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PPV is making a comeback, but is it good for boxing?

30
Apr

With great revenue comes great expectations, and, ideally, great reponsibility.

Ideally…

The pay per view construct in boxing is there for a couple reasons. First, primarily, is because boxing is a red-light district sport. The two persons are punching each other for pay, right? That is a turn-off to a significant portion of society, and that makes boxing a “fringe” sport in this supposedly allegedly quasi-enlightened age we are in.

You cannot get the same masses to support the sport, and bolster it, with sponsorships and such, that you can with a less violent sport. And for that reason, that main reason, we see most of the best fights being offered on the “pay per view” platform, which asks the fans to dig deeper into their pocket to gain access to the sports’ brightest stars.

And that can be a good thing, foremost, typically, for the athletes who are rewarded from a bigger pot than would be present if their fight were NOT on PPV. Right? Floyd Mayweather, because his later fights were marketed more directly to the people, and because he was able to get enough people interested or curious enough to hit the “P” for purchase on their remote, made checks that he didn’t think possible early in his career.

Great for Floyd…

Now, it gets a bit murkier as we move down the ladder. How much of that revenue trickles down? Boxing people are not too open about that process, so it’s hard to know, unless you are their book-keeper. Certainly, cable and satellite providers have liked getting a 50-50 cut from XL revenue generators. And the promoters, they enjoy it when their events draw well, and their marketing and hyping pays off, and hundreds of thousands of persons hit the “B” button, and buy the PPV show. They get a solid cut from winning PPVs; but losing PPVs, not so much.

Did Top Rank and Bob Arum make out like kings off that Terence Crawford-Amir Khan event? Maybe not so much if closer to 150,000 buys were activated, rather than over 200,000. And so we think Errol Spence and Mikey Garcia made out like legal bandits if their fight did over 300,000 buys, and the event packagers, at Fox, and those with a piece of the pie in their name also did well.

But…

Let’s look outside that sphere. The people who purchased, did they make out? Impossible to poll all of them, but a scan of social media activity tells me lots of watchers liked watching Errol Spence’s mastery, even though the fight wasn’t as evenly matched as many folks foresaw. (Many didn’t…many correctly believed that Garcia over 140 pounds isn’t such a super-star.)

Then, customers who saw that Crawford-Khan fight…did most come away pleased? Not as many, I don’t think. Khan’s disappearing act left a really bad taste in mouths, as people would have been OK with the natural conclusion, that being Crawford finishing off the Brit in brutal fashion. But Virgil Hunter and Khan removed that chapter from the book and left the customers fuming. Not good for the sport, frankly.

And that brings us to the main point of this piece…PPV is there for a reason…But I don’t think we ask ourselves often enough if the PPV model doesn’t hurt the longer-term growth of the sport more than it helps.

My friend Gary Shaw, the long time promoter, used to rail to me all the time, how stupid and short sighted the PPV model is. No one else, no one in the “big sport” category, does what we do…The Final Four, not on PPV…the World Series, never on PPV.

Paywalls keep people away in droves, and this limits the popularity of the sport, because we “hide” our most talented performers. To take the other side, to be fair, this occurs because, see the opening of the piece…we can’t attract the sponsorship and programing payment packages that these other non-renegade sports can. So, in order to generate the most revenue possible, the hardcore fans are asked to be super fans, to help prop up the market rate for the biggest stars.

But you can only ask so much of those faithful before they chafe.

Maybe not, maybe “they” will continue to pony up…but what if they hit a wall, and after being burned one, two, three times, they just say hell with it, no mas.

Did we lose a bunch to that Khan quit affair? When and if they are asked to hit the “B” button that next time, will they hit the “F” button, as in “Eff That?”

Maybe these athletes need to adjust their asks, maybe the “market” isn’t in fact so robust as they hope and think it to be….Maybe producers are simply asking too much of too many, of people who simply are not awash in discretionary income.

Photo by Amanda Westcott/DAZN

I’m not here to do an ad for DAZN…But on Saturday, you can watch their Canelo Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs bout for $10, if you buy the right to watch DAZN fare for a year. That is, comparatively, a good deal, and so is, comparatively, their higher tier price if you want to go month to month. Then, the charge is $19.99 a month. The DAZN crew, led by John Skipper out front, have been spending their money to attract talent, and I do appreciate that. They are putting their funds, their skin, into the game. I appreciate that.

Now, not everyone does…It’s a curious age. Tribalism, in seemingly all sectors, is on the rise. Social media gives anyone who wants it a platform. Rest assured, not everyone is on social media. But it feels that way, at times. Because there are no shortages of “hot” takes from people who are Team Haymon or Team Arum who look down on DAZN, and who root for the PPV model, because, maybe, they like to see those A grade guys make that big bank.

OK, confession time..I sometimes scratch my head there, because many of these same opiners are actually rooting for themselves to pay MORE than they would if the regular PPVs model weren’t in effect.

We are on the same page, we both want boxers to get paid real well. But maybe like $2.5 million instead of $10 million, if that meant that existing budgets, for the Showtimes and the Foxes and the like, could cover the former figure? In the age we are in, we see people lobbying AGAINST their own economic self interest because…why? Because they like to fashion themselves Junior Haymons or Arums and Espinozas? I confess, I don’t quite get it, at times.

This angle doesn’t get written or talked about that much, because sometimes fight game bigs perceive it to be “hating.” They could see it as “lobbying” against their aims, and they could and sometimes do offer repudiation to media who go there. I think, from what I’ve seen, blow back more often occurs when someone takes a “harsh” stance, and overtly lobbies against a business decision. That overt nature gets deemed “unfair” and “over the line” by those on the other side.

I try to factor in all the sides…I try to understand that we are what we are, we are that “red light district” sport, and thus, we will be doing many things in a manner unlike more accepted sports. But that doesn’t mean we always do things the right way. And, frankly, I’m feeling like in this first half of the year, the push toward PPVs hasn’t benefited the sport all-around as well as it could.

Full disclosure: RING is owned by Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy and DAZN right now are pushing back against the PPV model, so this debate would be tracking with how they are thinking.

Anyway, maybe I’m wrong, I never tell you I’m always right. So, I put it to you…Talk to me about some of the points I make…Pay-per-view is on the comeback trail, and is that for the good of the sport as a whole…or should we all be re-considering that construct?

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