The Pay-Per-View Industrial Complex
Dwight D Eisenhower gave in his farewell speech from the president an ominous warning that sadly happened to be true. Eisenhower stated the following.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Eisenhower feared the transactional relationship between a country's military and the defense industry that supplies it, one that could turn so profitable that it would work against the general public's best interest.
As boxing fans were often used and abused, boxing is closer to politics than it is to business. The customer in boxing rarely gets their voice heard and is often told what they should think, not unlike capitol hill. You buy into a culture and follow the group, think of those you align with, and that is boxing in a nutshell nowadays.
Boxing is in a dark place for two reasons, but really one. The money just isn't there, seemingly in the long term. We live in a pay-per-view industrial complex, which allows the fighters to get paid fairly, something I think anyone with empathy wants since the fighters risk as much as soldiers do for war but don't get the retirement or benefit packages of going to war for a country. The service one gives to the ring often is simply an addiction.
This year was one of the worst for pay-per-view that we have ever seen.
Luis Ortiz vs. Charles Martin
Keith Thurman vs Mario Barrios
Errol Spence Jr. vs Yordenis Ugas
Gervonta Davis vs. Rolly Romero
Canelo vs. Dmitry Bivol
Tyson Fury vs. Dillian Whyte
Jake Paul vs. Anderson Silva
Canelo vs. Golovkin III
Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Luis Ortiz
Deontay Wilder vs Robert Helenius
Terence Crawford vs. David Avanesyan
I might have missed one as well, but we saw 11 pay-per-views in 12 months, with Luis Ortiz fighting as many times as Canelo Alvarez did on pay-per-view, which seems strange.
In the modern era, we have seen fighters get paid much better. We've seen major networks get behind boxing, and now not so much, hence pay-per-view. The COVID-19 pandemic seemingly slashed a lot of budgets devoted to boxing. In its wake, it seems, the consumer will now be the lifeblood of the sport. For the fighters to get paid like professional athletes, consumers must be willing to buy more pay-per-views.
The market seemingly should adjust at some point, but when? The latest experiment is Terence Crawford vs. David Avanesyan, a very good fight, but one in which not many people are all that thrilled about, yet it is behind a paywall for $39.99. That isn't horrible, but now it begs the question….boxers are becoming local market sports teams, and their fans are now having to take on the financial burden for their favorite fighter to make a lavish income.
It is frustrating for Crawford, as people have seemingly spoken for him for his whole career, as he is similar to a modern Terry Norris. A really good fighter, but one who doesn't benefit from a 24-hour news network world. Crawford's world seemingly shuts off at the nine-to-five hours of a workday. He doesn't look for attention; he simply fights. Crawford is one of the most interesting modern fighters as he has a fanbase, he is probably the best fighter in the world, either him or Tyson Fury, yet for some reason, he can never please the die-hard boxing fans as a whole.
Crawford, who has spent his whole career with his same team, is rotating between Omaha, Nebraska, and Colorado Springs for training camps. He has progressively gotten better fight after fight, and beyond that, Crawford is riding a nine-fight knockout streak that often goes unnoticed. The issue I think most have with the fight on pay-per-view is simple. It is saying that to see Terence Crawford fight is now worthy of pay-per-view just to see him fight; the match-up is an obituary. We're entering the world of high fighter salaries, which means if you want your favorite fighter to be paid at perceived market value, you have to expect to pay more.
The other downside is that a lot of the boxing fans were hoping that Terence Crawford would face Errol Spence Jr. next and because Crawford is fighting first, Crawford is getting the lion's share of the ill-will, as fight fans are frustrated that the two best welterweights since Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are not fighting, as it seems to be a fairly obvious fight to make. That being said, the business will never play out through the headlines, and speaking about that situation without knowing what is happening is a good way to look like an idiot. I think both fighters want the fight, but ego, greed, and other factors are probably playing a part in this fight not happening, and I personally think it never will, as it will be like Riddick Bowe vs. Lennox Lewis or Adonis Stevenson vs. Sergey Kovalev, a fight that never got made.
LIV Golf vs. The PGA
In golf, they keep bringing up boxing. Why?
