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Sky, BoxNation Deliver a Bumper Month To UK Fight Fans

By Terence Dooley

BoxNation, Britain’s first dedicated boxing channel, entered its subscription stage yesterday ahead of a massive month of boxing here in the UK.  Sky and BoxNation will broadcast ten bills between them during the month of December as the two networks begin their fight for our hearts, souls and peepers.

Of course, Sky’s coverage comes as part of their overall sports package, they also have the advantage of HD, names such as Amir Khan, who has returned from his brief dalliance with Primetime PPV, Carl Froch and Wladimir Klitschko over the coming months and will march into 2012 as the market leaders.

BoxNation cannot match Sky’s production values, although they have been using HD when filming their output ahead of a projected 2012 HD launch, so have instead opted to mix in-depth coverage of UK bills, with 3-4 hour shows the norm, alongside US bills to provide the 7pm-5am boxing marathons that used to appear on Sky during the 1990s/early-2000s but which disappeared for a while due to Sky’s recent indifference when it came to securing US action.  However, the network has recently started to show delayed coverage of international action and is broadcasting Ward-Froch, Klitschko-Mormeck and Khan-Petersen. 

Indeed, BoxNation’s launch weekend takes in Miguel Cotto’s rematch with Antonio Margarito, John Murray’s challenge to WBA lightweight titlist Brandon Rios, both shown live from New York, as well as the Helsinki bill headlined by Alexander Povetkin versus Cedric Boswell and Dereck Chisora’s EBU title fight against Robert Hellenius.  Once the paywall goes up the channel will begin the fight for survival by providing fans with two shows per weekend where possible.

Sky will open their December account with Martin Murray’s challenge to WBA middleweight titlist Felix Sturm in Germany.  Their boxing coverage for November was decimated when Frank Maloney and Hatton Promotions were forced to pull bills after the loss of their main events.  November’s woes will be eased by a dazzling December line up and could signal a change in philosophy at Sky’s boxing headquarters. 

Sky’s promotional contracts are due for renewal in the summer.  Perhaps the network will decide to offer Matchroom a long-term deal due to their strong stable and ratings grabbing Prizefighter format whilst offering the other outfits the chance to bid for TV slots on an individual basis, with the onus on the promotional groups to present Sky with a decent main event and bill before getting the green light? 

Many believe a ‘pay as you promote’ TV deal would spell the end for one or two promoters.  Others think that it would encourage promotional outfits to put on bills that do not come apart if the main event falls through.  Whatever the future, Sky’s blue chip fighters, HD and production values, not to mention being part of a sports package, although few of the sports are worth watching, will ensure that they forge forward in 2012.

What of BoxNation?  A break-even figure of 100,000 subscribers was floated when they first launched.  The numbers were revised and the truth is that no one is quite sure what would constitute a successful number of subs, anywhere between 40,000 to 70,000 has been bandied about but, again, it is hard to say for sure. 

Initial objections to the station focussed on the lack of a Virgin Media platform and rumours that viewers would have to pay £60 up front for six months viewing rather than the actual £10 a month for half a year, with £10 knocked off the overall total for Sky subscribers.  Virgin is now onboard.  Crucially, an online service is also planned; this could help secure overseas subscriptions and will play a vital role in the sustainability of the channel.  Monthly payments are handled via the Paywizard service, a method similar to the recurring e-payment option available through Paypal.  As with any new launch, it is best to get in there early if booking specifically for the weekend’s fights.

Once these issues were cleared fans complaints focussed on a lack of clarity, technical problems and the absence of a tasty January schedule, something that happens with Sky every year but is eased when the month begins and the network picks shows up.

As for what the future holds, fans have expressed concern over BoxNation’s January schedule.  Traditionally a quiet period, the New Year will feature three championship shows, York Hall on the 13th, Glasgow on the 20th and Liverpool on the 27th, as well as the prospect of overseas contests picked up on the week itself, as was the case with last weekend’s Saul Alvarez-Kermit Cintron fight.  So three fight bills during the first month of the year, not ideal, but more than Sky have on offer at the moment and par for the course at this time of year.

This seemingly scant January has already led to calls to boycott the channel until February.  However, there were calls to skip the channel when it was a rumour, when it launched and ever since with a range of reasons offered for doing so.  Some of them understandable, a few of them, such as the claims that the prospect Vs journeymen fights lower down the cards are predictable, more a sign of the myopic nature of fans than anything else, show me a bill that does not have these fights lower down the running order.

As is the case with all arguments of this kind, the issue will be settled by the pragmatics of economics, punters who feel £10 a month is a fair price will pay, those who don’t won’t, the future of the channel should be clear by the end of the six-month period.  Given that we were paying £15 a go roughly 5-6 times per year for PPVs last year the channel makes sense economically and is worth a punt for half a season, especially if BoxNation continues to show American and European action.

Consider, for the normal price of a Sky Sports package and £10 on top we get Murray-Sturm, Prince Arron-Brian Rose, Helenius-Chisora, Povetkin-Boswell, Murray-Rios, Cotto-Margarito II, James DeGale-Jose Maria Guerrero, Khan-Petersen, Stephen Ormond-Carl Johanneson, Ward-Froch, Chris Edwards-Shinny Bayaar, Ashley Theopane-Nigel Wright, Lee Selby-John Simpson and Wlad versus Jean Marc Mormeck during December.  January’s scheduling pales in comparison but is likely to be boosted over the course of the next month by both BoxNation and Sky.

Whenever boxing’s TV situation changes there is talk of crisis, the death of the sport and the loss of casual fans.  Lennox Lewis’s decision to take his defence against Oliver McCall to Wire TV back in 1994 was greeted as one of the sport’s many deaths.  The move from ITV to Sky in the 1990s was also said to signal the end of popular appeal only for Naseem Hamed and Ricky Hatton to transcend Sky’s subscription base and achieve crossover fame. 

In fact, since the glory days of boxing on ITV the British scene has had some of its best times courtesy of Lewis, Bruno, Hamed, Hatton, Carl Froch, Joe Calzaghe and David Haye.  Sure, the days of 10 million plus viewing figures are gone, but this applies across to the board, soaps and TV dramas have lost viewing figures during the digital age, and all that remains from those ITV days are hazy, nostalgic memories of a wider mainstream appeal that was fleeting and strictly confined to these shores – Eubank and Benn were great but failed to set the world scene alight in the same way Hatton and Lewis did.

Boxing, television viewing and subscription channels are changing.  A dedicated boxing channel, if successful could join the mix of Sky, Premier Sports and Primetime and prove to be a triumph if done properly and widely supported. 

As many have stated, it is a risk, a bet even, but £60 over six months is a gamble that is worth taking if BoxNation’s next few months are like the first and especially if the competition rouses Sky Sports from its recent world stage slumbers. 

To subscribe to BoxNation follow this link: http://www.boxnation.tv/subscribe

Please send news and views to [email protected] or Twitter @Terryboxing.

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