A New Golden Age of Boxing or a Saturated Market?
By Steven B. Weinberg | Contributing Writer and Photographer
Published: August 26, 2018
A new model for bringing boxing to the public appears to be emerging.
Top Rank, the largest promoter, has signed a whopping 7-year, 54 event deal with ESPN. 18 cards will appear on the network’s flagship station, while 12 more prime-time cards and 24 “premium international events” will be available exclusively for $4.99 per month through the ESPN+ app. The international events will primarily be Frank Warren promoted fights from the United Kingdom, Zanfer Promotions fights from Mexico, and Teiken Boxing fights from Japan. The undercards of all 54 events will be available on the app. As a bonus, the entire Top Rank catalog will also be available to subscribers. The idea is that $4.99 per month, or $59.88 per year, is more palpable to the boxing fans than paying $99 for an HD PPV fight once or twice per year.
Matchroom Boxing, England’s largest promoter, has announced the launch of MatchroomUSA and a partnership with DAZN (Da-zone), a European based sports app. Matchroom intends to stage 32 fights per year, 16 American fights and 16 English fights, available for $9.99 per month through DAZN. DAZN will also have MMA events and English Premier League and Champions’ League soccer games available, giving purchasers more bang for their buck. Like ESPN, Matchroom and DAZN hope that $120 spread out over the year is more palpable to the boxing fans than paying $99 for an HD PPV fight once or twice per year.
Golden Boy, with a contribution from Main Events, has announced a partnership to stream five fights live on Facebook during the latter half of 2018 and has emphasized their product will be free. Golden Boy is attempting to tap into Facebook’s 2.2 billion users per day to showcase their product. Because Golden Boy and Facebook do not have a subscription-based model, however, they may not be able to fund significant fights with large purses, but should be able to stage quality fights with lower purses in order to build future superstars. If the Golden Boy shows are successful, Facebook will expand the offerings.
All of these new internet-based models have insured one thing: boxing will be available to the American nearly every week of the year. In fact, Eric Gomez, of Golden Boy, stated on the 3 Knockdown podcast, that they intend to make boxing as ubiquitous as baseball or basketball with fights mid-week, not only reserved for the weekend.
It all begs the question: has boxing entered a new golden age, or is the boxing market about to become saturated? The beauty of the pre-streaming system is a boxing fan most likely already pays for Showtime or HBO as part of his cable subscription, which for all purposes, is a hidden cost that isn’t thought about each month. A fan can merely turn on the TV on a Saturday night and maybe catch a fight, and if he is lucky, it is evenly matched where there isn’t much difference between the A and B sides. The lopsided record padding fights against the palooka with the 17-22 record is left to the untelevised undercard and local shows.
A significant upside of 44 fight cards per year, in their entirety, being made available to the public, is that the record padding may soon become a thing of the past because the consumer isn’t going to tolerate cutting the cord to cable only to pay a monthly subscription for subpar fights. Even match-ups may occur earlier in a fighter’s career, resulting in early losses. If a fighter loses but provides an exciting fight for fans, boxing may become like MMA where losses don’t necessarily hurt a fighter’s credibility.
It also raises the question as to the future of local promoters. They don’t have the money to buy TV time, or in the new era, Internet streaming time. If boxing is available every week of the year for a total of $15 per month, are local fans going to be interested in spending $50-$200 to watch local boxing despite boxing being better live? After all, you can turn the TV on almost any day and see a ¾ empty sports stadium because it is easier to stay home and watch the game on TV. Ultimately, ubiquitous boxing from the big promoters could kill the local fight game.
Additionally, it’s no secret that boxing fans tend to be older, and not as likely to “cut the cord” as younger people. For the older crowd then, boxing will continue to be available on T.V., with Showtime, HBO, ESPN’s non-streamed fights, and PBC is reportedly in negotiations with FOX. While entire fight cards won’t be available, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the hardest of hardcore fans tuning into any internet-based service to watch all eight fights on a card. In turn, better, more competitive top of the card fights will need to be staged in order to stave off people from switching to the Internet-based services.
Only time will tell if moving boxing from our TVs to the Internet will be good for boxing. A similar debate undoubtedly raged when fights moved from the radio to TV. Top Rank, Matchroom, and Golden Boy certainly deserve accolades for being early adopters of new technology and trying to capture a younger, i.e., future audience. However, let’s face it: the $99 PPV isn’t going away anytime time soon – not with Canelo v. Golovkin 2 around the corner and Wilder v. Joshua possibly on the horizon. This really could be more about the large promoters leaving HBO and Showtime than anything else and finding a revenue stream for what would historically be non-televised shows. If that’s the case, as much of boxing history, it’s about money for the promoters under the guise of “good for the sport.” As a result, an apropos saying comes to mind: you can’t kill boxing, and you can’t save it.
(Featured Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank)