Saturday, August 6, 2022

Should Networks Look At Recent Cancellations As A Sign To Change?


One of the many frustrations that unfortunately comes with the territory of not just Boxing, but all of combat sports are the potential for postponements/cancellations to occur that can put a halt to the plans of not just the fighters involved, not just the promoters, but more specifically the platforms, which broadcast the bouts. Recently, two events that were scheduled to take place during the month of August were cancelled both due to failure of conditions stipulated in a contract to be met by one fighter in a bout and an injury forcing the cancellation of another bout. 


This observer is referring to two Boxing events that were to be headlined by two separate YouTube celebrities in separate bouts. The first bout that saw the ax of cancellation come down upon it was the scheduled August 6th bout between undefeated Cruiserweight/ YouTube star Jake Paul who was scheduled to face Heavyweight prospect Hasim Rahman Jr. in a catchweight bout that stipulated that Rahman could not weigh more than 200lbs. prior to the bout. As most Boxing fans know, the bout was cancelled as it was deemed by the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) that Rahman would be unable to make the weight in a safe manner resulting in the bout, which was due to headline a pay-per-view card broadcast on Showtime Pay-Per-View from New York’s Madison Square Garden being cancelled.  


The second was a scheduled bout to take place between YouTube stars KSI and Alex Wassabi, that was scheduled to take place on August 27th in the United Kingdom was cancelled due to Wassabi suffering what was deemed a serious injury in training. Much like the Paul-Rahman bout, this bout was due to headline a Boxing card from the United Kingdom broadcast by DAZN Pay-Per-View in several countries including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.  


Out of respect for the reader, I will not go into the various grandstanding that has taken place in regard to both bouts prior to and since each respective cancellation because the fact is, it does little to change the fact that both bouts were cancelled and simply yours truly feels it would be a waste of both my and the reader’s time to rehash such grandstanding. What this observer will go into however, is what should be viewed as an opportunity for both networks Showtime and DAZN to view these cancellations as both a blessing in that they will not lose money on those events, but also an opportunity to change course. 


While this observer has frankly made a name for himself over many years in pointing out the flaws of the pay-per-view model, which in regard to the United States and Canada in 2022 has seen price points get out of control where it no longer is of value to the consumer and does little if anything to benefit and grow the sport of Boxing, in this case, we had two pay-per-view attractions mainly aimed at attracting the casual sports fan. Although that should be the aim of any network or promoter to increase the exposure of the sport, the fact that it was aimed for the outdated and often overpriced model of pay-per-view as opposed to more reasonable subscription-based streaming options exposes the flaw of those making decisions as to what qualifies as a pay-per-view attraction. 


Now longtime readers should know that I can and will when appropriate call out the flaws of the pay-per-view model and will do so until such a model either changes significantly or is done away with in favor of a model that serves not only to benefit the sport better, but also the consumer in the process. In most cases particularly when this observer was growing up in the 1980’s and even through most of the 1990’s when I began covering the sport of Boxing as well as combat sports as a whole where the pay-per-view concept was reserved for the legitimate major Boxing events, which normally saw the best fighters in the sport pitted against each other, that standard no longer exists and has done little to benefit the sport in the process. 


At this point in this column I feel it important to point out to those who may not remember or those who are reading this observer’s work for the first time that when the influx of social media/YouTube celebrity began to enter the sport of Boxing, I did say that those who entered the sport from those mediums would get a fair shake from me so long as they treated the sport with the respect it deserves. After all, Boxing is a combat sport, and I should not have to explain the inherent dangers that come with stepping into the ring. As someone who has covered more career ending injuries and unfortunately more deaths related to fights inside the ring than I would like to admit in my career covering the sport, it is important to me as one who does have Boxing’s best interest at heart that the sport be taken seriously by all and not treated as a joke by those who come into the sport from other mediums and more specifically the critics of Boxing that all too often have way too much ammunition given to them by way of decisions that are made, flaws in the sport’s regulation, and other aspects that continue to keep the sport from reaching its full potential.  


Although such criticism more often than not is justified, the sport for whatever reason continues to get in it’s own way as far as progress to increase exposure and grow. For the purposes of this column, the obvious flaw is a continued reliance on the pay-per-view model, despite continued underwhelming returns in the form of buys. In this case, while folks like Jake Paul and other YouTube celebrities have served a role in drawing attention to the sport amongst those who may not have been attracted to Boxing otherwise, we have yet to see one of these fighters compete against someone with a legitimate Boxing background and the fact that such bouts featuring such celebrities are continued to be pushed as pay-per-view attractions rather than fighters at the beginning stages of their careers as any other fighter at similar stages in their careers are regarded, is an indication that something needs to change. While it is important to point out that Jake Paul was scheduled to face a boxer in Hasim Rahman Jr., and that the cancellation should not be viewed as his doing, the cancellation does not serve him well as one who wants to be taken seriously as a boxer and unfortunately for him, the label of a novelty as well as one who is known primarily as a YouTube celebrity will follow him until such time as he boxes those with legitimate Boxing experience and proves that he can be viewed as a serious boxer even if his entry into the sport was in a word unconventional. 


