NEW YORK – Bob Arum understands why boxing fans haven’t exactly expressed an abundance of interest in the Terence Crawford- Egidjius Kavaliauskas fight his company is promoting.
Crawford is listed by most Internet and Las Vegas sports books as at least a 16-1 favorite to defeat the unbeaten Lithuanian contender Saturday night. Their 12-round welterweight championship match is widely viewed as a fight Crawford can’t lose – partially due to the undefeated Crawford’s considerable skill, yet also because Kavaliauskas fought to a 10-round majority draw with unheralded Ray Robinson in his last fight.
Fans’ disinterest in the main event has hurt ticket sales for this seven-fight card at Madison Square Garden. The famed Manhattan venue can accommodate more than 20,000 fans for boxing, but multiple sources have informed BoxingScene.com that Arum would need extremely strong walkup sales Saturday to approach a crowd of 10,000.
The 88-year-old Arum acknowledged boxing’s ongoing struggle to sell tickets in the United States, particularly when main events involve elite talents making mandated title defenses against fighters they wouldn’t otherwise oppose. Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs) is the mandatory challenger for Crawford’s WBO 147-pound championship.
“Look, here’s the problem in boxing,” Arum told a group of reporters this week at The Garden. “We have good, good [viewership] on the television [on ESPN], a lot of subscribers for boxing [on ESPN+]. We’re doing OK there. We can’t sell tickets to fights. Now, why can’t we sell tickets to fights? One, because I tell everybody if the Chicago Bears were playing the Tennessee Titans in L.A., in The Coliseum, it would barely be half filled. Because they’re not teams that Los Angeles fans care about. So, when you have two fighters, no matter how good a fight it is, it’s very hard to sell tickets.
“Now, you take Terence Crawford [to] Omaha, in a week we sell out, or virtually sell out. Because the fans there root for him like he’s the Nebraska Cornhusker football team. Now, the only way you change that is if you make 50-50 fights. Why? Because 50-50 fights, people are inclined to bet on them. Now people have a reason to go to the fight in person, because they bet on the fight, so they have a rooting interest in the fight. If not, it’s very hard to get a guy off his ass, when he can watch it on television or on a streaming service. Very, very hard. That’s the problem. So, we’ve gotta – I tell my matchmakers, I tell everybody, let’s shoot as much as possible for 50-50 fights. You can’t do it all the time. You’ve got these mandatories, where [they’re] never 50-50. But you’ve gotta try.”
Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs), who’ll headline at The Garden’s main arena for the third time, is commonly considered one of the best boxers, pound-for-pound, in the sport. His hometown appeal has helped Crawford draw crowds in excess of 11,000 for six cards either in his native Omaha or nearby Lincoln, Nebraska, since June 2014.
Tickets typically are cheaper in a small market like Omaha. Face value for tickets to the Crawford-Kavaliauskas card range in price from $56 to $506.
While Crawford-Kavaliauskas isn’t a marquee matchup, ESPN’s three-bout broadcast also includes a highly anticipated lightweight title bout between IBF champ Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) and emerging star Teofimo Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs), Commey’s mandatory challenger. The undercard will feature such popular local prospects as Edgar Berlanga (12-0, 12 KOs), a super middleweight from Brooklyn, Julian Rodriguez (18-0, 12 KOs), a junior welterweight from Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, and Josue Vargas (15-1, 9 KOs), another 140-pounder from the Bronx.
Arum is especially eager to watch how the ambitious Lopez fares against Ghana’s Commey, a dangerous puncher who’s much more experienced against championship-caliber opponents.
“It is a 50-50 [fight],” Arum said. “It’s 6-5 either way. The odds have fluctuated. That’s what makes it a fantastic fight. Now, you take Crawford and Kavaliauskas – I’m not saying how it works in the ring. I think Kavaliauskas is being underrated. But it’s a 10-1 fight, a 12-1 fight. So, there’s not much interest in it as a 50-50 fight.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.