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 Last update:  12/15/2010       Read more by John Chavez         
   
Nielsen Media Television Ratings, The Pulse of U.S. Boxing
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 By John Chavez

The boxing industry in the United States of America is largely controlled by the premium cable network HBO.

They generate an annual revenue in excess of $1.2 billion and have by far the deepest pockets within the industry to purchase the top-level championship events. When it comes to the dollars... HBO is Carlos Slim while Showtime plays the role of Donald Trump, and everyone else is Charlie Brown.

Unfortunately money cannot buy everything so there seem to be various issues lurking on the horizon that the number one premium cable channel faces going forward.

It's been publicly stated by parent company, Time Warner that HBO stands to lose roughly 1.5 million subscribers in 2010. Fierce competition amongst digital and cheaper alternatives such as Netflix afford consumers the ability to view many highly acclaimed films without the need for HBO. The largest satellite distributor in the U.S., DirecTV (18 million subscribers) is currently out of contract with the Time Warner subsidiary leading to a sharp cutback in the promotion of the network. Neither of these issues take into account the fact that premium cable is considered a monthly luxury item in most households which directly clashes with the sustained, elevated unemployment rate facing millions of Americans across the country.

Nevertheless, being that the Home Box Office network still retains over 27 million monthly subscribers, it's still in a great position to continue generating strong revenue streams from it's domestic subscriber base as well as it's international outlets.

Now to the boxing aspect of it all...

The Nielsen Media ratings is the system utilized to give a statistical estimate of roughly how many viewers tune into a live program on television. For advertising-based television programming such as ESPN, ratings are essential in order to warrant repeat programming. The stronger the ratings figure the larger the potential for high-dollar advertisers to jump on board picking up advertisement spots. The lower the ratings figure the more likely the program gets canceled due to a lack of interested advertisers.

Simple enough.

When it comes to premium cable networks, ratings don't pose the same type of live-and-die sentiments as their regular cable counterparts.

For premium networks such as HBO and Showtime, Nielsen ratings provide a grade for the broadcast as to how compelling their product is and if the network was able to provide sufficient build-up in order to make it must-see live television.

The following figure is the rating for HBO's most recent boxing broadcast featuring Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana & Victor Ortiz vs. Lamont Peterson:

December 11, 2010 - HBO Victor Ortiz-Lamont Peterson – 745,000 viewers

December 11, 2010 - HBO - 8:00 PST - Amir Khan - Marcos Maidana – 1.17 million viewers

From the statistical figures provided by Nielsen Media Research, HBO's boxing programming has been struggling in recent years incomparison to that of years past.

The question inquisitive minds would like to ask is simply... why?

It's a complicated answer that I am certainly neither qualified nor intelligent enough to answer.

However, even the most ignorant fool can speculate and speculate I will.

Here are my assumptions for the down-trend in HBO Boxing Ratings.

--

1. True blue-collar boxing fans suffering from financial constraints of the economy being forced to cancel their HBO subscription. A rather fundamental and obvious assumption.

2. The Pay-Per-View effect. This points to the fact that from 2005 until recently, an over abundance of HBO produced Pay-Per-View shows have taken place which showcased the current generation of HBO fighters leading them to being under-exposed to a larger audience for several years. (The complete total is 34 HBO produced PPVs from 2005 to 2008.) We must remember that all undercard fights of Pay-Per-View events are never replayed on HBO and are largely overlooked as mainstream fans focus on the main event.

Example: Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito generated 500,000 Pay-Per-View buys in 2008 which was a very good number. However, even with this strong buyrate, it under exposed the undercard fighters incomparison to what they would have garnered during a BAD or WCB broadcast which generally range around the one million viewer mark. Does anybody remember Mike Alvarado or Bernabe Concepcion fighting on Pacquiao-Margarito undercard? One can only imagine the under-exposure of fighters on cards that generated far less buys then Cotto-Margarito.

3. Lack of mainstream media coverage. It is not financially worth the expenditure to send columnists to casino-based venues which include travel and hotel costs not associated with covering local maintstream sporting events that actually garners readership.

4. Lack of true marketing by boxing promoters. It appears to me that after a boxing promoter receives their television money, casino site fee, and sponsorship subsidization (or a contract for them)... the majority of marketing for prize fights comes in the form of conference calls, press conferences, and press releases sent to hardcore boxing websites. There are no innovative measures being utilized to market these events beyond the several hundred thousand hardcore boxing fans living in America. This is an aspect that rival combat sport, UFC has done a very impressive job of NOT emulating. They actually utilize innovative methods of marketing while consistently looking for improved methods to distribute and market the product. For those that look at fighter pay as the only excuse that the UFC is thriving over boxing... check again. Outside of Pacquiao and Mayweather, many of the UFC payroll fighters earn comparable figures to their boxing counterparts all the while generating real, unsubsidized revenue. While boxing's payscale is going down... the UFC's is steadily creeping up.

