By Ivan G. Goldman
As boxing fans look forward to another big pay-per-view card this weekend led by middleweights Sergio Martinez versus Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. there’s not much media attention paid to the price tag — generally around $70 plus tax, depending on local factors.
It’s in the interest of media giants that control so much of our news content to pretend that there’s nothing particularly wrong in this. After all, the practice screws all of us, so why get alarmed? Author Joseph Heller already covered this ground in Catch 22. The military told bombardier Yossarian he was nuts to be upset just because the Germans were trying to kill him. After all, they were trying to kill everybody, so why worry? Yes, boxing fans, why worry? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
So in all those supposedly wide-ranging discussions among supposedly unfettered TV boxing analysts you don’t hear many questions about the peculiar financial burden strapped to the back of the poor boxing fan. Keep in mind that extra dollars extracted from viewers might translate into bigger salaries and perks for those freewheeling talking heads.
Big pay-per-view fight events are the equivalent of the playoffs in other sports. Yet football, baseball, and basketball fans don’t have to put out pay-per-view dollars to see playoff games. If they did, the popularity of those sports would shrink drastically. The very rational fan response would be, “I’ve been following my team all season and now that they made the playoffs they hold me up for more money? Screw ’em!”
Meanwhile, ESPN and HBO announced today that they’re teaming up to help each other market boxing content, particularly pay-per-view content. For example, ESPN will re-air HBO’s behind-the-scenes 24/7 series before fights and ESPN news shows will get greater pre-fight access to information about HBO pay-per-view fights. And the ESPN3 digital service will now carry live weigh-ins and press conferences for HBO fights. Yippee.
This news is mostly given a positive spin by media giants that not coincidentally also happen to be our principal news purveyors. And sure, you could argue these new corporate steps are designed to provide more and better content to boxing fans. You could also argue they’re greed-inspired acts concocted by avaricious executives in order to wring more currency from boxing fans — fans who have long been singled out by corporate pirates as particularly vulnerable targets. ESPN is a joint venture run by the Disney and Hearst Corporations. HBO is a Time-Warner subsidiary. When they get together, secure your wallet.
The pay-per-view model drives casual fans away from the sport, so the audience becomes smaller and corporations, unhappy with this predictable result, raise pay-per-view prices. Of course some of these millions are soaked up by fighters and their teams, but in keeping with the rest of the dismal economics of the sweet science, distribution of the receipts remains way out of whack. Top fighters can pull in $20 million purses and drive Ferraris while fighters on club cards (who might be more entertaining) get maybe a couple thousand dollars and live in basements. As an old boxing hand told me many years ago, there is no middle class in boxing. It’s comprised of a few princes and lots of paupers.
And market research company NPD Group recently forecast that cable bills will catapult from $86 today to $123 in the next three years.
That’s a 43 percent rise that averages out to more than 14 percent annually. And “if nothing changes,” that is, if no new financial model comes along to replace the one that’s killing us now, the bill is expected to reach $200 by year 2020. We can only assume that as our cable bills keep skyrocketing, so will our pay-per-view prices. But we’re all affected, so why worry?
Odds: Latest line, Martinez – 210, Chavez + 170 ($210 on Martinez can win you $100, $100 on Chavez wins $170)
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel The Barfighter is set in the world of boxing. Information HERE