By Jake Donovan
Promoters and willing boxers continue to feel the effects of outrageous insurance policy requirements in order to stage a boxing or MMA show in the state of New York. Even in finally squeezing in a show since the revised ruling, event handlers for the January 14 Showtime-televised card from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York are left to figure out how to avoid the realistic scenario of boxing ceasing to exist in the Big Apple in the foreseeable future.
A once thriving market in Manhattan and – in recent years – Brooklyn – has grinded to a halt following the statewide mandate last spring for promoters to carry $1 million coverage per fighter for life-threatening brain injuries for professional boxers and mixed martial artists. The law was a concession begrudgingly made by MMA lobbyists to get the sport legalized in New York, a ruling that obviously came without anyone speaking on boxing’s behalf.
The only boxing events to have taken place in the Empire State since then were shows that were already in queue. The last was an NBC televised show last August, headlined by Errol Spence in a one-sided knockout of Leonard Bundu in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. The card aired live on NBC at the tail end of the 2016 Rio Olympics, producing the highest rated boxing telecast in the 21st century with six million viewers tuning in for the welterweight title eliminator.
In a perfect world, such an event would have served as the perfect launch for the long-planned “Brooklyn Boxing” series. Instead – and oh so fitting in the world of boxing – all momentum was squandered as promoters protested en masse over the brain insurance policy, which adds an exorbitant expense in addition to standard insurance requirements for any given boxing event.
Lou DiBella – founder and CEO of New York-based DiBella Entertaiment – has since found an insurance company willing to carry such a policy that has allowed boxing to return in 2017. The show finally goes on for the folks at Barclays Center, hosting a terrific card topped by the highly anticipated super middleweight title unification clash between Badou Jack and James DeGale.
The bout was in limbo for several months before both parties agreed to all terms, including a home for a scheduled 12-round battle that will determine super middleweight supremacy. Fittingly, it’s the first fight card at the fan-friendly, state-of-the-art venue since last July, a show headlined by the 2016 Fight of the Year contender that saw Carl Frampton move up in weight to edge previously unbeaten featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz.
The win solidified a Fighter of the Year run by Frampton, given top honors by numerous outlets including BoxingScene.com. The winner of the January 14 unification clash between Jack and DeGale will become the first candidate to emerge in 2017, but the concern remains just how many such bouts can be staged in New York over the course of the next 12 months.
“We have insurance for Saturday. It's certainly more of an expense than we anticipated and it's not what we would like in a perfect world,” DiBella confirmed in being able to move forward with the Showtime event. “But we have insurance for Saturday; there's no issue.”
Except that there is an issue.
Carrying insurance for this event comes at a hefty price, such as the $83,750 paid out by the UFC in staging two shows in New York State in late 2016 – UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden in New York City last November, and UFC Fight Night in Albany, the state’s capital.
UFC 2015 – topped by renowned worldwide superstar Conor McGregor becoming the organization’s first-ever three-division champ in knocking out lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez – was not only a commercial success, but a record-breaking event. The show drew more than 20,000 fans in producing a live gate of $17.7 million, in addition to raking in upwards of $100 million in Pay-Per-View revenue.
There is nothing on the boxing schedule – or even in development that can produce such numbers. Simply put, it’s an uphill battle for boxing promoters in New York to present shows that can offset the expense incurred with the new insurance policy in place. The figures provided for UFC’s payment stem from the cost of $1,675 per fighter for a combined 50 fighters appearing on the two aforementioned shows.
Boxing promoters face an uphill battle in finding a policy that brings it down just to that amount.
“It's more than - it's more than that,” DiBella begrudgingly revealed during a recent media conference call, though remaining cryptic in the actual amount spent. “I don't want to give its exact numbers at the moment, I can have more detailed conversation when I have the stuff in front of me. But it's more than that.”
It was the price DiBella, Showtime and Barclays brass was willing to accept in moving forward with this event. However, still absent is the energetic club show scene – such as DiBella’s Broadway Boxing series and Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing presenting Fight Night at the Paramount, a hit series in Huntington (Long Island) that regularly played to a packed house for the past several years.
Both promoters abruptly suspended their respective series for the time being, with DiBella ferrying Broadway Boxing to Connecticut for a one-off show last fall. Similar efforts will be necessary in order for any New York-based promoter to keep its fighters active until proper resolution is reached.
“The insurance issue in New York has not been resolved,” DiBella confirmed. “There needs to be a real investigation into what's going on here and we need to confront the fact that they there's still no way of doing smaller shows. ShoBox level shows or Broadway Boxing, those kind of shows that other promoters in New York do a regular basis.
“The local grassroots boxing can't be done under the insurance requirements that exist. But for a fight of the magnitude of this card we were able to get insurance for the show. And the major, major fights can go on in New York right now.”
A bushel of big shows can provide the necessary revenue to overcome the financial burden of the state policy in present form. However, the real cost is that the number of boxers who can get work has dramatically decreased.
“[W]here there once were scores, literally in the neighborhood of 100 fights in New York in a year, you are probably now unless things changed looking at somewhere between eight and 10 in total at all venues.” DiBella estimates. “The issue is… a real one, it hasn't been cleared up but we are fine for this great card on January 14th. And as you'll still see big time boxing in New York.
“The problem is going to be with the type of boxing that develops fighters that gives them regular fights. A lot of boxing series that myself and other promoters are doing in New York are still at a standstill.”