What I am referring to when I say something needs to change is a broader subject regarding the pay-per-view model and more specifically, what networks like Showtime and DAZN should be focusing on. It should be no secret to longtime readers that yours truly has been supportive of digital streaming networks like DAZN and ESPN+ primarily for offering a viable alternative to the pay-per-view model with subscription-based options. Despite this, both have dipped their toes into the pay-per-view model, with DAZN insisting that their use of the model would be sparingly and would not dilute the value of a monthly or annual subscription to their network in insisting that it would be only used for legitimate big events that they could not make possible without the aspect of pay-per-view.  


It is understandable however, despite what the network claims, as to how consumers may be jaded by having to shell out pay-per-view fees on top of their subscription options, particularly because prior to the COVID-19 global epidemic, DAZN had been marketed as having more value providing competitive pay-per-view quality Boxing cards “Without The Pain of Pay-Per View” prices. While such marketing was legitimate and did succeed in showing that Boxing could succeed under a subscription-based model, the effects of the ongoing epidemic and likely the demands of fighters who have been conditioned to believe that the only way they can make significant money is via the pay-per-view model, despite continued evidence that it is the opposite, DAZN has for the time being been forced into using the pay-per-view model.  


Although I am on record in saying that I hope that their use of the model will be temporary and have even suggested that if returns are underwhelming in terms of pay-per-view buys that they need to show the fighters that insist on the model that it is not viable both for the network and for them to continue using pay-per-view, I will admit I was surprised when the KSI-Alex Wassabi bout was announced as a DAZN Pay-Per-View attraction. In no disrespect intended to either fighter and keeping in mind that the event prior to cancellation was actually priced at a reasonable $9.99 price point, it did not strike me as an event that would be seen as a “Big Fight” that necessitated the use of the pay-per-view model that DAZN has stated that they would only use when needed to make those “Big Events.” When one considers that the upcoming third fight between Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and two-time Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin, which will take place on September 17th will be a DAZN Pay-Per-View attraction at a $64.99 price point for current subscribers and a $89.99 price point for non-subscribers, the decision to put a card featuring YouTube celebrities on what they insist will be a selective model at any price point, it should not be hard to understand how an existing subscriber could have cause for concern. 


Even though DAZN’s entry into the pay-per-view model can be attributed to the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, there will come a point where they will need to make a decision as to what master they want to serve. The master of what has been proven to be a more economically reasonable model for consumers, or a master of a dying model that many involved with the sport refuse to acknowledge that needs to change. As supportive as I have been and will continue to be of a reasonably priced subscription-based model, I would be lying to the reader if I said that a network in DAZN’s position currently was not walking on eggshells because one decision that proves to be costly in a negative way can obviously affect their existing subscription model.  


While the ills/flaws of the pay-per-view model will take some time to solve, a question is should networks look at these recent cancellations as an opportunity to change and if so, how? In thinking about how those fighters who came to Boxing from establishing themselves as YouTube celebrities, I thought of the possibility that networks like Showtime and DAZN as well as others could use the YouTube platform as well as other social media platforms to stage these fights. Although some have used YouTube as a pay-per-view platform, perhaps what they should do is put one of these bouts that in honesty probably would not do well on pay-per-view on their respective YouTube and social media pages and use advertising as a vehicle to make up for hoped for pay-per-view revenue.  


Not only will this allow more eyes to be attracted to the sport that may not have viewed Boxing otherwise, but it would also draw in more viewers without the price tag that comes with pay-per-view. Although in regard to Showtime, I have said for a while that they and their parent company Paramount should consider using their parent company’s existing streaming network Paramount+ to do a Showtime Boxing on Paramount+ concept that would be an alternative to the network and parent company losing money on the pay-per-view model, using a fighter like Jake Paul to market a card streamed via Showtime’s YouTube channel and social media platforms could be used as a way to test the waters not only in terms of seeing how viewership across those platforms might do, but also as a way to see how advertising/sponsorship revenue can be monetized towards a potential use of the Paramount+ network to replace their use of the pay-per-view model. When one considers that Paramount has invested significantly in sports rights for Paramount+ including UEFA Soccer leagues as well as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) programming from the Combate Global MMA promotion, the potential exists to move those Boxing events that have been showcased on Showtime Pay-Per-View could be transitioned to Paramount+. Such potential is likely increased by increasing subscriptions to Paramount+ as more consumers move away from cable/satellite pay television. 


While these remain only suggestions by this observer again with the best interest of Boxing at heart, it is clear as I have said in other writings discussing the pay-per-view model over the years that something needs to change. Although some may not view cancellations featuring YouTube celebrities as a catalyst that could lead to meaningful change for the sport on a much bigger scale, the opportunity to use the cancellations as potential opportunity by the networks involved to turn negatives into positives is certainly there. The question is whether network executives recognize the opportunity and will seize it or if they will allow Boxing to continue to be limited to a paywall structure that unfortunately will continue to limit the sport’s growth. 


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.” 


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