By Terence Dooley
Wednesday night was not alright for Prizefighter: The International Heavyweights as the tournament only managed to attract an audience of 103,400 to Sky Sports 2. Dan Horlock of http://www.tvsportsmarkets.com provided this figure for BoxingScene only for Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn to pass on a peak figure of 126,000 from Kantar Media earlier this afternoon. Last May’s International Heavyweights show drew in a peak of 170,000, so either way it is a downturn in the show’s fortunes.
Tor Hamer picked up the overall prize on Wednesday night. New York’s 18-1 (11) heavyweight contender beat Marcelo Luiz Nascimento, Tom Dallas and fellow American Kevin Johnson en route to the tournament win and the show trended on Twitter throughout its duration.
Indeed, Hamer’s win was generally well received. Increased Stateside interest has led Hearn to explore the idea of a U.K. Vs U.S.A. version of the show in the fall, but one or two online writers here in the Britain have asked whether it is time for Prizefighter to bow out before it gets knocked out. In general, though, the tournament is usually a solid ratings winner for the subscription network as the three-threes scheduled distances and knockout format appeals to casual fans.
This downturn in viewing figures may have a lot to do with the show’s midweek slot. Plus the fact it ran through to midnight may have impacted on its wider appeal given that a lot of potential viewers would have been in work early the next day. Certainly, the buzz on Twitter suggests that the three-hour show has retained much of its allure since debuting in 2008 and launching its inaugural winner Martin Rogan to prominence.
However, there is ambivalence within the trade when it comes to Matchroom’s innovative show. Some enjoy the action and welcome the attention it brings to boxing, others would prefer it if a small hall promoter was given the three-hour slot, and the money, in order to boost one of their shows and provide fans with both the packed atmosphere of an intimate venue as well as the spectacle of fan friendly local fighters thrilling a partisan crowd.
This move would require a change in the usual “local versus journeyman” small hall fare. It could easily be argued that, say, Steve Wood of VIP Boxing Promotions or Coldwell Boxing – to name just two – would be able to use the injection of TV funds to create a well balanced show that could capture wider appeal if marketed right and given a decent slot.
Proponents of Prizefighter can point to the recent show’s international appeal. Eddie Hearn today informed BoxingScene that it was broadcast in the U.S.A., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Poland, Hungary, Germany and the Middle East (via delayed footage and courtesy of FuelTV in the U.S.), so brings in a wider audience to the U.K. scene.
Hearn also pointed out that Wednesday’s show out-performed Brian Rose’s British light-middleweight title defence against Kris Carslaw as well as the recent British super featherweight showdown between titlist Gary Buckland, a former Prizefighter winner, and Gary Truscott.
Sadly, fights shows headlined by British title bouts, although much loved by the fans, do not draw nearly as much water as Prizefighter. It is a brutal, unromantic truth, but it is a fact all the same.
Still, arguments over whether the tournament should look to tweak its format to retain its pep have raged for a few years. Although its main strength is the idea that Prizefighter is a brand and provides shorter fights in a knockout format, with the three-threes also a pragmatic concern – a move to longer distances would push up the runtime. No, it is a rarely a good thing when a long-running series starts to mess with the recognized formula as they invariably end up “jumping the shark”.
Another factor is the appeal to casual fans. People who yearn for the days of 15-round fights, this writer included, are diehard “#boxingheads”; many casual sporting fans struggle to maintain interest throughout a championship bout. For those viewers, the shorter fights in Prizefighter, not to mention the promos giving a bit of background information about the boxers, piques their interest. Furthermore, and again according to Hearn, the shows themselves attract a significant number of people who are attending a live boxing event for the first time.
Prizefighter, then, and its future, will be placed into a longer-term context, rather than decided on a single set of figures from a midweek show, and claims that it is receiving an eight-count are just that. Like it, loath it or just lump it, the competition is here to stay. The trick in this tale to balance it with content for the anoraks and the types of big “event” nights – and for casuals Prizefighter is one of them – that bring in the Saturday night, if not Wednesday’s child, sports punters.
At one point do we go for steady, and relatively decent, viewing figures, even if means opening the sport’s horizons to net a wider appeal by diminishing aspects of it. There is a strong argument to be made that the three-threes Prizefighter format appeals to modern day viewers simply because the Internet, Google and On Demand TV has shriveled our attention span to the point where we can only cope with bite sized exposure to boxing, which to be fair is a really tough sport to market for reasons that we do not even need to go into.
How to best blend Prizefighter with their traditional boxing output is a challenge both Sky and Matchroom, who are likely to be the recipients of all of Sky’s boxing dates in coming seasons, face in the months and years ahead. The main worry is that we lose some of the usual boxing content, such as trade fights that do not crossover or are not marketed well enough to impact.
As for ideas about how to bring in even more viewers – Prizefighter: The Promoters, anyone?
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