Friday, January 10, 2020

A Boxing Wishlist For 2020

As is tradition at the beginning of a new year here at The Boxing Truth®️, the time has come once again for this observer to share his “Boxing Wishlist “ for the year to come. In previous years, yours truly has shared his wishes for what I believe would not only be beneficial for the sport of Boxing, but also for the fighters and fans that support it. This year is no different, but unlike previous years where I have discussed subjects that had been on the list and why they remain on the list for the coming year, yours truly has decided to take a slightly different approach by focusing on some of the more consistent themes in my work over many years and how they can be applied to the wishlist for 2020.

In the interest of both time and length of this column, this year’s list will also be more condensed as compared to previous installments. Perhaps the most consistent theme over recent years for me in my coverage of Boxing has been the rise of OTT digital distribution not only in regard to sports, but in all of television as a whole and how I feel it can benefit not only Boxing, but also consumers in the long-term. Although I believe that the benefits of OTT distribution has only begun to emerge with the inception and subsequent success of digital subscription sports streaming networks DAZN and EAPN+, I feel there is more that can be done in terms of helping to accelerate the overall growth of both networks as well as others that are also competing in the OTT realm or will be in the near future.

The primary challenge that faces the transition to digital streaming networks/platforms is to provide content that is not only appealing to the consumer and more specifically, providing that content at a reasonable price. In several aspects, I feel both DAZN and ESPN+ have succeeded in the area of providing value for the price of a subscription not only in regard to Boxing/combat sports, but sports overall. 

As far as combat sports is concerned, while both digital networks offer significant value for subscribers, both are still competing with the traditional television mediums and more specifically pay-per-view. Although I am long on record in calling the pay-per-view model that had long been the mainstay for not only Boxing’s top draws, but also the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) an overpriced and under valued model as prices have only increased. Despite this, the model still exists as 2020 begins.

While the growth of each network has been significant, the challenge that will remain for both in terms of combat sports will be to continue to provide value that will keep existing subscribers, but also draw in new ones. This means delivering fights that are not only in public demand, but also drive home the sales point that seeing fights as well as other sports content has more benefits to that of cable/satellite and in terms of Boxing/combat sports, pay-per-view. Though this will always be a delicate balancing act for any network to deliver for their subscriber-base, there are a few aspects of the business of Boxing that if negotiated to a point where everyone involved benefits, it can be accomplished.

With each digital platform along with traditional networks Fox and Showtime having exclusive deals with promoters to provide their respective networks with content, it can be difficult for some fights to be made, but it is necessary for not only all platforms involved in the sport to succeed, but also to grow Boxing. The upcoming Heavyweight championship rematch between undefeated WBC world champion Deontay Wilder and undefeated former Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury provides an example of how this can be done from a business standpoint.

Both fighters have different promotional ties and are signed to competing networks. A rematch of a competitive and controversial draw in December 2018, will take place on February 22nd in Las Vegas and will be aired as a co-production between ESPN, who has a broadcast deal with Fury and Fox Sports, who along with Showtime has a broadcast deal with the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) brand, where Wilder has fought under for the last several years. Although the collaboration between the two networks will likely result in it being broadcast on pay-per-view, it nevertheless shows that when competing platforms put the politics of the sport aside and come together to make significant fights happen, it more often than not should benefit the sport.

This brings this observer to the first addition to this year’s “Boxing Wishlist.” To continue to see all involved in the sport whether they be fighters, networks, and promoters aim to make the best fights possible. Even though some may be of the opinion that fighters are not necessarily a determining factor in fights being made, it often starts with a fighter saying they want to test his/her skills against a fighter that they will name. While hearing a fighter proclaim that they want to fight an opponent of notoriety is as old as the sport itself, it is usually the first step in creating interest in a potential fight that could be made.

From there, it is the responsibility of both the promoters and respective television networks to begin the negotiating process providing that there are not significant roadblocks in terms of the business of the sport that may stand in the way of a fight being made. All too often, we have seen fights that could be made in a reasonable time frame at times take years to come to fruition where the end result once fighters do battle in the ring leaves the Boxing fans unsatisfied and at times angry. This is something that needs to change.

