Feasterville, PA based Joe Hand Promotions is the top TV distributor of closed-circuit and pay-per-view special events in the country. For 50 years, they’ve helped bars and restaurants present more than 25,000 events like boxing and UFC.
Whether you were at a South Philly bar in 1990 when Buster Douglas upset Mike Tyson or watched Wilder vs. Fury 3 earlier this month at a PA casino, Joe Hand Promotions played a role in your viewing experience.
Fittingly, their headquarters are set up like a sports bar and on evenings of big events the staff stays late since they are setting up locations. As the start time gets closer, the calls stop and they settle in to watch the fight. But a night in November 2020 was very different for President Joe Hand. Jr. and it caused a realization that hit harder than an uppercut.
There have been many other nights Hand Jr. returned home after midnight from watching fights. He tries to be quiet and not wake anyone, then goes to bed. But he noticed something was different when he saw a couple cars he didn’t notice in his driveway at 1:30 a.m. He opened the door and was greeted enthusiastically by his son and his friends.
“Mr. Hand!,” the guys, mostly in their mid-30s, yelled. “Where have you been? We couldn’t wait to talk to you about the fight. Did you see what Jake Paul did?” Did you see Snoop!”
Something immediately occurred to Hand Jr.. An undercard fight between Jake Paul, a YouTuber, and a 5’9 retired NBA player, Nate Robinson, engaged younger fans.
In an interview with PlayPennsylvania, Hand Jr. explained:
“It dawned on me that we were going down the path that this was not going to replace boxing. Boxing is still going to be here. You are going to have this other lane in entertainment. I grew up in this business and have learned over the years, when we’re selling programming. I can’t let my personal preference dictate what I sell or don’t sell.”
Sports betting, streaming and Barstool
Joe Hand Jr’s father, Joe Hand Sr., was an original member of Cloverlay Corp. and helped guide Joe Frazier to the heavyweight championship. The former Philadelphia police detective then started Joe Hand Promotions in 1971 in the basement of his row home.
Hand. Jr, acknowledges the 50th anniversary, officially on Oct. 20. But his mind isn’t on looking back. Three major developments have given Joe Hand Promotions a big boost and have caused Hand. Jr to “blow up” his retirement plan.
- Sports betting
- Technology and streaming services like ESPN+
- A partnership with Barstool Sports and Upshow to bring Rough N’ Rowdy to bars and restaurants.
Sports betting drives engagement
John Kirk, Chief Operating Officer, and Hand Jr. say sports betting has “absolutely” increased business for Joe Hand Promotions. It’s obvious why, if you are betting on something you want to watch it.
Joe Hand Promotions distributes PPV events such as
- Showtime Boxing
“Sports betting is just yet another step deeper into engagement for an avid fan. It’s an extra step for a casual fan,” said Hand, Jr. “For our business model, you have a fan who is interested enough that they want to go and consume the content with like-minded individuals. When you add sports betting, it just deepens the engagement. Now they are interacting with it and they are doing so with their friends and sharing it on social media.”
In the early years of their business, the only places interested in purchasing pay-per-view events – mainly boxing – were in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. With the expansion of sports betting, it’s created more opportunities to sell events.
Joe Hand Promotions and ESPN+
When you think of streaming, you think of sitting on your couch watching Netflix, Disney+ or the growing number of other streaming services. Companies view it that way also and very often forget about the commercial marketplace.
After ESPN+ launched in 2018, Joe Hand Promotions started to get calls from customers asking about it. However, they did not offer it commercially. Hand Jr. ended up at ESPN headquarters to talk to some ESPN+ employees about who was selling the streaming service to bars and restaurants.
“You put this whole business plan together for ESPN+ and no one gave any consideration to selling it to bars and restaurants. The only thing you did in your business plan was talk about subscribers for $5. It took me a year-and-a-half but now we are the exclusive seller of ESPN+ to bars and restaurants in the US. We have close to 4500 bars.”
UFC and Joe Hand Promotions
Joe Hand Promotions has been doing business with the UFC since 2001. The first PPV event was in just fifty bars, how it’s expanded to 3500-4000 locations. Joe Hand Promotions has sold UFC events to over half a million locations since 2001.
“If I would have waited on that and questioned whether it was worth it,” reflected Hand. Jr. “Before you knew it…it started getting popular. You just have to keep an open mind about the public and what they are looking for.”
Rough N’ Rowdy
Hand Jr. encourages his staff to keep an open mind (and their eyes open) for what’s next. Product manager Patrick McMullen started a conversation with Hand Jr. about Rough N’ Rowdy, which is described as “amateur fighters with no defense throwing haymakers + maximum chaos.”
Kirk pointed out that Joe Hand Promotions has a relationship with Penn National Gaming, which acquired a 36% stake in Barstool in Jan. 2020, since they sell events in many of their casinos.
“Rough N’ Rowdy is a startup enterprise and we were paying attention to it because we thought it could have value for a younger audience. Barstool has been a fantastic disrupter in the media space. They have a brilliant business strategy and enormous following,” said Kirk
When Barstool and Joe Hand Promotions met, Hand Jr. told them they were selling Rough N’ Rowdy to the consumer market and that he believed that they should also sell it to bars and restaurants. In August 2021, Joe Hand Promotions and Barstool Sports announced a partnership with UPshow, an in-venue entertainment and marketing platform that develops interactive digital TV networks, to deliver Rough N’ Rowdy to sports bars and restaurants.
“What I feel like we are with Rough N’ Rowdy, I feel like we are in 2001 with the UFC,” commented Hand Jr. “We have a small group of bars that are buying the shows and they do well with them. A little bit more the next fight…and the next fight. It’s in its infancy commercially. But I am big on Rough N’ Rowdy.”
The game changer for Joe Hand Promotions
In Hand Jr.’s industry, technology is the game changer.
He recalled the days of taking the signal over the phone line, satellite dishes….He calls streaming a renaissance.
“It’s going to allow people to watch unique content that they never could have gotten access to before because it was only on linear platforms.”
With sports betting increasing viewer engagement, streaming, and Rough N’ Rowdy, the 63-year-old Hand Jr. has plenty of reasons not to think about retirement.
“I blew up my exit plan,” he says. “I don’t have one right now because I am so excited about the future of this company and what this company can do with sports and entertainment programming because of streaming. It’s unlimited. We can go global. It’s unbelievable what the opportunities are through streaming.
“Content like Rough N’ Rowdy, 10-15 years ago, probably wouldn’t be able to launch the way they are now and get it so easily to their customers if it wasn’t for streaming. It’s revolutionized our business and given us so much opportunity it’s incredible.”