By Corey Erdman
Being a boxing fan in North America has never been easier—provided you have the money to afford it.
The sheer volume of fights being broadcast, combined with the number of interested broadcasters has created a plethora of viewing options for fight fans, albeit mostly behind a paywall. Were one to purchase a subscription to every service streaming boxing in 2018—roughly $11 for Showtime, $14.99 for HBO, $9.99 for DAZN, $4.99 for ESPN+--one’s monthly financial commitment to boxing is fairly substantial. If you were to add in the occasional $14.99 internet PPV from Fite.TV, and of course a quarterly $70 big PPV from either HBO or Showtime, it’s possible that you’ll end up spending more money watching boxing than you will any other major sport you follow.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The 180-degree alternative, of course, is a rewind to the not-so-distant days when HBO and Showtime were the only games in town. Being a boxing fan then was relatively inexpensive, but it also meant not watching a whole lot of boxing—at least not legally. The most cost-friendly situation would see boxing on free network cable on a regular basis, something Premier Boxing Champions trialed for the better part of two years. For a variety of reasons, the experiment didn’t last, but the one fans often point to is the quality of the matchups being broadcast. To whatever degree the matchups were disappointing, one of the reasons perpetuating that trend was that PBC was only beholden to itself. The broadcast timeslots were purchased, and the audiences mostly built in by virtue of being on network cable.
In the new climate, in which promoters are marrying themselves to streaming platforms, or simply streaming fights themselves, it is still true that they have a great deal of (if not outright) autonomy when it comes to matchmaking. However, streams and subscribers aren’t built in the way they are with network television channels. The ceiling for streaming numbers may be infinite, but each one has to be earned. In a perfect world, this would hopefully motivate promoters to scramble to put on better fights.
Unfortunately, promoters throughout the history of the sport have never been immune to complacency. Self-motivation can only carry one so far, especially when, as promoters do, you deeply believe that your product is the best. An even better motivator is competition, which every promoter operating in America today has an unprecedented amount of when it comes to broadcasted events.
DAZN’s foray into boxing with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport has quickly changed the boxing landscape. This isn’t just a small promoter utilizing streaming technology to gain exposure and even the playing field—it’s one of the sport’s power players teaming with a billionaire and a digital company gobbling up big sports properties.
"Showtime and HBO are working on their digital services. Look at Netflix, they’re worth more than Disney. (They have) 140 million subscribers worldwide. His plan is to be the Netflix of sport. When you’re as aggressive as he is, and when you have the pockets he has – I would back him every day of the week," Hearn told the Telegraph this past week. "I don’t see this as a risk for us, I see this as an opportunity. Jumping ship to DAZN is not a risk, it’s a reward. Fighters will see that as time goes on. They pay more money than anyone else and are with the best promotion in the world and on a platform that will drive up your profile and invest in you.”
The first batch of announced fights for Matchroom USA on DAZN feature Jessie Vargas, Artur Beterbiev, Danny Roman, Jarrell Miller, Billy Joe Saunders, Demetrius Andrade, Katie Taylor, Regis Prograis and Terry Flanagan—all of whom have appeared on Showtime, HBO or ESPN programming over the past 12 months.
The influx of broadcast dates which purport to pay the fighters quite well promises to create something of a bidding war and arms race amongst the existing players if the trend continues. Showtime or HBO may not battle to go after any of Matchroom’s first wave of signees, but if their roster continues to grow, and the purses are as handsome as they’re promised to be, other networks (and by extension, promoters) may be forced to make a move.
Machroom and DAZN have an ace in the hole as well: Anthony Joshua. Perhaps the biggest star in global boxing belongs to them, and as long as he remains under their umbrella, they can always remain a major player. It’s the same reason HBO locked Canelo Alvarez into a deal, and the same reason CBS and Showtime opened the safe to secure Floyd Mayweather. Having a marquee star not only guarantees two blockbuster fights per year on average, but carries immeasurable marketing and negotiating pull with those hoping to stand near the sport’s very best.
Over the past few years, Showtime leveraged its Mayweather affiliation and the stalling of PBC’s free TV model to soar to the front of the pack in the boxing broadcaster race. With its built-in prestige in the sport and beyond, and an unrivaled roster of talent, the network made not only the most fights, but the best ones. Although the network obviously has a chummy relationship with Al Haymon, it isn’t Haymon himself programming the fights—it’s the network. As promoters such as Hearn, Top Rank and Golden Boy venture to handle their own programming and attempt to overtake Showtime’s top spot, it will be important for them to not get in their own way, and think as television executives rather than maneuverers of fighters.
In the end, even if the current climate in the boxing world is an expensive one for the fan, its pros would seem to outweigh the cons. More fights being broadcast, more opportunities for fighters to be seen and more money in the fighters’ pockets are all things everyone can get behind. But in the end, the fans’ dollars will always have the final say. The boxing broadcast world as its set up, and its prices, are both not set in stone. Who and what people pay to watch and how much they pay to do so will drive the marketplace—and never before has the fan’s voice been more prevalent or important than in the present a-la-carte setup.