Although it is understandable that all involved would/will want terms negotiated that will benefit their respective interests, one of the primary criticisms of Boxing over the years has been the stalling that takes place prior to an anticipated fight being made. While all involved are competitive and in terms of the promoters and networks are constantly trying to outdo each other, the commonality between them is they need eyes on their product and for the networks they need to see consistent returns in terms of revenue to not only justify their investments in the sport, but to possibly remain invested in the long-term. 

Of course, things such as contracts and a possible unwillingness of the parties involved to work together to accomplish the goal of making the best fights possible is a bridge that will need to be crossed.  The sport however, always thrives when egos and other interests are put aside from time to time in an effort to open Boxing to new audiences.

With this in mind, it is time for what will be the second addition to this year’s list. Continuing the transition away from the overpriced and undervalued model of pay-per-view. One could argue that this ties into number one on the list easily. Although yours truly is long on record in my criticisms of the pay-per-view model, one can still claim that if the right fight is made, it will draw solid returns in terms of pay-per-view buys regardless of the price point and, despite the steady decline of cable/satellite pay-TV subscribers in recent years.

While this observer would clarify that argument as a rare exception, it is indisputable that the decline of cable/satellite subscribers along with the steady increase in pay-per-view price points has had a negative impact on the sport. Though rare exceptions such as events like the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout or the Floyd Mayweather-Connor McGregor bouts can not be ignored as record setting pay-per-view attractions, pay-per-view numbers have generally underperformed in living up to the expectations that are expected in final buys and revenue.

ESPN experienced this last year when they presented a pay-per-view card from Madison Square Garden with undefeated multi-division world champion Terence Crawford defending his WBO Welterweight world championship against former unified Jr. Welterweight world champion Amir Khan. Although ESPN also offered the card on a pay-per-view basis through their ESPN+ platform on the ESPN app, the event drew only 150,000 buys. While it is unclear for this observer to estimate from the outside looking in as to whether the majority of those who ordered did so via the ESPN app or through traditional cable/satellite providers, when one considers that the price of the card was $70, which unfortunately has become an industry standard for most pay-per-view Boxing events, it was not something that could be considered a success by an objective observer and one might argue that having seen the results of the numbers that ESPN made a wise decision to spend the remainder of 2019 focusing their efforts on growing their ESPN+ digital network, which has been a success with a subscriber-base of 3.5 million as of November 2019. 

Even though it should be noted that pay-per-view events are still sold through ESPN+ as is the case for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) pay-per-view events, the price of those cards is sold to non-ESPN+ subscribers with the inclusion of a one year subscription to ESPN+’s subscription service as was the case with the Crawford-Khan event. Current ESPN+ subscribers meanwhile are offered those events at a slight discount if they want to view the event live before it becomes available on demand as part of their subscription. Although this differs slightly from the traditional cable/satellite pay-per-view model, it is not hard to envision the possibility that those UFC events, which are no longer available on cable/satellite and are only available in the United States through the ESPN+ pay-per-view platform, could be shown live as part of an existing ESPN+ subscription.

Fox and Showtime meanwhile combined to broadcast five pay-per-view events during 2019 with Fox Sports broadcasting four of those cards including the recent Heavyweight world championship rematch between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz in November. Although all those cards from both networks should be considered successful in terms of both production and presentation, none could be considered as overwhelming successes in terms of final buys as the Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner bout, broadcast by Showtime pay-per-view drew in January of last year drew an estimated 400,000 buys, while the four Fox Sports pay-per-view events, Errol Spence vs. Mikey Garcia in March, Keith Thurman vs. Manny Pacquiao in July, Errol Spence vs. Shawn Porter in September, and finally the Wilder-Ortiz rematch in November each drew comparable numbers of 360,000, 500,000, 300,000, and 275,000 respectively, they are an indication of a general downward trend in pay-per-view, which I believe is directly attributed to both inflated pricing as well as an overall limited value in terms of the amount of content offered for the price a consumer is asked to pay, which has only increased over time.

The rise of cord-cutting also cannot be ignored as an at minimum contributing factor to the general decline rather than simply a lack of interest in the main events of those pay-per-view cards. Although both Showtime and Fox have offered their pay-per-view cards through their respective apps on mobile, tablet, and connected streaming devices, the expensive price points are the main issue in this observer’s eyes.

