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. While it has become customary over the years for me to discuss what I would like to see both in terms of fights that could be made as well as things that I feel need improvement on the business end of the sport, this year I feel it is appropriate to discuss the dominant subject that overshadowed the world as a whole and not just the world of sports in 2020. The ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.
Although Boxing has been able to make strides going into what is now 2021 with some of the sport’s biggest stars returning to action in the latter months of 2020, the true impacts of what unfortunately remains an ongoing global crisis remain unknown. As such, the first addition to this year’s “Boxing Wishlist” is to hopefully see all levels of the sport return to some semblance of normalcy. To be more specific, to see promoters on the regional levels of the sport worldwide be able to hopefully resume staging events at some point in 2021.
While there are several promoters throughout the sport that have been able to resume staging events, most of which have taken place behind closed doors without spectators beyond essential personnel thanks to having the financial resources to do so as well as contracts with both traditional television and digital streaming networks, there are countless other promoters that have been unable to stage events and along with that many fighters have been sidelined due to being unable to compete on cards on a localized and regional level that can both provide a source of income as well as potentially lead to opportunities at higher levels of the sport. Of course, the ultimate factor that will determine whether Boxing on a regional level will be able to return will be determined by if the circumstances of COVID-19 can legitimately improve where those events can be held regularly akin to how the sport operates in its normal state and specifically if it can be done safely. For the good of the sport, the fighters who compete in it, and the countless others that are involved in the sport however, hopefully progress towards a return to normalcy can be made this year.
One aspect of Boxing that somehow managed to exist in 2020, despite the ongoing epidemic was the decision of the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters as well as television networks Showtime and Fox Sports choose to stage cards via pay-per-view distribution in the latter stages of 2020. While it should be no secret to longtime readers as to this observer’s recurring theme regarding how the pay-per-view model has become overpriced and undervalued as time has gone on, the decision to do pay-per-view cards during the ongoing circumstances at inflated price points did not prove to be a wise decision as several of those events failed to exceed 200,000 buys per card. The one exception to this was a Boxing event that was not affiliated with the PBC that took place during the month of November. I am speaking of course of the highly publicized exhibition between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones that generated over one million buys between digital pay-per-view via FITE.TV and cable/satellite pay-per-view providers.
Although any pay-per-view event generating over one million buys should be viewed as a success especially in a climate where cable and satellite providers are seeing more subscribers opt for digital streaming options over traditional pay-TV service, it is important to remember that the Tyson-Jones exhibition was a curiosity rather than two legends of the sport using it as a platform to officially re-enter competition at an advanced age. As such, it would not be accurate for one to point to that figure as reflective of a distribution model that is still viable as 2021 begins. In comparison to pay-per-view, the PBC, which was originally marketed as a platform to see Boxing return to free over the air television networks on a consistent basis has seen higher viewership on occasions where cards have been broadcast on either free television in the form of the national Fox network here in the United States, its national sports network Fox Sports 1, which is available on cable, satellite, and live TV streaming providers, as well as premium cable network Showtime.
An illustration of this can be seen in the ratings for the recent PBC Boxing event that took place on December 26ththat was televised on the national Fox network, which did over a million viewers. While part of the problem is that promoters who still rely on the pay-per-view model have a certain number of dates strictly for pay-per-view distribution as part of their contracts with respective networks, regardless of which fighters might be featured on those cards, the other sticking point that has contributed greatly to the decline of the pay-per-view model beyond only a fraction of the a full Boxing card being offered to consumers are the prices. Although many digital streaming pay-per-view platforms like FITE TV have offered cards at varying price points that are more often than not are reasonably priced, the fact that most pay-per-view Boxing attractions that are made available via cable/satellite distribution often come with a price point that begins between the $60-$70 range should be a red flag to any objective observer. This along with the rise of the digital subscription streaming model spearheaded by digital subscription sports streaming networks DAZN and ESPN+, which each offer considerably more content per card for subscribers while offering said content for either reasonably priced monthly or annual subscription options has only accelerated the continued decline of the pay-per-view model.
While it should not be overlooked that both of DAZN’s recent marquee events, the December 19th bout between Callum Smith and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez as well as the January second bout between Ryan Garcia and Luke Campbell were simulcast on pay-per-view on select cable/satellite providers, this has been a strategy aimed at targeting non-subscribers as a way to market DAZN’s network. Though it remains to be seen as to how successful those cards were in terms of attracting non-subscribers via the declining medium of pay-per-view, as 2021 begins, I would like to see those promoters who have been resistant to change look for ways to adapt. In thinking of how promoters could make up revenues that theoretically come from pay-per-view distribution, I immediately thought of advertising.
