By Cliff Rold
If you like boxing, there is more than enough right now to satisfy the appetite.
If you love boxing, are the sort of ardent fan who is bothered by having to choose between once in a lifetime family events and a quality matchup at Jr. featherweight, this is as good a time to live as there has ever been. Hardcore fight fans have gotten used to being able to catch up on global action or a slew of classics they might never have seen before on YouTube.
With the growth of quality streaming services, there are now high quality options to see live fights at all hours. Want to wake up on Sunday morning and watch Naoya Inoue live from Japan? It’s available. Curious about a Monday morning Jr. Flyweight title fight? There will be one on ESPN+ right up your alley next week.
Last Saturday showed boxing followers a lot of what they have to look forward to. DAZN aired two cards simultaneously while ESPN+ aired another. It was enough to fill a television, computer, and telephone screen at the same time.
Surely many readers here did just that.
This Saturday is a little more relaxed. ESPN+ and DAZN will both have afternoon shows while DAZN will go head to head with HBO in the evening, leaving at least one screen free for something else. Still, four cards in a day is more than enough to satisfy. And it’s not just main events; outside the HBO show that will be the sort of doubleheader US fans are more accustomed to, the shows are lengthy affairs.
Want to see all of the prelims, to find out who the next stars might be? The streaming options are providing the sort of deep coverage only a ticket to the arena used to provide. This didn’t start in just the last few weeks but abundance is now overflowing.
Could there be a point where it all starts to overwhelm? Is all this boxing going to eventually be too much of a good thing?
For hardcore fans, the likely answer is no. They were already watching everything they could get their hands on and if they miss some, so be it. The future of boxing will look fine to them.
For newer fans, that could be a different thing and if the intent is to grow the fan base, and it always should be, there may come a point sooner than later when the past, as much as the future, will need to be a guide.
Saturday night is all right for fighting.
So is Tuesday.
If boxing’s packagers are truly going to maximize the volume of content, date diversity could be the key.
This corner has written before about the downside of clustering all of boxing’s major dates to Saturday night. For the biggest fights, Saturday night can make sense. However, as the platforms compete for viewers there can only be so many Saturday’s to go around. The future of any sport is in refreshing its fan base. The demographics relied on don’t just want to watch boxing on Saturdays.
If one lives on the US East Coast, staying in to watch the fights means not going out to do other things. Clubs, parties, and various other social engagements matter to young, single people and plenty of others who might not be one or the other.
Boxing didn’t always hold all of its notable events on Saturday and while some can point to early morning foreign shows on different days now being available, that’s not quite the same. The first Ali-Frazier fight was on a weeknight. So was Leonard-Hagler.
Major league professional sports don’t restrict their audience to a single night a week. The NFL used to be a Sunday affair. Monday for decades, and later Thursday, helped to weave the football season throughout the week to keep fans engaged. Based on the volume of their games, and later playoff series, hockey, baseball, and basketball couldn’t function as weekend only events.
Right now, we get some fights on weekdays but it’s almost never calendar circling type viewing. Instead, fans are forced to choose between, last Saturday, an excellent Ryota Murata-Rob Brant brawl and a riveting WBSS doubleheader. That can be a blast. College football fans know what it’s like to flip back and forth between two good games.
Having two good fights on at the same time is every bit as compelling.
That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be benefit to spreading things out on occasion. People are home on weeknights. How much easier would it be for a fight fan to call a neighbor over for a beer and a brawl at a reasonable start time on a Wednesday? How many more casual eyes might find a Terence Crawford, Errol Spence, or Vasyl Lomachenko couch surfing on a Thursday?
Right now, we’re seeing boxing being approached in new ways. Some of that should mean thinking outside of the boxes the sport put itself into in the last couple decades. With Showtime returning soon, Fox investing in the sport, and other outlets rumored to sticking their toe in the water, Saturday just doesn’t seem like it will be enough.
There is a day coming when there could be four, even five, good fight cards on the air at the same time. At least one of those cards will end with the question of what more could have been done to draw eyeballs.
The answer might be finding air when everyone else isn’t.
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]