By Cliff Rold
Until MMA really got hot, it was fair to say no sport in the US cost its fans more money for home viewing on a regular basis than boxing.
Sure, the professional and college gridiron have long had extended coverage packages for the true superfan. Still, the Super Bowl, the Iron Bowl, even the “Nobody is in the stadium but we paid to advertise on a game between .500 teams” Bowl, were available to just about everyone.
If it wasn’t on network television, it was at least on basic cable. The reach of the latter has never quite reached free network levels but it’s still enough to blanket the nation.
Boxing fans have, for the most part, been used to paying more over the years. Ask an older fan where they were when Ali fought Frazier for the first time. Many will recall seeing it live. Ask them what it was like to be in the Garden that night, or what theatre they watched it in. Some will recall. More will swear they saw it on television back when ‘boxing was free.’
People who watched saw a replay after the fact if they didn’t see it in the arena or via closed circuit. There were less fights like that in 1971, but that wasn’t even the beginning of closed circuit. Pay-per-view as an in-home concept is younger, but it’s not the real birth of pay-to-watch by a long shot.
Once cable became a thing, paying more than the cost of basic cable to see big time boxing came with it. HBO and Showtime have been the home of most of the biggest fights of the last two generations. HBO has been less of a regular boxing outlet lately but their investment was steady and grew for a long time. They could always get back in the game again in a bigger way.
Most of the big fights was not all of them of course.
The biggest fights were reserved for their pay-per-view broadcasts.
Real hardcore fans who wanted to see some of the best action in the lightest weight divisions in recent years also needed to throw in some extra coin for expanded Spanish packages that carried networks like BeIn Espanol. Boxing fans who watched at least all the big fights, including the major pay-per-view showdowns, have paid hundreds more dollars per year for their fix.
Is the cost about to go up for a new generation?
On Tuesday, ESPN’s Dan Rafael reported that the DAZN streaming service will be airing all three of the next iteration of World Boxing Super Series tournaments. The cruiserweight WBSS tournament has been one of the highlights of the sport in the last year or so; the super middleweight companion hasn’t been as good but had some highlights. The planned bantamweight tournament looks as good as the cruiserweights have been.
Where do we sign up, right?
The answer comes with another logical question: how much?
A quick search of Google shows the current cost in Canada for DAZN’s streaming service is $20 a month. In US dollars, that would be about $15 with likely bargain packages for those who sign up for longer. Official US prices are not yet available.
DAZN is far from the only game in town. Boxing fans have also recently been introduced to the ESPN+ app. That’s currently around $5 a month. ESPN+ isn’t just for boxing of course. It also offers other sports. Be sure to read the fine print though. ESPN+ for fans of team sports are still subject to blackout in their local area.
That’s even if you’re a cable subscriber already paying for regular ESPN too. Expanded ESPN already costs a little extra for most; the Ocho isn’t free. The primary network is still available to almost anyone with just regular old cable. It won’t be an issue this weekend on ESPN+, with fights from London and Mexico. Of course, a fight like Miguel Berchelt-Jonathan Barros would probably have been on BeIn Espanol even just a year ago.
This weekend, it’s the new app.
One of the complaints about cable over the years has been the lack of a la carte options. What’s the old saying? Be careful what one wishes for…
Without tackling the complex battles going on between new and old media, and how the control of viewing habits and options will shake out in the years ahead, it’s enough to say that things rarely stay cheaper for long. Boxing fans, even the most ardent, don’t just watch boxing.
Subscriber viewing options are growing. Want to leave cable and still watch Game of Thrones? HBO has a streaming option for that (HBO Now). However, if you want to see, say, the next excellent Superfly boxing card live you’ll still need cable because there isn’t a live viewing option. Showtime has an app that does allow live viewing.
Disney and Warner Brothers are both building streaming platforms that will deliver a range of cool programming in a variety of viewing niches. They’ll join CBS, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime among others who offer a range of desirable or critically acclaimed programming.
All of a sudden, everything you want to see wherever you want to see it with the convenience of an internet connection starts to add up. Cost effective moves away from cable can quickly become more expensive as each niche finds its audience. Many have cable and streaming services now. They’re already potentially paying more than they ever have.
And for the boxing fan, regardless of how they consume content, it will still mean extra for the biggest fights. Bank on it.
None of this inherently bad. For boxing fans reading right now, this is a combination of observation and guesstimate for what’s coming. In a consumer economy, what the market will bear is determined by what folks will pay for. Budgets mean choices. The question for boxing fans will be how much are they willing to pay going forward?
What fights can they afford to miss emotionally versus economically?
Sooner than later, the answer will be in.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]