primes, Triller’s executives thought the event would capture their attention.

“The audience of Triller is a lot younger (than Tyson and Jones Jr.),” said Bobby Sarnevesht, Triller’s executive chairman. “They missed those really cool moments of, ‘How fast is Tyson going to knock this guy out?’ or ‘Where is Jones going to go in his next weight class, who is he going to take out next?’ We wanted to bring that experience to a whole new audience of people that didn’t live in those times.”

The company didn’t sell any tickets to the event as fans weren’t allowed to attend due to local restrictions implemented to stem the coronavirus pandemic. But Triller did generate revenue through sponsorships, advertising and merchandise. Kavanaugh would not disclose how much it cost to stage the event, how much the fighters were paid or any other financial details.

Kavanaugh expects Triller will own and operate other sporting events and partner with Tyson again through his Legends Only League, a company Tyson co-founded earlier this year with Watts. Saturday’s fight was the first event that Legends Only League helped promote, but Tyson and Watts plan on having Tyson fight again and holding other events featuring former professional athletes in basketball, tennis and Formula 1.

Triller is also expecting to host dozens of live, virtual concerts and performances featuring top musical acts and selling the performances online for a few dollars apiece. Kavanaugh and Sarnevesht noted they don’t know when people will be allowed to attend concerts in-person or feel comfortable again in a crowded venue, so this provides an appealing alternative.

“(The Tyson-Jones Jr. event) is just the start,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s setting a new model for Triller to build out epic events.”