And for the record... I've never seen Pacquiao or Mayweather directly invest a large percentage of their earnings into improving and growing their own sport. I have yet to see Floyd Mayweather Jr. purchase billboard advertisements marketing a Sergio Martinez fight or Manny Pacquiao buying 2-page ads in USA today for a Juan Manuel Marquez bout. So in essence, it is not only irrelevant but pointless in stating Manny and Floyd's pay stubs as beneficial in favor of boxing. If the UFC generates a large-sized profit in the aftermath of an event, I can guarantee you that they'll be looking to invest a nice amount back into the branding of their business. Are you catching my drift?

5. Casino-based prize fights. The two prior speculations... the lack of mainstream media and the lack of true marketing correlate with the current business model amongst major boxing promoters. In 99.93 percent of instances... a casino decides to pay a site fee to a boxing promoter in order to host the show. Once this occurs, it is up to the casino, not the promoter,  to sell or give away tickets in order to generate a profit on their investment. My co-host Ricardo Lois of The Boxing Truth Radio asked a very pertinent question regarding this scenario on this past week's show asking, "What is the breaking point where a casino actually loses money on their investment?" Casinos generally exude more revenue streams than any other venue due to the hotel accommodations, alcohol sales, venue concessions, dining establishments, gambling... in addition to ticket sales.

An example would be if the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas shelled out a site fee of $500,000 in order to host the recent battle between Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana. According to CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, Richard Schaefer a paid live gate of roughly $500,000 was generated by the event. Most sideline analysts would deem this as a break even event for the MGM Mirage property but in reality the hotel must have made a decent enough profit on the total drop for the weekend.

6. A fear of the internet. It's a generational gap in some instances and pure ignorance in others. Due to the political nature of the U.S. boxing landscape, it affords for ineptness to thrive in spots incomparison to other industries in which the best innovators and executers thrive while the dunces fall by the wayside. It's time that the industry catches up to speed with and starts to realize the power of professional content ownership, global distribution, and proper monetization of the product.

--

(The number one rated internet boxing radio show on Itunes, "The Boxing Truth Radio" takes place every Sunday at 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST. It features myself and the best host in the business Ricardo Lois. We enjoy talking about the ins and outs of the sport with boxing fans across the globe. Our call-in number is 562-219-3603 and you can reach us via our Twitter and Facebook accounts.)

These are my very misinformed speculations as to why the ratings at HBO are continuing to slide as each year progresses.

Here are the 2009 and 2010 year averages for HBO boxing programming (non-Pay-Per-View Events):

2009

17 shows

12 non-casino based venues

5 casino site venues

Average TV rating figure for the non-casino based venues: 1.312 million live viewers

Average TV rating figure for casino site venues: 1.047 million live viewers

2010

17 shows

9 non-casino based venues

8 casino site venues

Average TV rating figure for non-casino based venues: 1.054 million live viewers

Average TV rating figure for casino site venues: 987,000 live viewers

There are various overlooked factors that lead to certain ratings boost in particular cases such as the Sergio Martinez-Paul Williams rematch piggy-backing from the Pacquiao-Margarito rating level. Pacquiao-Margarito garnered 1.3 million live viewers (week delay) while Martinez Williams II garnered the same figure regardless of being broadcast from a casino setting. Who knows whether the intrigue of the rematch actually brought the elevated rating or whether it was simply a carry-over effect from the replay of the Pay-Per-View bout.

In other cases, there are bouts being showcased outside of casino-based venues while still failing to be staged in major metropolis areas such as Chad Dawson vs. Glen Johnson II. This match-up took place in Hartford, Connecticut and generated the lowest television rating for a World Championship Boxing fight of all-time with 774,000 live viewers. The city has a population south of 900,000 residents and no major media outlets located within the area which led to the dismal figure. This fails to mention the fact that there was literally zero intrigue going into the bout.

(Simply for historical purposes... in 2007, there was much fuss made about the 168 pound match-up between Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler drawing the lowest rating figure for a HBO WCB broadcast ever. What was the live viewership you might ask? 1.591 million live viewers. So in merely 3 years, the highest rated WCB broadcast of 2010 is virtually on par with the lowest rated broadcast of 2007.)

From all of the statistics compiled by Nielsen Media Research and crunched by yours truly... the death wish for HBO boxing ratings is to showcase their events on a Boxing After Dark platform from a casino location. That is the formula for the worst ratings and it is fairly self-explanatory. The later live viewing hour throws the potential consumer off which leads to less people staying up or staying in to watch the broadcast. The promoters also exude no benefit from marketing the bout due to the guaranteed site fee already in hand which leads to less mainstream exposure and a certain inaccessibility for would be attendants.

On another note... the best case scenario for HBO boxing ratings point to events taking place at the largest venues in major metropolitan areas on World Championship Boxing (the normal time). How else can one explain the fact that the amusing match-up between Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman somehow managed to garner a significantly stronger viewership (1.6 million live viewers) then anything else broadcast on HBO boxing programming in 2010?