Advertising revenue has been a major part of sports since the inception of television and many who are of a certain age likely remember when Boxing aired regularly on free over the air television here in the United States in decades past, many of those events, particularly those that aired during the prime time evening hours saw regular segments aimed at advertising a slate of sponsors. Even today, we still see a regular advertising presence on cards broadcast by DAZN, ESPN/ESPN+ as well as those events broadcast on the national Fox network and its cable sports networks carrying the Fox Sports branding. Although some may view the idea of advertising revenue as a way to replace pay-per-view revenue for those promoters that have resisted entering the digital subscription streaming realm as something that cannot be done, it is also worth noting that video websites/apps such as YouTube have served as a platform for several Boxing promoters globally while also being used to generate advertising revenue while also making their events available to significantly more viewers globally than would normally be the case on traditional television platforms or pay-per-view, which often is aimed at a centralized market.
While it is not something that should not be approached as something that would be a “Quick Fix” or something that should not be approached with a strategic mindset, if the circumstances of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic has shown anything it is the need to adapt to the changing environment, which unfortunately is no closer to returning to normal as 2021 begins than it was at the conclusion of 2020. Keeping in mind the one success on pay-per-view for the sport in 2020, it should also serve as a wake up call to those promoters and networks who have continued to rely on the pay-per-view model that something needs to change as consumers are likely to continue to not support the idea of paying an inflated fee to watch Boxing on a consistent basis in the midst of times that remain uncertain and with more reasonable options available, which offer more content for the price. Hopefully, 2021 will be a year where those who have resisted adapting will at least test the waters.
Although a regular addition on my annual “Boxing Wishlist” remains reserved for wanting to see interim/regular champion designations done away with that while well-intentioned as a way of ensuring fighters who earn opportunities at a world championship eventually get their opportunity, continues to create confusion and more issues than it has solved, one subject that emerged in 2020 that I have remained quiet about until now was the attempt by the World Boxing Council (WBC) to introduce what would be an eighteenth professional weight class into the sport “Bridgerweight.”
When I first heard of the “Bridgerweight” concept, I honestly scratched my head and was confused. In short, this proposed weight class would be between Boxing’s Cruiserweight division, which is for fighters weighing between 190lbs. and 200lbs. and Heavyweight, which in the modern era of the sport has been for fighters weighing 200lbs. and up. The “Bridgerweight” concept would be for fighters between 200lbs.-224lbs. It is important to keep in mind that Boxing’s Cruiserweight division, which is still regarded by some as the Jr. Heavyweight weight class has always struggled for mainstream recognition particularly here in the United States as it has always been viewed as a stepping stone for those fighters who might be too big to reach the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight limit to more or less test the waters at a higher weight without going directly into the Heavyweight division. The most prominent example of this was the legendary Evander Holyfield, who initially put the Cruiserweight/Jr. Heavyweight division on the map becoming the division’s first undisputed world champion in the 1980’s before embarking on greater success in the Heavyweight division where he added four additional reigns as a Heavyweight world champion before ultimately retiring as a five-time/two-division world champion in a Hall of Fame career.
Despite the notoriety Holyfield was able to bring the Cruiserweight/Jr. Heavyweight division, the division as a whole has never been able to obtain the status of other weight classes as some Light-Heavyweights have chosen to bypass the division all together to enter the Heavyweight division or those who have won world championships in the Cruiserweight division and have become unified or undisputed world champions have continued to seek further glory and lucrative opportunities as Heavyweights. While there has not been much support for the “Bridgerweight” concept throughout the sport and understandably so, much like the implementation of interim/regular champion designations used by some of the sport’s sanctioning organizations, I do believe the idea by the WBC was well-intended. For a sport with seventeen weight classes already and constant questions/confusion regarding its rankings and overall structure however, this is indeed “A Bridge Too Far” by the WBC and it is my hope/wish that the sanctioning organization just regard this as a bad idea and focus more attention on other issues that need to be addressed for Boxing to progress forward and grow.
Although this year’s “Boxing Wishlist “ differs from previous years, these are the things I wish for in 2021. Above all however, the main priority for all involved in the sport should be to hopefully see the circumstances of COVID-19 improve significantly even if it were to mean that Boxing along with other sports might have to pause for a period of time as was the case in 2020 in order for things to get back to some semblance of normalcy. With the frustration that was 2020 behind us, we now embark on 2021. Hopefully, by year’s end we will all be talking about the great success Boxing was able to have and the progress the sport has made. This observer certainly hopes so.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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