By: Sean Crose
Fans are rightly excited for this weekend’s Vasyl Lomachenko – Teofimio Lopez lightweight title throwdown. They’re particularly thrilled that the fight isn’t going to cost them close to a hundred bucks to watch. The fact that ESPN is airing this, perhaps the most anticipated match of the year, on it’s flagship channel is rightly being hailed as a fan-friendly move. When it doesn’t cost a dime to watch the Super Bowl, it’s worth asking why it costs a small fortune to watch a year’s worth of Pay Per View boxing broadcasts. Again, there’s a lot to be happy about here.
Those looking for huge television/streaming ratings as a result of Saturday’s card, however, may end up being somewhat disappointed. Then again, maybe they won’t be. Perhaps they’ll end up being pleasantly surprised. It’s all frustratingly unclear. The truth is that no one knows because there’s so few major fights broadcast for free these days. Some major recent battles, such as Keith Thurman’s bouts with Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter, and Manny Pacquioa’s fight with Jeff Horn, brought in over three million eyeballs a piece. Yet Lomachenko’s own highly anticipated match against Guillermo Rigondeaux attracted one million plus viewers.
There’s a considerable discrepancy between Lomachenko’s free prime time ratings performance and the performances of Pacquiao, Thurman, Garcia, and Porter. With that in mind, Saturday’s matchup is interesting at least in part because of the colorful nature of Lopez. Here is a young man with stunning power who is brash in an age where brashness is seen as a virtue. The same couldn’t be said for Rigondeaux, and it can’t be said for Lomachenko, no matter how incredibly skilled in the ring he may be. Lopez, simply put, draws attention to himself. Just as Keith Thurman has.
Such things matter when it comes to ratings. That’s why the UFC presents an array of colorful characters in its lineup. It knows what contemporary American audiences want. For the record, such things really SHOULDN’T matter when it comes to professional sports, but here we are. Perhaps it’s the same place we’ve always been. Even Pacquiao, who is basically a mild mannered dude, is colorful by virtue of a once in a lifetime fighting style. You don’t have to say much when you box like Manny does.
Of course, the one thing that could help ratings is a good fight. Viewers who are channel surfing will be apt to tune into a war. As far as the long term status of boxing is concerned, of course, more fights like this Saturday’s will be needed if the sport is to regain any of popularity it once had. Big events aired on big networks with no additional cost are a guaranteed way to bring in more viewers.
But boxing’s powers that be know that already.