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In Defense of Justin Bieber at the Mayweather-Cotto Fight

by Charles Jay

A lot of “guys’ guys” saw Justin Bieber splashed across their TV screens last week as he was leading Floyd Mayweather into the ring for the fight against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas, and they were actually offended by it. The last place they want to see the pop star with the rather effeminate perception is in a boxing ring, as part of an entourage, and celebrating after the fight with the guy who is considered by some the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, no less.

Photo: Tom Hogan/ Hogan Photos / Golden Boy

Is he trying to get a little free publicity at boxing’s expense? Hardly. Justin Bieber does not need boxing to gain television exposure. Boxing would probably need him more.

That’s right.

The subject of Bieber’s presence around this fight brought about a rather heated debate among Boxing Insider writers last week on a group e-mail thread. I won’t go into the specifics, but suffice it so say that some of it was pretty angry. Some of these individuals like to call themselves part of a “new school” in boxing journalism, which is kind of ironic, because part of my point is that compared to the Justin Bieber constituency, they’re “old school” all the way, and it was kind of interesting to see such a traditionalist bent in the arguments.

Whatever school you may attend, perhaps a little higher education may be in order.

Anyone who has been involved with this business knows what a tough sell boxing can really be. Those who are more forward-thinking speak of reaching new audiences; new demographic groups, and they are mindful of the fact that the UFC, whether most of the boxing establishment wants to admit it or not, has managed to capture a younger demographic that might never get around to thinking about boxing.

Well, here’s a kid who’s ready, willing and able to introduce boxing to some adolescents. And what is wrong with that?

In this day and age, where the social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook allows instant accessibility to large numbers of followers, who can then turn around and pass a message on to their own large numbers of followers and so on, anyone who can capture and audience and can communicate to it is going to have a great deal of influence. Well, by one of the yardsticks that is considered somewhat meaningful, Justin Bieber has recently been measured as the most influential person in the world.

A service called Klout, which itself wields considerable influence with some of the major media outlets, put Bieber at the top of its list of the most influential celebrities, using social media as a barometer, in a study that was done at the request of Forbes Magazine in late 2010. When taking into account the sheer number of people one reaches, to what degree they influence those people, and how much influence their network of people have, Bieber registered a perfect score of 100 in the Klout/Forbes ranking.

Not everybody gives Klout all the credibility in the world, but they are an organization that seems to take a scientific approach to their evaluation, using 35 different metrics to arrive at their conclusion. According to the story Forbes published in conjunction with this study, “A celebrity can lend some credibility, not to mention star power, to one’s campaign. Imagine Bieber, who reaches 6 million-plus followers via his Twitter handle (that figure is up to more than 21 million followers now) to endorse your product.

As the story points out, sometimes the product doesn’t really line up perfectly with the brand image of the celebrity. This may indeed be the case with Bieber. However, the fact is that (a) whether he’s “perfect” or not, he still creates a great deal of influence within his sizable sphere, and it’s obviously not likely he’s lost it since the Klout/Forbes study, and (b) He has access to a monster audience where boxing does not have a significant entree, so this could represent a golden opportunity.

Is boxing was your “product,” wouldn’t YOU be interested?

I’m not saying this is the thing that turns boxing around, but when you consider the tweets that beget retweets, the Facebook posts that beget likes, shares and comments and the internet savvy of the demographic, there is at least the foundation to be created for viral interest both now and into the future. Certainly it doesn’t hurt. Maybe some young kids will want to watch the fights with their parents, or maybe they’ll ask their parents to buy a pay-per-view, because Justin Bieber thinks it’s cool. In a lot of cases, that’s the way things work.

Some time ago, we had an opportunity to place one of our fighters, a former national amateur champion, on the MTV show “The Real World,” which at that time was getting ready for its fourth season in London. But the fighter, whose entourage talked about all these “new ways of marketing,” turned it down after letting his trainer talk him out of it. Naming the fighter doesn’t matter, because you’ve never heard of him, but you most certainly would have if he’d been on that MTV show. That’s because an age group that may have not even been interested in boxing would have known his whole story, and stories often sell tickets. What a regret that was.

Yeah, I get it – Bieber is anxious to establish a little more of a “macho” image and he may be using an association with boxing, cursory as it may be, to take steps in that direction. So what? That’s a trade-off boxing could conceivably benefit by, and that’s what people concerned with bringing in new generations of fans should be concerned with.

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