Boxing has been in transition for it seems like every year since…well…not forever, but to varying degrees, this is a sport which lends itself to be in transition more than the other big four sports, partially because it is an every man and woman for theirself endeavor.
There is no league office setting the schedule, so things can and do go all over the place with regularity.
Theater of the unexpected, smack dab in the red light district of sports entertainment…
Bob Arum has bobbed on these waves since 1966, and now, truly, is a true-blue phase of transition. Not talking about the talent, although it’s looking like Floyd Mayweather is actually truly retired now, and Manny Pacquiao is maybe not far behind. But in regard to delivery of content, the whole industry, heck, all of the televised entertainment sphere is in a similar state.
If we build it, on what platform shall we present it?
Cable TV fragmented things, and the days of the big three networks owning the night faded.
The digital age means a proliferation of channels, and a dilution factor. There are a thousand cable channels on your TV, and tastes being what they are, eyeballs scatter all over the place. And about those cable channels…viewers want to maximize their leverage as consumers, and watch what they want when they want. They are now curators, not channel surfers. Therefore, why, they figure, should they pay $100 a month for a package of cable channels when they probably watch like five of them? And those pay cable movie channels, it seems like I only like one or two of their offerings a month. Maybe I should get Netflix, which has a larger library?
Boxing is not immune to this shifting of tastes—Al Haymon’s PBC looked to get back to the glory days with splashy presentations on the networks, wanted to remind old fans of the glory days and lure new fans with the best of what the sport could offer. That experiment was expensive, and didn’t result in a mass influx of young blood fans, if we judge by the numbers of people tuning in to watch on some of those PBC cards, which have by and large edged away from the nets, and back to cable, on Showtime and Fox.
Then again, maybe Haymon’s PBC push, which began in March 2015, has made more inroads than many assume. Bob Arum’s surveying found that his cards on ESPN, which have featured Manny Pacquiao, Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford, have at times out-done fare being offered by UFC in the coveted 18-49 (ie “younger”) demo.
I asked Arum to weigh in on the state of the game overall, and assess how he and his company have played their cards during this “cord cutting phase” within the televising sphere, which also saw a drastic budget reduction at HBO, following Ken Hershman’s exit and Peter Nelson’s hiring.
“I was like a running back, that didn’t have good blocking, and therefore, weren’t opening holes, and were getting stopped after gains of one or two yards,” Arum told me on episode 62 of TALKBOX. “With ESPN, we have finally found the solution. That will enable us to open up holes and take boxing to a place where it should be, on the top level. That’s not a knock, not really, that’s not a knock on HBO or Showtime. They have a different model. They are essentially entertainment. They provided great entertainment, whether it was Game of Thrones, Sopranos, or Billions, Homeland…and boxing was only part of what they were offering. You couldn’t open up holes. You couldn’t be innovative to bring boxing to a point where it reached the biggest possible audience. And now ESPN, which is nothing but sports, sports 24-7, with the help of ESPN, working hand in glove with ESPN, we have the ability to expand the scope of boxing, and have it watched and followed by many more people. And believe me, there are many more people out there we can reach, and make into fans. In the African-American community, with the Hispanics, the young people are all into boxing. Now we have to do the job to bring back white Americans who because UFC was showing its product on home free television, we will really make inroads in that market, and believe me, boxing will far, far surpass UFC in the number of people who are interested in watching it. Therefore, I don’t look at Golden Boy or Al Haymon as competitors. I look at them as people who have the same interest as I have, to elevate boxing. Our rival, right now, is UFC, and we have to all put on the best possible product to show that boxing is the better sport, and is superior to UFC. “
Interesting material there…Heretofore, for a decade now, we’ve heard that there isn’t much crossover between the UFC and boxing fan, and that they are apples and oranges. Now, Arum is saying naw, UFC is and has been taking food from the boxing kitchen and it’s time boxing shut the door…or open up another door, for fight sport fans who might not have been drifting towards the sweet science in the last ten years.
White took a shot at Arum Aug. 23, calling him “senile” and Arum countered as crisply as ever, reminding folks that White took to the podium at the Republican nomination convention and talked up the candidacy of Donald Trump, who is hovering at the 30% mark in popularity among the masses, and drew massive scorn for going easy on white pride marchers and Klansmen who rallied round their confederate flag in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Arum told me he thinks he hit a nerve in White, and that “everybody knows what a foul-mouthed charlatan he is.”
Both men are titans of their field and live in Las Vegas, and, as I told Arum, I took to Twitter and stated my distaste for the offensive nature of White’s slur versus Arum. All of us could only hope to be as sharp and successful at age 85, and I doubt White or me will enjoy that level of longevity combined with cognitive maintenance. (NOTE: I have invited White to come on TALKBOX through his PR people, who never got back to me, and messaged him myself, and didn’t hear back, so I’d be happy to discuss this and other matters with the foul mouthed…I mean, with the UFC bossman, in more depth.)
“And I’m not gonna get down in the gutter with him. Let him produce his best product, we’re gonna produce ours, and we’ll see who comes out on top,” said Arum. “I believe boxing is the much superior sport.”