Broadcasters have long had an important influence on boxing, but in the past year it has intensified to another level.
For most of its history, the sport has been all about battles in the ring, but we are entering an era in which the biggest fights are those between media companies.
The USA and UK are seen as boxing’s biggest markets, and both countries now have three different networks competing against each other.
For British fight fans, it is common practice to turn to Sky Sports to provide the best and biggest contests in the sport. However, Sky’s arch-rival BT Sport is also becoming a major player, especially after the success of its pay-per-view (PPV) coverage of Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury.
If that wasn’t enough, ITV have decided to join the battle of the broadcasters by signing a deal with promotional company Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) last December.
PBC have had great success in America, especially through their dealings with Floyd Mayweather; now the company is venturing into the UK market and spicing up the party.
The situation has long been similar in the States where boxing fans are accustomed to the ongoing stalemate between boxing broadcasters. However, as in the UK, things have escalated.
For a while, the competition in the US market has been between Al Haymon (PBC), Bob Arum (Top Rank) and Oscar De la Hoya (Golden Boy Promotions), all on separate TV networks.
In addition to its recent contract with ITV, PBC also have ongoing deals with Showtime and FOX, whilst Top Rank’s dealings are solely with ESPN.
However the introduction of DAZN last year may change boxing for good, and has already sent shockwaves throughout boxing in America.
Branded as the Netflix of sport, DAZN is a streaming service that shows various sport events for monthly subscription fee – potentially signalling the end of PPV.
DAZN have already teamed up with Golden Boy and UK-based Matchroom to create a great triple-threat fight between ESPN, Fox and DAZN.
Why is this so important?
Boxing works differently to, say, football, where organisations such as the Premier League and Uefa sign broadcast deals for their ‘product’ to be shown in various markets.
Promoters have always been the key figures in boxing, and their stables of fighters become aligned with whichever media companies they do deals with.
More recently, individual boxers have been signing with broadcasters directly. Mayweather fought under the Showtime banner; last year, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez signed a £278m deal with DAZN; Tyson Fury has just announced an £80m tie-up with ESPN.
How does this affect viewers?
When fighters sign long-term promotional deals with media companies, all of their fights for the duration of that contract will have to be shown on that platform.
One of the most common criticisms of boxing nowadays is that the best do not fight the best – well, it’s quite difficult when two fighters are contracted to two separate broadcasters.
Now we have the three best heavyweights on three separate television stations. With Fury signed to ESPN, Wilder with Showtime and Anthony Joshua to the DAZN.
This has been an ongoing problem in boxing over the past decade and has put several mega-fights on hold, including Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao.
After being talked about for several years, it finally went ahead in 2015, when former multi-weight champion Pacquiao – at the age of 36 – was deemed by many to be past his best.
Boxing has seen a resurgence in its fortunes in recent years, and is now generating a much larger following worldwide.
The key to this upsurge isn’t easy to pinpoint, but one thing is clear – large sums of money are being invested in the sport with a view to making even larger sums.
So, what will happen going forward?
The most alarming issue, as mentioned earlier, is the battle of the broadcasters could make it much harder to ever see certain fights happen. A few that spring to mind include:
Big fights that may not happen…
- Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua
- Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder
- Errol Spence vs Terrance Crawford
- Canelo vs Genady Golokvin III
- Vasyl Lomachenko vs Gervonta Davies
One thing that has been evident since these networks have been going head to head is fighters have been getting extremely big paydays thanks to broadcast budgets increasing significantly.
DAZN broke into the US market last year with a record-breaking budget of $1bn over the next eight years. Fox and PBC have a budget of $120m a year for the next four years.
With these unprecedented amounts comes huge financial incentives for fighters, as broadcasters will offer ridiculous amounts to have the biggest draws on their platforms.
We have already seen the consequence of this already. Last year boxing saw the ‘richest contract in sports history’ when Canelo Alvarez signed his 11-fight deal with DAZN.
Since then we have seen many top-tier fighters in the majority of weight classes sign contracts for career high paydays.
Fortunately for fans, this means fighters are much more active. There is no longer a situation where boxers are fighting once a year.
However, that also means more expense for boxing fans who want to be able to see as many key bouts as possible across all the media platforms now involved in the sport.
This cold war between the broadcasters is already creating unsavoury situations such as White v Chisora being on Sky Sports PPV on the same night as BT Sport’s Warrington v Frampton PPV last December.
However due to the power of these companies, the resolution to this dilemma is further away than ever.