Business of Boxing: Should Boxing Abandon PPV?
Media rights are one of the four key revenue streams in professional sports. TV rights for U.S. Sports are estimated to be over twenty two billion dollars. The NFL 5 billion is the most of any other professional sports league TV rights, followed by the NBA's 2.66 billion and the MLBs 1.5 billion. The vast majority of most watched TV events are sporting events. Due to their high demand, television networks are willing to pay big money because sporting events attract more viewers than any other content. This begs the question. With local networks paying billions of dollars for media rights, why do combat sports use Pay Per Views for their events?
In my opinion, if boxing wants to survive it needs to adapt. The best way for boxing to adapt is to abandon the PPV system. It is no secret that boxing is a declining sport. The graph below indicates that HBO viewership of major boxing events has steadily declined over the years.
This major dip in ratings led to HBO dropping boxing from their program schedule altogether. The reason we are seeing such a dip in ratings is because of PPV. For a sport to maintain success, they must attract new generations of fans and boxing is simply failing at that. The reasoning is that the average boxing match is too expensive for young audiences to buy and it is hurting the sport of boxing tremendously. The first major PPVs were Ali & Frazier's "Thrilla in Manilla" and Leonard & Duran's "Brawl in Montreal." Those events were more than fights, they were cultural phenomenons featuring the most famous athletes in the world. The demands and excitement for those fights are not something young boxing fans can even imagine. Every sports fan would have paid to watch those fights. Due to the restricted access fans have to boxing content today, we no longer live in an age where boxing events are a cultural phenomenons, especially in the United States. If you looked at the current PPV prices, you would be believe the demand for boxing fights were astronomical, which is not the case at all.
In today’s world, a lack of access to content can be really damaging. There is so much free or inexpensive content to entertain people that a sport as expensive to view as boxing does not seem all that important to the average person.
Another issue with PPV, is that viewers often do not know what they are buying. If you are spending money to watch an event, it sets high expectations that the fight does not always live up to. Great examples of this are Mike Tyson fights. People spent fifty or sometimes seventy dollars to watch Mike Tyson take on Leon Spinks only for the fight to last ninety one seconds. A more recent example would be Floyd Mayweather’s 2015 fight with Manny Pacquiao. The PPV price for the “fight of the century” was about one hundred dollars. Not a single person who paid for the PPV felt it was worth it, the fight was an extremely dull affair. Why risk your money for a PPV event if you don’t know whether it would be worth the price?
An interesting note here is that the MMA’s Ultimate Fighting Championship is only growing in popularity. A rival combat sport is on the rise as boxing is declining at a rapid pace. Why is that? The Dana White led UFC is finding ways to generate fan interest that boxing is not. For starters, the UFC has plenty of their up and coming stars headline fight cards on ESPN for the viewer to watch for free. They give fans plenty of fights without having to spend any money. The UFC also has a television series called the ultimate fighter where established UFC stars help coach young mixed martial artists who are trying to win a contract with the UFC. This reality series helps fans connect with fighters. Boxing’s limited content access prevents us from seeing up and coming stars of the sport. That is why the sport of boxing has a huge lack of stardom, there is no opportunity for fans to see up and coming fighters or establish a connection with them without paying top dollar. Only well established super fans of the sport will do that. If boxing wants to survive at the very minimum they should adapt UFC’s hybrid of free content and PPVs. However, if you want the sport to return to its glory days, the more access fans should have for watching fights on cable networks. The sport was at its biggest when ABC had its Saturday Night Fight Night. In those days you could watch two legendary fighters in George Foreman and Joe Frazier from the comfort of your home without PPV. More access for people to view boxing events the bigger the sport will be. It’s how the NFL operates and there is a reason why they are on top of the sports world. There is little doubt that more fans would be attracted to boxing if they could afford to watch it.
It is not like the sport suddenly become boring. In fact, it was one of the most exciting sports to watch. If you need proof look at the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is in a Golden Age of boxing. The UK boxing scene has plenty of star power right now. Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, Josh Taylor, Dillian Whye, Billy Joe Saunders and Callum Smith to name a few. So why does the UK have so many stars right now? Perhaps because people there can actually afford to watch their fighters. The most expensive PPV in UK history belongs to Anthony Joshua at 24.99 €, which is equivalent to 27.80 dollars in the US. Keep in mind, the most marketable athlete in the UK today is Anthony Joshua yet his fights are extremely affordable to purchase. In America, boxing is overrun with greed. It’s time to fix it. For the good of the sport.