Even Michael Buffer, the legendary ring announcer for dozens of historic fights, was left baffled.
The size and scale of YouTube, and its immense power over the media world as more than 1.5 million people tuned in — not all of them legally — to watch UK YouTuber KSI and American controversialist Logan Paul duke it out in the platform’s second boxing match, was obvious.
Every viewer, around half of whom paid $10 to watch the fight through YouTube’s official stream, and the thousands of people who made the trek to Manchester, England last night to watch two of YouTube’s biggest names battle it out to a hotly contested draw were individual representations of just how big the platform has become.
As Polygon reported in February when the bout was signed, YouTube has well and truly gone international.
“We’re selling tickets to the US, Dubai and Europe,” Stuart Jones, head of Upload Events, promoter of the boxing match, told Polygon before the bout. “Pretty much anywhere and everywhere.”
Interviews with a small sample of attendees seemed to confirm Jones’ estimate, based on previous events featuring YouTubers he’s run. This includes a soccer match that brought 26,000 fans out to an English stadium, and KSI’s previous boxing match this year with YouTuber Joe Weller.
Nineteen-year-old Katie Hughes travelled 90 minutes from Llandudno, Wales with her 16-year-old brother to watch the match.
Her brother is a boxing fan, and takes part in the sport himself. They’re also both big fans of KSI.
“We’ve been watching The Sidemen’s videos for six years,” she said. “What I like most about them is the creativity they have and how different their stuff is to anything else on the YouTube platform.”
But Hughes was far from the farthest-flung attendee at last night’s festivities. Eighteen-year-old Nitasha Sandhu spent $1,300 on flights from Vancouver, BC to Manchester to watch the bout with her cousin, Shania Kaur. Kaur is a KSI fan; Sandhu is a Logan Paul supporter.
“Shania came to Vancouver for summer two months ago and we just happened to connect over YouTubers and the fight,” Sandhu said. “When we found out it was happening, I decided to come over for it.”
The pair spent $128 each on seats for the match; Sandhu managed to save on accommodation costs by staying with her family, and turned the outing into a two-week stay in the UK. She wasn’t the only one to make the transatlantic journey: some of YouTube’s biggest names — and their fans — also travelled across the pond.
Given the British YouTuber had the home turf advantage, it was no surprise that the majority of the fans in the arena were supporters of KSI.
Joe Williams and Louis Ormond, both 13 and from the Manchester area, were tying up $13 bandanas they’d bought to show their support for KSI, with the help of Ormond’s father. (The bandana is a key part of KSI’s look; in the run-up to the fight, he was regularly taunted by the Paul brothers who thought the Brit wore it to hide a receding hairline.) They were clear who they would be chanting for.
“I’m here to see Logan Paul get battered,” said Ormond, a small, slight boy with a broad Scouse accent. “What [Paul] did on YouTube was unacceptable; he did it for the views,” added Williams, referencing Paul’s January video in which he visits a forest in Japan and the body of someone who had committed suicide can be seen.
“It gives YouTube a bad name,” Ormond continued. “If you’re a fan of Logan Paul and your grandparents hear about that, they won’t want you watching him. He’s a bad influence.”
Ormond, who also uploads videos to YouTube himself, was more worried about Paul’s pre-teen fans. “There are young kids watching him as well,” he said. “The video he posted, on the thumbnail, you can see the body.”
The vast majority of those wandering around the concourse of Manchester Arena, the site of a terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert last year, were of a similar age. There were gaggles of excited teenage boys clubbing together as a group and marauding around the merchandise stands, all of which were doing a brisk sale in KSI memorabilia. (Puzzlingly, neither Paul brother — who relentlessly plug their merch — decided to sell their clothing on the night. Jake Paul, did, however, unveil a new clothing line in his post-match interview as blood dripped from his nose.)
$25 t-shirts and $40 hoodies flew from the tables under large black signs that read: ‘Been there, seen it, bought the t-shirt?’. There were a number of confused parents who had bankrolled the trip and were still puzzled by the scene, but smiled politely as their children whipped themselves into a frenzy.
Nick Page and his son Eden, 13, travelled 140 miles from Sunderland to watch the fight.
“My son’s a big fan of KSI and YouTube in general, and I’m just the dad who’s done the taxi driving,” Nick said. They spent $300 on the fight — not including a $25 t-shirt Eden picked up from one of the merch stalls peppering the concourse.
But there were some couples on dates, too, and plenty of people in their 20s, all of whom chanted, stomped and gasped along from their nosebleed seats at every punch and glancing blow.
And that’s important. Traditional broadcast TV viewers are old, and getting older. There’s no polite way to say this, but they’re dying. (Internally at the BBC, the UK’s national broadcaster, executives talk about seeking out “replenishers”: young viewers who’ll replace the older viewers once they die.) This week a senior UK politician warned the BBC, the UK’s national broadcaster, about the encroachment of YouTube on its turf. When the old men in suits are warning about the rise of YouTube, it’s time to take notice.
“I feel like for years, old media has always neglected YouTube, pushed back and felt like YouTube wasn’t a real media outlet,” KSI told Polygon in an interview published yesterday. That many of those media outlets were scrabbling around ringside trying to land interviews with YouTube celebrities they barely recognized and, until six months ago, scoffed at seemed to show old media has quickly reckoned with its extinction, a realization spurred on by the sight of an arena full of young people willing to pay substantial money to watch their idols do anything.
As the crowd roared on after the main event, the two headline combatants penciled in plans to fight again early next year, firming up what was already a key part of the contract they both signed for the Manchester event.
But boxing is just the start.
“We’re already looking at other groundbreaking events,” said the promoter of last night’s event. “It goes to show you can pretty much do anything, as long as YouTubers are involved. We could build a Total Wipeout-type live show. Fans just want to see YouTubers — and want to see them do anything.”
This morning I went on BBC Breakfast TV to talk about the fight. After the cameras stopped rolling, and as the lights started to dim, the presenter turned to me. “Nobody watches TV anymore,” they lamented.