by David P. Greisman
Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier battled for the heavyweight championship in 1921, four rounds fought in Jersey City, heard in Hoboken. Brian Minto and Donnell Holmes are two heavyweights who have never challenged for a world title. They met in 2009 in Butler, Pa., a small town outside of Pittsburgh with a population of about 15,000.
Minto-Holmes was seen by fans as far away as Germany and the Philippines.
Before cable television and hundreds of channels, before computers and video games and iPods and the Internet, there was the radio. The first match to be aired was held in April 1921, at Pittsburgh’s Motor Square Garden, Johnny Dundee against Johnny Ray, according to the Handbook of Sports and Media (edited by Arthur A. Raney and Jennings Bryant).
A few months later, Dempsey-Carpentier, the first championship match aired, saw one radio station link its transmission with another, networking that eventually helped bring the Sweet Science into a golden era.
In the 1920s, it was tower to tower. In the 21st century, it is server to server.
The advance of technology has taken boxing from radio to television, from network broadcasts to closed-circuit events, from gatherings at theaters and arenas to pay-per-view purchases at bars and homes.
The sport is far removed from its golden era. In the United States, its popularity does not even approach what it was in decades past, when Olympians were national stars and professional prizefighting was seen on network television.
But fans, fighters and promoters have taken to the Internet to make boxing international. The World Wide Web is exactly what its name describes.
Fans can turn on their computers and catch action as it happens in countries halfway across the globe. Fighters can reach audiences that otherwise might never have seen them in the ring. And promoters can get publicity for their pugilists and bolster their bottom lines.
“This is going to become more than the exception,” says Marc Abrams.
Abrams handles publicity, marketing and some blow-by-blow announcing duties for GoFightLive.tv, a Web site that has aired hundreds of boxing and mixed martial arts events since October 2007. GoFightLive is one of a handful of online outlets for boxing broadcasts, businesses hoping to capitalize on potential that has yet to be fully realized.
Promoters, he says, have begun to see the benefits of Internet broadcasts.
“Television dates are gobbled up by probably five or six promoters,” Abrams says. “It’s a great way to get their product out, especially if they’re trying to build fighters. Look at what Joe DeGuardia [of Star Boxing] has done. It’s a way to keep guys like Raymond Serrano, Ray Robinson and Kevin Johnson busy when there’s nothing out there for them. Fans are able to see them as well.”
Almost all fights shown on HBO and Showtime are substantially subsidized by license fees networks pay to the promoters. For the premium cable outlets, that can amount to six or seven figures for a card. ESPN2 usually pays a five-figure fee for its “Friday Night Fights” broadcasts.
The first GoFightLive show tried to mimic that model. “We spent $15,000 and lost our shirts,” said owner David Klarman. “We kind of had to figure it out. We’ve been learning ever since.
“Promoters have a certain way of thinking and of doing things,” Klarman says. “We had to try and show them value to what we did. We’re not ESPN. We can’t afford to say, ‘Here’s 20 grand, we’ll buy the rights to your event.’ What we’ve been able to say is, ‘Look, there’s a new media out there. It makes sense to access that new media for a variety of reasons. Revenue. Getting your fighter’s name out there. Getting your promotional name out there. It’s a worldwide audience.’ ”
Fights streamed live on GoFightLive are usually done as pay-per-views, generally priced in the $5 to $10 range. The money is split between broadcaster and promoter. Affiliated Web sites that help market the pay-per-views also get a cut for each of the buys they produce.
GoFightLive’s broadcasts have featured world title challengers, contenders, prospects, club-level fighters and celebrity boxers. It also did the Internet feed of the recent pay-per-view featuring Roy Jones against Jeff Lacy, though at a higher cost to customers than usual Web shows.
GoFightLive handles broadcasting duties – cameras, commentators – for some cards, while other times the promoter provides everything but the stream.
Other broadcasts are tape-delayed and free but still of value to the promoters.
“A perfect case would be Pat and John Lynch of Pound4Pound Promotions,” Abrams says. “They have eight or nine quality kids, all around 8-0 and 9-0. They’re not ready yet for the ShoBox or ESPN kind of fights. It’s a way for them to not only be seen in New Jersey, where they’re from, in New York, the East Coast or the United States, but all over the world.”
The fans also win out. Abrams points to an Aug. 27 Pound4Pound Promotions show with an undercard battle between Chris Murphy and Abraham Torres.
“They beat the crap out of each other for four rounds. It was an awesome fight,” he says. “Two years ago, fights like that in some catering hall don’t get seen anywhere.”
And every bout gets stored in an online library.
“Whether you’re a promoter looking for some young talent and you see someone fighting on a four-round fight in St. Louis, or you’re a matchmaker and you have a slot for a six-round featherweight, you see a guy, click his name and take a look at him,” Abrams says.
Prize Fight Boxing, a Mississippi-based promoter, has run two shows on PrizeFightTV.com. The company hired to stream its first Web show didn’t satisfy – the feed buffered a lot – and so GoFightLive was hired for PrizeFight’s second Web show.
Says Prize Fight co-owner Russ Young: “We’ve promoted over 200 shows in the last 10 years. Quite often at our casino shows, everybody comes up and says ‘These are better than shows I see on TV.’ We just came to the conclusion: ‘Why don’t we just reach out to the diehards with it and get our fighters exposure and bring it to the boxing fans for a cheap price?’
“Right now, we’re not worried about trying to make money off it,” Young says. “We’re trying to get fighters exposure and introduce the concept to boxing fans that just because there wasn’t a fight on TV, they can still see boxing if they really want to watch it. The cards we put together, I’d put that up against any card. We wanted to brand our name. Down the road, if everything works out, we could do even bigger shows just on our own. We may or may not partner with GoFightLive. It was just a one-night deal. I wanted to see how it worked. If it continues to do well, we'll buy all the software and do it on our own.
