A Bright Future for Boxing?
By: Richard Blacklock
Since the news broke last week from Mike Coppinger that Top Rank has a new output deal with ESPN, A lot of discussion has been had on various mediums.
Undoubtedly Top Rank fighters such as Lomachencko, Crawford and Valdez gaining exposure on a network with a potential audience much larger than HBO can’t be a bad thing. Fans outside of the US are not truly affected by what network shows the cards. Although the budget constraints at HBO were impacting fans worldwide because of their effect on the promoters output aligned to the network.
The main concern is the fighters not with Mr Haymon getting regular fights, required career development and exposure instead of the lack of activity and forced ppvs to minimalistic audiences forced upon the American consumer by the aforementioned budget cuts. If the ESPN foray is successful in regularly attracting the casual American sports fan it can only mean an increase in advertising revenue thus a larger budget for fighter’s purses and hopefully a shift away from the ppv model.
On the last note of a movement away from the ppv model, there have been some suggestions on boxing groups that Haymon’s power moves with the PBC has basically forced Top Ranks hand. It’s hard to be completely dismissive of this argument but let’s look at the way Al forced their hand. After being in receipt of the Waddell and Reed war chest he distorted the market by overpaying fighters to fight over matched opponents. Everyone wants fighters to be well paid and nobody wants to see today’s stars end up destitute like Joe Louis. However, it creates a situation where fighters want unreasonable compensation for taking the fights the fans want to see it’s not helping the sport. HBO in an attempt to keep pace with this distortion was forced to pay out more for their marquee stars and opponents for them and this undoubtedly had an effect on what HBO boxing has put out over the last couple of years.None of this helps the fans because as strong as Haymon’s stable is the talent outside that stable needs a platform to perform on.
Al’s neglect on building fighters in their home market, failure to build on momentum for fighters coming off major victories, his inability to get his top guys facing off regularly and lack of cohesive strategy across time buys on various networks are some of the problems the PBC has had since its inception. People’s perception of Haymon’s intelligence has led some to subscribe to a Ponzi scheme theory whilst others have called it a failed monopoly attempt. The latter given some credence by the fact that Al’s time buys across numerous networks deprived existing platforms to other promoters and his market distortion left existing output platforms’ budget in disarray.
Al putting on exciting fights for a license fee of Showtime now the investors’ money has dried up isn’t a success of its initial aim. Unless that aim was a Ponzi scheme. As happy as people who follow the sport are to see those good match-ups, surely these match-ups were ideal for audience growth within the time buys rather than the limited viewership of Showtime.
Given many observers were critical of the PBC from the beginning because of the points made in the previous paragraph it is only fair to hold the TR/ESPN deal to the same critical standards. At the end of the day, we as fans want to see the best match ups without network/promoter politics hindering that. Any true boxing fan must respect the talent within the PBC, the fact that they didn’t fight against each other regularly was its major failing. If Top Ranks venture doesn’t entertain us it deserves to catch the same amount of flack the PBC got for its failings.
When we look at the first PBC card it was Thurman Guerrero, Broner Molina. Top Ranks first card is Pacquaio Horn. Either promoter’s main events feature clear A and B sides. For all the positive noises people where making about Thurman Guerrero, let’s remember Guerrero got the Floyd fight by beating Berto and heavily campaigning for the fight through press releases. Apart from Berto, Robert has no good victories at 147 prior to and after the Thurman fight. No one has been excited by the prospect of a Pacquaio Horn fight but let’s face it Horn serves exactly the same purpose as Guerrero did on PBC’sopening card from a matchmaker’s perspective.Pacquaio has been a PR nightmare recently but his name still carries more weight to casual sports fans than Thurman or Broner’s did on PBC opening night so hopefully that means decent ratings from the start. 60,000 loud Aussies in a stadium will likely make for a better viewing experience than a sterile atmosphere of a half-papered Vegas Casino. Events with lively crowds are likely to keep the casual more engaged than those without. It is still far from something to get excited about. The fact that Pacquaio potentially will be back on ppv for more challenging encounters isn’t fantastic, we can only hope that the deal means that guys like Loma and Bud are developed on ESPN and kept there.
Lomachecko’s development as a pro has advanced greatly since his loss in his 2nd pro bout to Saldido. So, whilst no one can doubt Siri’s skills or his will to win, the chalk suggests a clear win for the Ukrainian. It is respectable that Crawford is likely to be unified 140lb champion before potentially dipping his toe in welterweight waters but if we are holding these cards to the same standard that some did PBC cards, Crawford will likely have him worked out by Round 3 at the latest. These two are so talented most fans wish to see them in something remotely resembling a 60/40, 50/50 fight. You can’t blame Bud and Loma for being head and shoulders above others in their weight class. The hope is these two and Valdez exposure on the new platform can lead to cross promotional battles the sport badly needs.
There has been rumors that Bob has said something to the affect that there are too many slots for his stable alone so hopefully we can get some of these division unifying match-ups in the future that we have been denied by promotional/network beefs. A resurrection of a FNF platform to give some shine to the smaller promoter’s various contenders and prospects is badly needed as well. Fighters like Tim Bradley have come from promoters like Thomson boxing whom have been denied dates on something like FNF because of Haymons cross platform time buys. Thomson and many other promoters who aren’t as big as GBP, TR or Al deserve that FNF platformback at their disposal. The health of the sport would be greatly boosted by the return of such a platform.
So, in conclusion as unenthralled as the fans may be about the initial cards slated to appear on the platform, At least whatever is going on at HBO isn’t affecting the good fighters on Top Ranks Roster anymore. Hopefully the ventures strategy will be the start of something better than the platform they have left with cross promotional unification bouts on the near horizon. Plus, a move away from the ppv model for Top Ranks upcoming` stars who aren’t established as ppv stars prior to the deal. However, for the amount of slander PBC has received for its problems, Top Rank needs to held to the same critical standards by Al’s detractors and given a fair shake by those that said Al was going to save the sport.