Boxing’s House of Flapjacks and Burgers
(Originally Published: April, 2019 @ Boxing.com)
Bear with me, we’re going around this topic the long way.
I’ve been hired to promote a restaurant. This restaurant used to be a popular hangout for lots and lots of people. Some might even call it an institution in the city, part of local history that dates back for generations.
Recently, however, the place has struggled. Mind you, the owners are still making good money, as they saw fit to jack up the prices and leverage the establishment’s rich history into a play for more money from the most loyal customers. But, overall, actual foot traffic has dried up significantly. The loyal customers appear to be dying off or simply walking away in disgust over increased prices and all-around diminished quality.
That’s where I come in. The owners want me to turn things around and, most importantly, make it so that their cut of the loot is nice and big (and secure) like it used to be.
So, here’s my plan:
I’m gonna jack up prices again—and institute a cover charge to boot.
Then, I’m gonna move everything—pack it up and send it out—to a new location, way out in the boondocks, in an abandoned outlet mall, behind a bunch of empty stores, completely out of sight to cars passing on the road.
I’ll keep the name, but I’m gonna pull back on advertising, limiting ads to followers on social media and the few who had signed up for our newsletter.
“Better fill up your wallet if you want to eat at our place,” I’ll post. “And good luck finding our new location!”
And if they do find the place and come to eat, I may not even give them the food they order. Order a burger and I’ll give them a bowl of soup, with the promise of delivering that mouth-watering burger at some unspecified later date—because the meat needs more marinating. Always more marinating. But they better expect to pay big money for that delicious burger, because that’s when we’ll REALLY jack up prices.
I’d let customers know all of this up front and I won’t be the least bit ashamed to tell them, either.
Then, I’ll just sit back and watch the money come rolling in.
I’d be a fucking moron to expect that kind of stupidity to do anything but kill off a dying business, right?
Well, the above has pretty much been boxing’s business strategy for 40 years and the lunkheads at the top of the business have actually doubled down on that plan in response to recent changes in the sport (caused by decades behind paywalls).
Last Friday night, for example, one of boxing’s most talented stars, Vasiliy Lomachenko, was shoved into the crawl space of the Universo Pugilistico for his showcase squash against Anthony Crolla, stuck deep inside the ESPN+ streaming app.
One of Top Rank’s and ESPN’s biggest boxing assets was isolated for the sole enjoyment of a few thousand fans, guaranteed to NOT garner the attention of any curious newcomers who might’ve otherwise wandered by and fallen in love with his otherworldly talent.
On Saturday, Jaime Munguia, a young, engaging talent with a fan-friendly style was similarly segregated behind a streaming service paywall, this time on DAZN. And, again, it meant that the only ones able to see him do his thing would be those who were already die-hard boxing fans.
We can have a debate on whether these streaming services are worth their subscription prices, but value for the paying customer is not the issue here. The issue is that, with everything tucked behind paywalls and limited to the reach of fans already loyal enough to pay for the privilege of watching, the sport gets zero mainstream exposure.
Back when big-time boxing was only on HBO and Showtime, at least the premium cable outlets had millions of other subscribers who might possibly pass by on fight night and be captured by what they saw. On ESPN+ and DAZN, it’s guaranteed that only fight fans are going to access those fights—and only that portion of fandom willing and able to pay for those services.
Instead of making things available to a wider audience and expose as many people as possible to the sport, these people have actually pulled back access and, in doing so, have even managed to cut off some of the loyal fans who otherwise would be watching.
This coming Saturday, another generational talent, Terence Crawford, will be fighting and, just like this past weekend, way too few will be watching.
Crawford, who is a multi-faceted wizard with a true killer instinct, was brought up on premium cable, moved over to ESPN, shoveled off to their streaming app, and now moved directly over to pay-per-view, where ESPN and Top Rank are charging 70 bucks to see him fight thrice-rubbished Amir Khan—counterprogrammed against the NBA playoffs, MLB, UFC Fight Night 149 replays, and the free Danny Garcia-Adrian Granados card on Fox.
And when Crawford-Khan on PPV flops, the attention will turn to boxing and its lack of mainstream appeal. The failure will justify further isolation behind even taller paywalls. The loyal fans will be asked to pay more—again.
But nobody will point the finger at the real reason boxing can’t recapture the hearts and minds of the mainstream. Greedy, lazy promoters have reached into the pockets of clueless, business school TV execs to grab at some fast cash. And in the pursuit of easy money, they’ve created an atmosphere where big fights can’t be made, new followers can’t be created, and fans keep getting disrespected in the hustle.
This is no way to run a business.