In one of its most significant marketing moves to date, Weedmaps is sponsoring former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson’s return to the ring on Saturday, breaking ground for the cannabis industry in the high-stakes world of pro-level sports.
The fight between Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., technically billed as an eight-round exhibition, fits the Weedmaps strategy of “getting our brand out there in places where cannabis hasn’t been before,” according to CMO Juanjo Feijoo.
The 4-hour live event, which features undercard fights as well as performances by Lil Wayne, DaBaby, Wiz Khalifa, YG and other hip-hop artists, is also a high-profile coming-out of sorts for presenter Triller, an app better known for music than sports. The social platform, trying to go toe-to-toe with TikTok in the U.S., will present the event on TysonOnTriller.com and make it available via cable and satellite pay-per-view outlets.
For Weedmaps, the partnership means more than putting its logo on the mat. The brand has created an original piece of content, narrated by Nas and celebrating cannabis pioneers, that will air during the event. There will also be custom on-screen graphics, on-air call-outs from announcers, messaging on giant LED screens at the venue (a fan-free Staples Center in Los Angeles) and swag in locker rooms and other backstage areas.
There’s pent-up demand for an “Iron Mike” battle—the sometimes-controversial boxer was the youngest world champ with a 37-0 career but hasn’t fought publicly for 15 years—and Weedmaps expects to glean considerable media value as a result of its on-site activations.
“It goes beyond a pay-per-view or live-streamed event for us,” Feijoo said. “It’ll make news around the world, and we’re excited about those impressions.”
He said the deal, which has been in the works for months, will aim to “set a path for other cannabis brands” that want to partner with high-profile sports.
“It’s all about normalization of cannabis,” he said. “As we saw from the recent election, society at large has become a lot more comfortable with the industry.”
Weedmaps, a tech player that connects consumers to cannabis brands and retailers, has an existing relationship with Tyson, having sponsored his “Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson” podcast and featured his Tyson Ranch cannabis brand on its site.
Tyson, a ganjapreneur and weed advocate whose plans in the space include a luxury destination resort near Palm Springs, was also part of Weedmaps’ 4/20 virtual event last spring. (Tyson Ranch, along with DraftKings and WorldStarHipHop, are also fight night sponsors, with Mario Lopez hosting the lineup).
Weedmaps plans to use the newly-forged partnership as a springboard for more marketing programs with Triller, which paid north of $50 million for rights to the Tyson fight, according to CNBC.
Cannabis, though recently legalized by overwhelming majorities in five new states during election 2020, has yet to earn a place as a go-to partner of professional sports. (The NFL and CBS rejected a potential Super Bowl spot from weed giant Acreage Holdings last year, and THC-centric products, still federally illegal, are not allowed to advertise through many traditional media outlets).
There are a few precedents between cannabis and sports, though, with Weepmaps having sponsored X Games athletes in the past, and cannabis’ little sister, CBD, cracking into Nascar racing last year via infused beverage Defy and tinctures and topicals maker Craft 1861. Both brands sponsored racing teams during the well-watched Indy 500.
Researchers at Oasis Intelligence said the impact of the Weedmaps deal “will open up more opportunities for mainstream press and advertising placements,” noting that several pro leagues have softened their formerly harsh anti-weed stances. MLB led the way, dropping cannabis from its banned-substance list in 2019, and the NFL recently amended its labor agreement to stop suspension of players who test positive for cannabis. In its experimental “bubble season,” the NBA said in June that it would no longer test players for cannabis use.