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Regarding Promoters and Platforms Subsidizing Press To Bolster Event Coverage…

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One way that we in the media, especially mass media, screw up is this: we are ageist.

We too often will choose to interview someone, especially if it’s for an on camera hit, and more attention is paid to aesthetics, over intellect. Style over substance…

Me, I probably tilt too hard in having elders on my podcast, TALKBOX powered by Everlast, because 1) I respect the wisdom many older folks have accumulated and 2) they often have a shitload of interesting stories to tell.

This comes to the fore in a situation like the one that popped up a couple weeks ago. A kerfuffle erupted when people accused DAZN of paying media for coverage. Stephen Espinoza of Showtime pointed a finger and so boxing coverage folks were under the microscope.

Were they and we being paid to play?

The issue went down to simmer and off the heat but then boiled up again when promoter Eddie Hearn did a video (3:16 mark) ┬áin which he stated that he’s paid for a hotel for ESPN’s Dan Rafael.

Hey, we shouldn’t shy away from the discussion. Media, as a whole, has been on the ropes, with newspapers going under on a weekly basis. I had almost 88 years old Bob Arum on the Everlast podcast, and this was one of the issue we touched on. Arum came at the dynamic from this angle: as someone who has seen boxing coverage change, massively, from 1966 til now.

I put it to Arum…with journalists, Bob, what’s your take? Do you getting hotel or air paid for affects credibility, does it impact their credibility and make them more biased? What’s your take on this or was this a lot of ado about nothing?

“Well, you’ve got to go back historically,” the deal-maker, who is looking ahead to a Dec. 14 Top Rank promotion at Madison Square Garden topped by his welterweight ace Terence Crawford. “Because everything has a beginning and has an end. And luckily, one of the benefits of being an old guy like myself is, I’ve been around a long time, in different generations and different situations. What it used to be, in the ’60s when I came in, is that journalists were always, always accommodated by the promoters. Not only in boxing but in all sports. So the promoter used to pay for the rooms and the meals that journalists had when they went on the road for a fight or for an event, or for an event. Let me give you an example. In the ’70s, as the Knicks, it’s hard to believe, were beginning to be a championship team, with Willis Reed and Frazier and those guys. Mike Burke was the president of the Garden. And he realized that all the good boxes in the Garden, floor level boxes, were given to the press for their families, with the full knowledge of The New York Times, the New York News, with the full knowledge of all the papers. So Burke then said, ‘Isn’t this terrible, that we’re being held up by the press? And therefore, we’re canceling all those boxes.’ And I know that for a fact because Top Rank were doing fights with the Garden at that point, and we bought one of those boxes for the basketball season, season tickets. They had six seats or something like that. So again, then that started the movement. The New York Times was the bastion of press propriety. That it was not okay for press people to take anything from promoters, from teams, and so forth. This was not limited to boxing, mind you. So again, now it became the common knowledge, common practice that the press would not take accommodations and things like that from promoters or from teams and so forth. But look what happened to boxing now. Look where boxing is now. There is not one daily paper in the whole country that has a full time boxing writer. None. So where are we getting the news on boxing? How are we getting the news out? We’re getting it out from basically from websites that can’t really afford anything. Because they don’t have any money, they’re operating on fumes. And so when a writer for one of those websites says, “I want to go across country,” or to China to cover a big fight, the guy who owns the website or the company that owns the… say, “Are you crazy? We have no money to send you. So they don’t cover it. Well, that’s bad. So we have to now realize that accommodations have to be made so that we can get the coverage for this sport that it deserves. And the rules on propriety that existed in the ’70s, ’80s, until now may no longer be relevant.”

“Bob, you make a great point,” I told him. “If you don’t adapt with the times, you may very well perish. And if you’re sticking to trying to be so principled, but your principled actions lead you to your own demise, then where does that leave you? It’s a good question.”

“Well said. Well said,” Arum said.

“What was wrong was Hearn in typical fashion for… I look at Eddie Hearn as the, among promoters, as the Donald Trump promoter. Because he says so many stupid things, as does our president. And then he goes on and says, “Well, even Dan Rafael at ESPN accepted a hotel room.” That is not true. I know for a fact. Because what happens with Dan is when he’s covering a big fight of ours out of town, he asks our person who is in charge of room to book him a room because we get rates because we have volume for our fighters. So he gets on that block. And when he checks out, he gets the bill and immediately that week sends us a check. And I’m sure he sent Eddie Hearn a check. So that’s how he operates. Because unlike these poor guys from the website, Dan works for ESPN which is a multibillion dollar company and so they can afford to send him to fights and so forth.”

“Well, strangely enough for the Trump of boxing promoters, you and Eddie are kind of on the same page,” I responded. “Eddie’s saying the same thing. He says, “I’m going to do it even more now. I’m going to send even more guys hotel accommodations and such.” I think he’s feeling along the same lines as you.”

Arum said he isn’t totally on Eddie’s wavelength. “Again, if you’re going to do it, don’t do it aggressively. Now Eddie could say, ‘Well, and I’m going to give them allowances.’ That would be, I think, wrong. But to give them a hotel accommodations and to pay their airfares, I… Again, if this were 20 years ago, I would say outrageous, but it’s not 20 years ago. It’s today, and it has to be done.

And what about the Dec. 7 event in Saudi Arabia? Arum says it would be OK for Eddie and DAZN to help with transport costs. “Operating under the old rule, you won’t take a free plane trip, et cetera. So the result is that nobody’s going to cover the fight in the United States.”

“Bob, I believe the way to handle it is, you correct me if I’m wrong, but I think transparency is good. If you tell people, “Hey listen, this is what the situation is. There was promotional consideration furnished.” And then what the reader can do is, Bob, they can make up their mind then.”

Arum wants to book more fights overseas, so he’s been thinking about this issue.

“For example, I’m doing this big fight in China for Chinese New Year with Jose Ramirez. What I’m going to say is that this is a long way away and the average cost of one of the reporters going to a fight, if the fight was in the United States, is say $200. So we would charge them $200, pay for the airfare, pay for the hotels. I think you’ve got to charge something. I don’t think it’s a good image to do it for nothing. But if you charge a reasonable, small amount, token amount, like 200, 250, I think you accomplish what you’re going to do.”

Really important issue, which doesn’t get discussed much, because who would discuss it? The media itself? And risk burning themself under the microscope? It gets touched on some, but mostly, people don’t want to pry open Pandora’s Box. I usually say I really wish media was in a different place and it was the old days, and people valued the content explicitly, concretely, and conveyed that by paying for it. Some brain surgeons in the 90s effed that up, by deciding to give away the milk for free, and thinking they’d get the money back by charging folks for powder to make chocolate milk. Instead, they got used to getting free milk.

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About Michael Woods

Michael Woods

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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