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Free TV vs pay-per-view

It is becoming more and more challenging for big boxing events to breach one million buys. In an increasingly busy world where the air is full of all sorts of content, it is easier to miss out on a big fight card, either inadvertently or on purpose. But there are also exacerbating factors that dilute the appeal of gathering your friends together for a barbecue or drinking session while watching fisticuffs.

Boxing became the establishment. There is a perception that there is no real regulation in professional boxing, particularly in the US. Fights are made between boxers in different weight classes, others build their reps by knocking out a succession of tomato cans, and boxers jump from one organization to the next. For the most part, fans don’t seem to mind, until they have to pay to watch. Then it becomes a more selective process in deciding if a fight card is worth paying a bundle for. At the end of the day, people know that corruption is rampant in the sport, and can decide how to deal with it by choosing not to pay.

Perception vs MMA. In a brave new world of threats to boxing’s dominance of weekend and holiday audiences, there are Hollywood movies, concerts, out-of-town trips and other options. But the biggest threat has been mixed martial arts. It projects an image of being more raw, rebellious and violent than boxing, with a more than likely chance of more than one knockout in any given card. Some have said even small MMA events pull in twice as many spectators as similar-sized boxing matches. Because of the sport’s success, the number of organizations has grown just in the last decade.

Fair market value. Fans like their choices simple. You don’t go to a fast food joint to spend 10 minutes analyzing the menu. It’s hard for them to understand why one even costs $49.99 and another $89.99. And why is there a different price for HD? When forced to think about it too much, some fans would rather just forget it.

History of free TV. Before big casinos and cable TV networks got involved, big fights were held in coliseums right in the middle of the city, like Madison Square Garden, within reach of mass transportation. You could just hop on the subway, buy a general admission ticket, and scarf down a hotdog with a beer and scream profanities at the referee. Or you could put your feet up and just turn in the television and watch it live, with commercials only during the breaks in between rounds. You can’t really do that anymore without paying for it. Even in countries like the Philippines, by the time the “live” telecast is over, you’ll have heard the results from social media.

Few heavyweights. In the glamor days of boxing, you had a string of outstanding heavyweights who led lives that were either controversial or appealed to the masses. From Jack Johnson to Rocky Marciano to Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson, there was something relatable or aspirational about how they carried themselves. Johnson was an African-American whose success and love of Caucasian women caused a stir. Marciano was a regular guy who, at 5’9” was always an underdog. Ali had strong beliefs that always ran afoul of the establishment. And Tyson was just so heroically flawed as a mythic figure, he would have fit on any Greek play. There just aren’t any more heavyweights like that. Granted, fights are more racially diverse, but mostly in the lower weight classes.

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Dictates of the US. Cable companies dictate schedules, and this means that world title fights are always in the Saturday of a holiday weekend. But this is also when people are busy celebrating something. And this also means that in Asia, the largest market in the world, it is Sunday morning, when many go to church or worship services or prepare family lunch. And forget about Europe or the Middle East. The time difference is just too awkward.

Social media. Social media can break a fight even before it starts. One leak of an incriminating video of misbehavior, or one rumor about HIV or plans to tank a fight, buys go down. Plus, some enterprising people will try to find a way to stream the event as it happens live, knowing that broadcasts in major networks are delayed, anyway. I’ve heard some local radio stations broadcasting their live commentary of an important fight, and you can even hear the crowd noises of the actual event from a TV in the background.

Make no mistake, boxing is thriving, particularly in Asia with lower weight classes. So promoters are naturally inclined to squeeze what they can from viewership of their one – off boxing events. But some fans are wishing they didn’t have to be gouged too much to enjoy a great fight.

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