Word of mouth marketing is undoubtedly the strongest form of marketing in the world so the more attendants at an event, the larger that event appears to the world. In this era of social networking, every fan should be treated like a part of the press. They should be looked at as distribution points for the promoter. If Ricardo Lois is a happy boxing fan attending an event (an impossibility), he might just mention it several times on his Facebook account of which he has 500 friends. If he takes a friend of his to the show (another impossibility as he has no friends), the friend might then post the anticipation of the event on their own Facebook account (another 350 different contacts). Another friend might use his phone to text another contact possibly interested in the event itself... not particularly boxing. The method in which information spreads today is like no other era.  It is statistically calculated that extensive online discussion of network television shows has led to over a 10 percent spike in terms of their television ratings. So this would make it seem rather obvious that the more attendants at a live event, the more probability of extensive online discussion which would then lead to a higher television rating.

Are you following me?

Now for some straight-forward solutions that I'd suggest going forward...

Going into 2011, HBO boxing must mandate for the sake of their ratings, a refusal to broadcast from any venue that is gambling related. Promoters make enough profit from the television fees provided to spend money renting a venue and spending a few intelligent dollars marketing the product. The funny thing is that if any of the boxing promoters actually invested in their own main areas of venues, they would probably find ways to generate more from the live gate ticket sales then they would from the dwindling casino site fees soon enough. I hate bringing the UFC into the conversation but they just generated a 4.6 million live gate at their most recent event. Manny Pacquiao generated 5.5 million from his bout with Antonio Margarito.

The gap is closing.

Instead of broadcasting HBO BAD shows on late Saturday nights, find another night of the week to showcase these events where people will most likely be home after work rather than out and about getting drunk. If not another night of the week... simply broadcast these events at the normal earlier broadcast time.

The way I've seen certain entities operate in boxing is if something doesn't "work" instantaneously, it's time to move on to a new reckless venture. We've seen this occur with HBO's Ring Life series that were an interesting addition to the build-up information for some of their up and coming fighters. I can only suspect that the series didn't "work" and therefore has been discontinued. It's the small-mindedness that I've come to expect from the powers that be but the truth of the matter is that like most real commerce in this world, consistency is key. You must consistently provide the highest quality product in the most accessible manner which will undoubtedly lead to greater rewards.

Bringing back the 30-minute countdown shows to strong, intriguing match-ups helps tie in the viewer with story-lines the HBO subscriber might not already be privy to. We must be cognizant of the fact that boxing website visitors only reflect a small fraction of the boxing television viewing audience.

There are many potential solutions to some of the issues lingering in the sport within the United States of America. It's simply up to the promoters and most importantly the network to think outside of their own proverbial "boxes" in order to catch up with the times. I'd be happy to assist in some of these ventures as I'm sure many knowledgeable boxing fans would but I refuse to divulge any more information for free and upon deaf ears.

Nothing is an overnight solution as the hole HBO has dug for themselves over the past decade has been quite deep.

(The number one rated internet boxing radio show on Itunes, "The Boxing Truth Radio" takes place every Sunday at 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST. It features myself and the best host in the business Ricardo Lois. We enjoy talking about the ins and outs of the sport with boxing fans across the globe. Our call-in number is 562-219-3603 and you can reach us via our Twitter and Facebook accounts.)

Any comments, gripes, accusations, or death threats can be sent to my personal email at jchavez00@gmail.com .



 

 User Comments and Feedback (must register to comment)

comment by Gino Ros, on 12-16-2010
[QUOTE=speedgsx98]I dunno. But my wife works for a major cable co. She says Pacman/Margarito did [U]1.575 million [/U]buys. I think Mosley/Mayweather was 1.2 or so. Mayweather Marquez was 1 mil buys. Pacman/Clottey was 700K buys. Great article BTW. Was just discussing it with the wife....

comment by Gino Ros, on 12-16-2010
[QUOTE=jiraiyasama]Can't believe Replay of Pacquiao and Margarito both are non americans have much more higher rating than a Live Broadcast Freee HBO PPV Martinez and Williams.[/QUOTE] That whole "non americans" thing is non sensical. Where else do those guys compete? Lennox Lewis always...

comment by Gino Ros, on 12-16-2010
what ever happened to that smart, handsome guy that used to post the ratings for fights and 24/7's?

comment by jiraiyasama, on 12-16-2010
Can't believe Replay of Pacquiao and Margarito both are non americans have much more higher rating than a Live Broadcast Freee HBO PPV Martinez and Williams.

comment by gauze, on 12-15-2010
one of the things in this great article that really got me thinking was the whole saturday night thing. i actually HATE that boxing is only on during the weekends. i wanna watch the fights live but nobody wants to sit in on a friday/saturday night watching tv. and i get it, who's gonna fly to v...

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