By Andrew Walker - There seems to be a lot of chatter on the net on various forums (this one also) about the demise of boxing in Britain. Last nights dire performance by Junior ďHitterĒ Witter will in no doubt help fuel this feeling. Boxing has gone from being a main stream sport to a marginalised one in recent years over here in Blighty. The main cause of this has to be the disinterest of the terrestrial TV broadcasters who for the most part have become disillusioned with the sport altogether.
Now like all businesses (with the exception of the BBC) TV companies are only there to make money. How they do this is by creating programmes that you the viewing public will find interesting and in-between those programmes they will sell advertising space to companies interested in buying those slots to market their products to you the viewer.. These slots are target based to the relevant audience, so for example ad space in-between programmes like Desperate Housewives will be targeted to a different market to that of The Big Match Live (football).
Like all advertising they expect a return on their investment. So if a car firm such as Mitsubishi take out ad slots in-between ITVís boxing coverage and they receive a poor return on this, they will (Iím not suggesting you all need to go out and buy a car to save boxing but you get the idea) not be renewing their deal. They will also be wary of using the sport of boxing to advertise their products again. So if the advertisers do not want to buy ad slots in-between a channels boxing coverage there is little point in that channel spending money to cover boxing as they will not be able to recoup their costs.
And that is why the mainstream channels have turned their backs on boxing. There is no profit in it for them. It really is that simple. It does not matter if promoters proclaim that the broadcast did X amount of figures. Those figures mean nothing if a large percentage of that audience are not responding to the advertising. And that is exactly what is happening. No return and therefore no interest.
It is the attitude of the viewers of the sport who by in large want something for nothing. When promoters (for whatever reason) started to move their big fights to PPV everyone was up in arms touting the move as a disgrace. How dare they charge us to watch our chosen sport went the cry. But step back from your wants for a minute and where do you think the money comes from to put these big promotions on? If the TV companies are not offering enough money for the promoter to turn a profit or break even (and they will only pay what they can afford in return for what they can recoup in ad revenue) then where does the money come from?
The Gate? Unlikely as all but the very biggest fights draw a decent size crowd and to hire a stadium and its associated costs is far from cheap. A large crowd will by no means cover the costs and donít forget you need to heavily advertise yourself and thatís not cheap. In short paying fighters and governing bodies and all of the other myriad of associated costs that go on behind putting on a promotion takes a large risk by any promoter. Now if it all pays off then sure the promoter makes a nice profit but who really cares when they donít? And they do make losses on promotions more often than you would think.
Now Iím not saying that Frank, Don and Oscar are one bad deal away from the poor house but in this current climate making a profit or just breaking even is no easy task.
On a different scale take the latest phenomenon of people putting illegal streams up on the internet. The people who do this are doing so at risk to themselves legally and on the most part for no profit. Yet if the stream does not match the viewerís expectations they will quickly opine that this feed is shit and start to abuse the guy who has taken the time to put it on for the cheapskates who want big time boxing but for free. Let some other mug pay for it is their rationale. If the guy dares to ask for a donation or for the viewers to chip in a few pennies they will also be abused by Mr Cheapskate.
And it is this ďfanĒ who has turned boxing into the backwater sport that it has now become. Iíve been involved in Motorcycle racing for a few years now and that sport was in the sporting backwater doldrums for years during the eighties and nineties. The reason being the big companies could not make any money from it so why get involved. But all that changed when a once in a lifetime phenomenon called Valentino Rossi appeared on the scene and brought the masses back to the circuits and more importantly the TV screens. Motorcycle racing was big business again large corporations could see that advertising with that sport made business sense.
Motorcycle racing is back on terrestrial TV in the UK again and has been for some time now. And it is not even one of the commercial channels who broadcast it but the sniffy, high and mighty BBC. That broadcaster that likes to look down on minority sports. Although now the sport has become big news again amongst the casual fans and not just the enthusiasts they fought tooth and nail to get the rights. Maybe that is all boxing needs is their own Valentino to emerge?
But until then perhaps you avid boxing fans should put your hands in your pockets a bit more if you can afford to do so. If a sports fan base is not spending money then that sport is of no interest to the TV or advertising people. And if you canít afford to do that, do like the motorcycle fraternity did and get in touch with any company that supports or advertises within boxing. Let them know youíre there and their advertising is working. You would be surprised how much of a difference that small gesture really makes.
When Richard Branson put a small amount (relatively speaking) into a British superbike team in 1999 he received so much response from fans of the sport thanking him for saving the team that he replied through the media that he had never had such a large amount of positive response from any other sponsorship deal he and his Virgin brand had ever been involved in. He upped his involvement and stayed sponsoring the team and other ventures within the paddock until 2007.
Remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. And for all you promoters out there maybe your PPV shows should have a web based alternative that can be purchased for a lower rate than the TV broadcast? Give the viewers a choice and maybe they will not seek out the free alternative?