By Martin Rogers
Okay, so Eddie Hearn is ready for American boxing, that much we know. The outspoken and energetic British promoter has made a serious play aimed at parlaying his success across the pond into a niche in the United States, signing middleweight Daniel Jacobs and securing HBO dates as an opening gambit. Expect more fighters, and more shows, to follow.
The question now is this: is American boxing ready for Eddie Hearn?
Hearn has brought a style and swagger to the fight game in the United Kingdom that is based around a simple, uncomplicated and blindingly obvious formula that is far too often ignored.
Are you ready now? Take a deep breath. It goes like this….
Let people have fun.
That’s it. For everything Hearn does, from the negotiation of contracts to building the brand of his fighters, and while he is well-versed in business-speak and can compute pay-per-view numbers in his head, the core of everything is in bringing entertainment to his audience.
British television revenues are a fraction of those on offer in this country, a factor of simple economics due to the reality that it is a far smaller country with 20 per cent of the population of the U.S.
Therefore, Hearn has structured his enterprise around appealing to a live crowd, getting them through the door, putting a smile on their faces and bringing them back again the next time.
It’s hardly a revolutionary idea, but it is a task that has proved beyond much of the American market over the past decade, with attendance figures dwindling and little sign of a recovery.
“It is not that hard to take people’s money one time,” Heard told me back in April, ahead of Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight victory over Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium. “But if you abuse that trust and don’t give them something that rewards the money they’ve spent, you’re never going to see them again. You’re not always going to get a great fight, but I’m all about making sure everyone has a great night, no matter what.”
To figure out how Hearn has made boxing a must-see spectator sport once more in his homeland, you need to take a look at his upbringing. Hearn’s father, Barry, has built a booming sports empire out of bringing previously unfashionable games into the public eye by packaging and marketing them in the right way.
Barry Hearn has done it with snooker, fishing and poker. But the prime example, and the crown jewel of the Hearn family stable, is the game of darts, which most Americans still associate with a boozy night at the bar but which has become a core part of the U.K. sports scene.
Thanks to Hearn Sr.’s efforts, leading darts players now make millions of dollars and participate in events all over the world, in front of audiences up to 15,000. The secret to it all is in the experience. Darts tournaments have the feel of a carnival, with the bulk of the fans in the cheap seats dressed up in costumes, singing songs in unison, sinking plenty of pints and having a generally riotous time.
Players walk through the crowd on their way to the stage, accompanied by pop music that is sometimes cheesy but gets everyone up and singing along. The emcee oozes enthusiasm. The game action itself will never amount to more than a bunch of most unathletic guys hurling miniature arrows at a board, but thanks to the atmosphere and crowd involvement it is compelling stuff.
Boxing, with its naturally propensity for explosive drama, takes that to a whole other level.
Eddie Hearn has taken his father’s message on board, and run with it. He wants his shows to have energy from start to finish, to be fun and cool experiences that groups of friends plan for and probably end up slightly worse for wear. He wants those in attendance to feel like they know the fighters, to get invested in their future progress.
When the Hearn roadshow comes to the States it’ll be loud and bright and unapologetically brash, but unless the American sports public suddenly forgets that it likes a laugh and a beer, then there is every chance it will be successful.
Having more backsides in arena seats can only be good for boxing. You’re more likely to have fond memories of an indie band you saw live in their formative years than one you listened to on your car radio. So it is with boxers. Prioritizing the live product is the way to generate – and regenerate – a fanbase.
“It’s not rocket science,” Hearn said, and he’s right. But it’s a plan, a good one, and if it thrives in America the sport can only benefit.