“We’re not competing with Showtime and HBO,” he says. “We fight on their networks. We’ll continue to fight on their networks.”
But when the networks aren’t available or aren’t buying, there’s now another option.
Fernando Guerrero, a Prize Fight middleweight prospect out of Maryland, has appeared on ShoBox and has packed in crowds in his hometown. He fought Aug. 29 in Mississippi, but his bout wasn’t on national television. His supporters that weren’t able to make the trip could see him online instead.
That’s the kind of audience that Peter Czymbor is hoping to reach with his new venture, NESportsTV.com.
Czymbor, a Massachusetts resident with broadcast experience, was working a year ago as a writer for the now-defunct BoxingHerald.com.
“John Duddy was coming to Boston for a tune-up fight against a guy named Charles Howe. I found it interesting that there was no television coverage for a fight that I thought a lot of people would have interest in,” Czymbor said.
The Web site did an Internet broadcast. “It ended up getting over 100,000 hits and ended up being the No. 1 sports video in Ireland for a few weeks afterwards,” Czymbor says. “Right there, I knew I had something that had potential. I found a growing trend of there being worthy boxing matches around the country that I would want to see that didn’t have any place on television.”
NESportsTV.com launched in June, airing a tape-delayed, on-demand showing of four of the eight bouts from a small club show in Boston (full disclosure: this writer worked as color commentator for that broadcast).
“I was going to sell ads and sponsors and put it on our Web site available for free,” Czymbor says. “I didn’t think the card was pay-per-view worthy.”
He had difficulty getting sponsors, however. Each bout instead was made available for $5.
“The pricing is based on how big the fight is, how much we have to split with the promoter, what’s reasonable, and what the demand is for the fight,” Czymbor says. “We try to be reasonable for our fans, at the same time acknowledging what costs we have and how much we have to split with other parties.”
That card allowed for Czymbor to get his feet wet. His second show, outside of New England and streamed live, featured Brian Minto against Donnell Holmes.
“Brian Minto has quite a following in the Pennsylvania and Ohio area,” Czymbor says. “He also has quite the following in Germany due to his knockout win there over Axel Schulz and his close and controversial decision loss to Luan Krasniqi, also in Germany.”
There was no national or international coverage set for Minto-Holmes, a bout featuring two lower-tier heavyweights ranked in some sanctioning bodies’ top 15.
The live Minto-Holmes card, at a cost of $10, got far more views than the tape-delayed Boston club show.
“We learned that there absolutely is an audience for fights such as this,” Czymbor says.
Says Minto, who promoted the card: “It worked out, but I feel the production could’ve been a lot better.”
Minto won by technical decision when a cut ended the fight after four rounds. The wound was ruled to have come from a head butt, sending the bout to the scorecards and giving Minto the victory. But an appeal claims the cut came from a punch, which would instead have given Holmes the win. Should the appeal be successful, the result now could only be changed to a “No decision.”
Minto believes the cut came from a butt. The problem, he says, is the broadcast only had two cameras.
“You can see the butt occurred, but it’s not like if ESPN had the replay,” he says. “That’s about the only gripe.”
That aside: “I didn’t get rich off it. I made a couple hundred bucks,” Minto says. “The main thing was to get it out there.”
Neither Klarman of GoFightLive nor Czymbor would reveal the number of buys they get for their shows, preferring such information to remain confidential. Klarman did say his company’s figures are “in the thousands.”
“Some of the events do better than others,” Klarman says. “You’ve got to take a long-term look on this. If you look at this in the short term, you’re not going to survive. We’re in it for the long run, for building relationships with promoters. Some events we lose money. Some events we make money.
“It’s how you can get access to a marketplace over a period of time,” he says. “That to me, is what promoters should be looking at. You’ve got one-point-something billion people.”
The challenge isn’t just reaching that audience. It is doing so and turning the Internet into a lucrative frontier for boxing business.
“Streaming is not going to make you money,” Klarman says.
Not yet, at least. Not when so many are accustomed to finding things for free online.
The music industry struggled with illegal downloads until MP3 players and iTunes found solid footholds in the marketplace.
The news industry is struggling after giving away its product for free for years, and some papers are now charging for subscriptions to their Web sites.
For Internet boxing broadcasters, “One of the big problems is pirating,” says Robert Waterman, a shareholder for SecondsOut.com, which has run about 20 live fights since 2000. The company also has SecondsOutTV.com, a site that allows subscribers to pay monthly fees to see fights, both live and on demand, from around the world.
Waterman recalls seeing an article in a boxing publication about one fight SecondsOut aired. Its title: “Why I didn’t watch on SecondsOut.com: because I could see it on the Internet.”
GoFightLive actively looked for and shut down illicit streams of the Roy Jones-Jeff Lacy fight, streams that not only took money away from the televised pay-per-view, but from the online showing, too.
But if and when more boxing fans accept the idea of paying to see bouts on the Internet, the money they spend will go to the smaller promoters and the fighters who’ve not yet reached stardom. Boxing may never again reach the size of the audience in the United States that once listened to fights on the radio or watched them on television. Globally, however, there are potential customers, hundreds or thousands of people in scores of countries.
“It’s more than a business venture,” Waterman says. “It’s an intent to save the sport. Our sport needs to reinvent itself a little. It’s punching itself into obscurity. It survives despite its very best efforts. The fact that it’s still there demonstrates to me that there’s still a massive market for it.”
The 10 Count will return next week.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at