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Volume 7 No. 149
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Hangin' With ... Comosa Chief Boxing Officer Kalle Sauerland

The WBSS brings its own set and operation to each host city.
Photo: WBSS

KALLE SAUERLAND is the chief boxing officer for event promoter Comosa. He was partly responsible for the creation of the World Boxing Super Series, which is organized by Comosa and is now in its second season. The global bracket-style tournament features boxers vying for a share of the $50M prize pool as well as the Muhammad Ali Trophy. The series has staged events in Asia, Europe and North America, and become one of the fastest growing brands in sport. Sauerland spoke with SBD Global about the WBSS's appeal to the boxing community as well as how he hopes it will evolve.

On the genesis of the WBSS ...
Kalle Sauerland: In about 2012, myself, the boss of Modern Times Group, PETER NØRRELUND, and THOMAS SCHMIDT, who was the managing director of TEAM Marketing at the time, attended a Guns 'n Roses concert in New York. We had a few beers afterwards and we were talking about boxing. We discussed what was right and wrong with the sport. The three of us said, 'Why don't we give it a shot with continuing something like the Super Six [a boxing tournament that was held from '09-11] but in a Champions League format?' We got an approval then from the shareholders. The three shareholders of World Boxing Super Series are Highlight, which is the parent company of TEAM, Modern Times Group and ourselves [Team Sauerland].

On the events' uniformity ...
Sauerland: Wherever we go, we take that set with us, like a rock band on tour. That set is always created on site and the idea is that when you see the walk-ins, the platforms, [and] the orchestra music, the arenas are to become coliseums. That's the sort of gladiatorial theme that we're looking for. We've often called it the Game of Thrones of boxing.

On scheduling ...
Sauerland: You know when [Champions League] football is. It's on at 7:45 U.K. time every Tuesday and Wednesday night. You get used to it. That's why we're going six weeks back-to-back. It's not because we like to go six weeks back-to-back. Operationally, it's an absolute nightmare. But, the fans recognize it: 'OK, it's World Boxing Super Series season.' You notice the traction. It grows from that.

On coverage of the WBSS ...
Sauerland: Broadcasters love the fact that we deliver everything on a silver platter. There's a portal for them to go on where they can put together their own side programming. They can also use the original one. They can also edit it very easily. It's tailor-made for that service. Boxing always has this problem of unreliability, but we've taken that away with the substitutes. There's always fights; you're guaranteed to get the action on that night. It's very easy to follow because the start times are fixed. I don't know how many times I’ve stayed up in Europe waiting on pay-per-views from Las Vegas. ... But our times are run by a Swiss clock, so it's bang on time.

On attracting fighters ...
Sauerland: We had to explain a concept that, at the time, was still a concept. Of course, we have very attractive prize money. But it was about explaining to a champion why he should risk everything and go in. Season 2 was a complete turnaround. We had champions and stars announcing themselves in the tournament before we'd even had a discussion. ... [Japanese boxer Naoya] Inoue announced that he was in the tournament before I'd even had a discussion with his manager. Of course, I was delighted to hear it, but he announced himself in the tournament. What it does is separate the men from the boys -- because you have fighters that are willing to put their lives and careers on the line, their belts on the line, to go into a tournament.

On sponsorship ...
Sauerland: Season 1 we went blank, and there was a reason for that. We wanted very much to push the brand. Season 2, we're opening up from the semifinals to look at sponsorships for the first time. But not where you'll see a ring and it’s cluttered with 400 different sponsors ranging from your local pizza company to AT&T. We'd be looking at one or two blue chip partners and that would be it. We've invested a hell of a lot of money into the brand and it's much more important to us to have that in the forefront. Of course, a relationship with a major blue chip would be of interest, but it's not something that we've aggressively pursued.

Kalle Sauerland refers to the World Boxing Super Series as the Champions League of boxing.
Photo: WBSS

On determining host sites ...
Sauerland: We've taken a major niche sport and we've developed a very strong brand over a year. It has been a case of 80/20. Eighty percent have reached out to us, and 20 percent, we've reached out to them. But it's something that we're now developing internally. We're increasing our hosting rights division. We have something that is tangible in boxing, an event. In boxing, if you're a promoter, you're tangible when you have an event. Otherwise, you're selling hot air. The difference is, when we're selling it now, we're selling it with this tangibility.

On the future of the WBSS ...
Sauerland: I'd love to see women's boxing introduced. I'd love us to increase, eventually, to four or even five weights. But I don't think further than that because we really pride ourselves on delivering the best quality, and I firmly believe that there will be years when some weights are better than others, so we must always focus on those. I would love to reach out to new continents -- South America, Africa. We started this season in Asia, so I very much see that as an expansion. We're obviously focusing very much on the U.S. now as well, with our partner DAZN. I see us really continuing what we've done as the Champions League of boxing. ... The aim is to create and enhance that further and further and to continue to establish what we've done.

Hangin' With runs every Friday in SBD Global.