Mayweather v McGregor: PR masterclass or morally vacuous spin-fest?

As Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor prepare to do battle in Las Vegas on Saturday (26 August), PRWeek's writers exchange blows on the relative merits of 'The Money Fight'.

Mayweather (l) and McGregor go head-to-head on Saturday (via @thenotoriousmma on Instagram)
Mayweather (l) and McGregor go head-to-head on Saturday (via @thenotoriousmma on Instagram)

Floyd 'Money' Mayweather, who has never been defeated in the ring, is arguably the world's greatest ever boxer, while Conor 'The Notorious' McGregor, who has never boxed professionally, is reigning lightweight champion at mixed martial arts discipline UFC and the sport's biggest name.

In PRWeek's blue corner, senior reporter Robert Smith champions the contest as a triumph of PR and marketing, while, in the red corner, digital editor Rob McKinlay offers a more scathing assessment...

PR masterclass

by Robert Smith

From even before the minute Mayweather v McGregor was officially announced, the contest has been thriving on hype. It's been absolutely dripping in the stuff since June.

Saturday raises the prospect of two tantalising outcomes: if McGregor wins, it is arguably one of the greatest ever sporting upsets. If Mayweather wins, he reaches 50 wins from 50 fights, surpassing legend Rocky Marciano, thereby becoming the world's most successful professional boxer.

Ahead of the contest, meanwhile, both men managed to turn a series of press conferences into a thrilling and outrageous world tour in July (see video below).

They have also exploited social media to great effect, and have whipped up their legions of fans into a state of frenzy ahead of the bout. McGregor has repeated the mantra that he intends "to sleep" his opponent, while Mayweather has promised the fight won't go the distance. 

These fiery antics have fuelled sports writers for months, with journalists dedicating serious column inches to every aspect of the fight - from the action in the ring to the commercial implications of it all.

Through bravado, ostentation and relentless promotion, Mayweather and McGregor have ensured Saturday's fight will be the biggest sporting event of year - perhaps even the decade or the century.

Such is the scale of the show, it has single-handedly breathed new life into boxing and pushed UFC further into the mainstream. It has also captured the imaginations of millions of sports fans around the world. While many may not agree with the tactics and controversial comments, Mayweather and McGregor made sure their story cut through and grabbed plenty of headlines everywhere around the world, for weeks and weeks on end. 

Exploiting these narratives and creating a deafening buzz of discussion, as both fighters and their entourages have done so successfully, has been nothing short of a PR masterclass.

As a result, it is expected to be one of the most lucrative boxing matches in history, and could see each earn as much as $100m (£78.4m). It's also expected to generate the biggest pay-per-view figures of any fight, surpassing the current record of 4.6 million buys, set when Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao in 2015.

Saturday's fight is certainly not a triumph of political correctness, but it was never meant to be. As McGregor's representative Dana White pointed out: "This is a fight, not a croquet game."

Vacuous spin-fest

by Rob McKinlay

"Drowning in hype." No argument there. And, from an attention-grabbing and money-making perspective, it's hard to deny Mayweather v McGregor is a PR and marketing success story.

But does the end justify the means?

The whole thing is closer to a Victorian freak show than it is a viable sporting contest: UFC's poster boy (who, incidentally, has lost three times) entering a different-shaped ring to take on 40-year-old former boxing great who hung his gloves up two years ago. Am I missing something?

More importantly, here we have PR plumbing the depths by making role models of men who've freely spouted racist, sexist and homophobic language while insulting each other during the pre-fight promotion circus; men who market their public personas on greed by regularly posting pictures (below) of themselves on social media dripping in gold and cash.

There should be a moral responsibility to the millions of kids watching, many of whom now want to be the next Notorious or a modern-day Mayweather. But there isn't.

Both protagonists' promotion people are fine with it; rather, actively encouraging it, as long as the viewing projections keep growing and the money keeps flowing. As the saying goes, 'no such thing as bad publicity'.

As for rebooting boxing's reputation, I'll reserve judgment on that – giving it a bigger spotlight will only work if it shines on something positive. If, as many cynics are suggesting, the bout is stage-managed to a 'convenient' outcome that results in a rematch and all the associated commercial gain, boxing's reputation for (allegedly) dodgy decisions goes back to square one.

The sport's most iconic figure and self-proclaimed 'king of the world', Muhammad Ali, arguably invented self-promotion as we know it, but he used his fame to make the world a better place, not a worse one. Both Mayweather and McGregor have name-checked him in the past as an inspiration but, in reality, neither are fit to lace his boots.

Beyond sating an admittedly large proportion of the public's basic human curiosity and blood-lust, Saturday's spectacular is really nothing more than an over-hyped, morally vacuous farce that doesn't deserve a platform.

Split decision

So, which is it? Surely there is only one conclusion to be drawn from this - yes, the build-up to this fight has been a PR and commercial success in that it has grabbed column inches, airtime, and public attention. Whether or not that is a good thing, is essentially a matter of personal taste.

PRWeek declares the McKinlay-Smith face-off a tie. Rematch?

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