What would I like to see both do? Even though I am of the opinion seeing the success and amount of content per card offered by both DAZN and ESPN+ that Showtime, Fox, and any other traditional network needs to adapt to the changing times, if they are insistent however,  on continuing to put cards on the increasingly outdated pay-per-view model, the only way the bottom lines in terms of buys will increase is if the price points are reduced to a more economically reasonable level. Of course, this is easier said than done due to the cable/satellite providers having the final say on setting the prices, but considering the substantial costs in terms of production and distribution, it is something that should be negotiated even though as I have said numerous times in recent years, the future of television as a whole including sports television is in reasonably priced subscription-based streaming options. 

We come to the final addition to this year’s ”Boxing Wishlist.” What fight do I want to see most in 2020? A third encounter between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. One of the biggest stories in the sport of Boxing has been the continued saga of the Alvarez-Golovkin rivalry and the question of whether we will see a third bout between the two after two hotly contested and debated battles in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Although both fighters are under broadcast deals with DAZN and theoretically that would eliminate potential roadblocks to a potential third fight between the two, a third encounter is no closer to becoming a reality as 2020 begins. This ties into the challenge for all platforms to provide the best fights possible. Despite the criticism that some have directed towards DAZN for not delivering a third Alvarez-Golovkin bout, this observer will not be one to criticize.

As much as the Boxing fan may want to see a series of fights in a relatively short period of time, there are times where that is not necessarily the path that should be taken. Please don’t misunderstand me dear reader, I too share the same desire as most fans in wanting to see a third fight between Alvarez and Golovkin. The two bouts that have taken place between the two were very competitive and closely fought fights. This alone should be enough justification for a third fight. When one throws the outcomes of the two fights being disputed by fans, those of us who cover the sport, as well as others involved in Boxing, it is clear that a third fight is warranted.

Despite the sport moving in a direction of subscription-based streaming and both Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin being central figures, each with lucrative contracts leading the way in the transition, some fights will still take time to come to fruition. What would be the obstacle in preventing a third fight between the two? Bad blood between the fighters.

After all, two competitive fights where there is debate as to who won both bouts is enough to rub fighters the wrong way. When the outcomes of those fights include a controversial draw and depending on one’s perspective perhaps an even more controversial majority decision win for one fighter in the rematch, it is not hard to understand how fighters might have hard feelings towards each other with one feeling that they got the win in the rematch, while the other feels like they are the victim of an injustice in terms of the scoring of the bout that they lost. Such feelings can lead to a perceived lack of respect between the two fighters and thus can create an impasse in the potential of another bout between the two being made.

This I feel is essentially the situation with regard to Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. It is a situation however, that unfortunately has potential repercussions for not only the fighters themselves, but also DAZN. As a subscription-based sports network that is not traditional and has become a viable alternative to traditional sports television and pay-per-view, the constant challenge for a network like DAZN is not only to be a consistent player in attempting to acquire broadcast rights to more sports content, not only the constant push to attract new subscribers, but also to keep existing subscribers.

The possibility does exist, despite all of the benefits that digital sports streaming networks like DAZN has brought to Boxing that if a fight that does not seem to have many business related roadblocks preventing it from being made, does not get made that a segment of Boxing fans may choose not to support the digital network going forward. Do I believe that a third fight between Alvarez and Golovkin will happen in 2020?

I hope so. It is important for the fighters themselves, important for the fans who support the sport to hopefully see a conclusive outcome, but it is also important for DAZN and the long-term success of their platform and the success of digital streaming platforms overall to show they can provide a fight that has significant public interest without the expensive price tag of pay-per-view. In a short time, DAZN has become a major player not just in Boxing, but in all of sports on a global scale. If the powers that be and the fighters themselves can come to terms to make a third fight come to fruition, it will only continue to accelerate the growth of Boxing in the digital streaming age.

While obviously there could be much more added to this observer’s “Boxing Wishlist For 2020” as has been the norm in previous years, this is what I want to see over the course of the year. As Boxing begins 2020, I am encouraged by where the sport stands and hope that the progress that has been made in recent years continues. Let the fights begin.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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