The LIV Golf tour is paying huge salaries to former PGA Tour pros to recruit them to their league, which Saudi Arabia funds, in an effort most view as sports washing. The now splinted nature of professional golf is being equated to boxing in the sense that the business and legality of getting the best to compete against each other is now harder and harder with two world-class tours with world-rated players on each side.
The fear is that professional golf will become splintered and like boxing, which to the golf fan is a coded word for unwatchable or mostly unwatchable. When talking to people who casually watch boxing, it seems they watch two-to-three fights a year that they perceive as big marquee attractions. “Tank” Davis fits that bill, Canelo does, and then you get the wild card. Sometimes it is Devin Haney, Teofimo Lopez, or Lomachenko, but you always hear a high-profile name that someone is drawn to.
Without access and fighters being in front of the public eye, good fighters go unnoticed by casual sports fans, who want to have a fighter to back them. If you look at prior decades, “Winky” Wright was avoided yet beloved because he stayed relevant. Nowadays, most of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters fight once, at most twice, and rarely do any form of television interviews, commentary, or anything. It is fight and disappear.
Boxing is doing itself no favors as it is becoming harder and harder to imagine makable fights as it seems astute promoters are looking to lock up divisions. If you sign with a rival promoter, then you will be in a bad political position. I have even heard modern fans rejoice when a fighter who they don't like can't get a fight since they are signed to “the wrong side of the street,” a phrase coined to basically be a coded message of “if you're not with us, you're against us,” meaning some companies are looking to make only in-house fights and keep the world title amongst their set of fighters. A good view from a business standpoint, but from a sports standpoint very unhealthy.
These unhealthy social norms have great fighters burnt out in their prime, as I think Crawford and Spence are nearing a point of being burnt on the sport of boxing based on the nonsense some call business. We now have fans of the tabloids more than fans of fistfights, and legacy is secondary to how much money someone makes.
We have put the value on the wrong stuff – greed, wealth, insecurities, and so forth, moving away from becoming the best fighter of the era. The influence has seen a lot of fighters, who have undefined legacies, and though they're well-respected, they are not a lock for the Hall-of-Fame.
The BLK Prime PPV is courageous in helping Crawford, a fighter seemingly every fighter in the world respects, and you should, too, but he hasn't really ever found his voice in marketing. Crawford is an old-school Ezzard Charles-type who wants good checks and probably wouldn't mind fighting often. Not unlike the boxing version of Karl Malone, Crawford is a fighter, who I never get excited to hear an interview from him, but never miss his fight. He is something special, just like “the mailman,” who played for the Utah Jazz.
Now we have to see how the player's empowerment era works in boxing. We saw it ushered in by LeBron James as he somewhat took over the NBA and now serves as a consultant to the Los Angeles Lakers as much as a player, as Bill Simmons refers to him as “GM LeBron.” Now the player's empowerment movement is coming to boxing, as these smaller-scale pay-per-views, especially heading into an economic recession, are going to be more and more common, as no one, besides the really rich has money.
The player's empowerment movement is one in which it is simple – it looks at the meanest sportswriters of the modern era, and lumps every writer into that category, and then explains that they didn't play or not “x-players” level and that they need to be more understanding, etc. I see the truth, but they are also getting handsomely paid to play a game, something not many of us get to say we did. Criticism is part of the job, and I feel fighters should get more leeway because, on any night, they could die, which should factor into people's writing.
This was the thesis statement for publications like The Players Tribune. It was a revolt against the mainstream media. Now boxing has a mini-revolt with new sources of income through big events, but the catch is now you have to watch them behind a paywall because the fighters are getting more of the revenue, so for that to happen, their fans have to pay.
It is an interesting argument, but one that comes down to your relationship with the fighter and your disposable income. The more boxing cost to watch, the less eyes it will get, and boxing is struggling to have any fighters currently, who stop the world, like a Muhammad Ali, or Mike Tyson once did. It feels like every promoter is waiting on “that next guy,” but no one knows who it is. I am not just curious to see how this BLK Prime PPV plays out but also to see how many pay-per-views follow, as Gervonta Davis has a $74.99 pay-per-view on January 7th, and I am almost expecting another pay-per-view to be scheduled in February.
The sport of boxing will always exist, but we are dwindling the fans who stuck around through the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao days as those people are hitting their 40s and might find other things to do, like raise a family. Boxing's biggest problem is short-term thinking from the managers, promoters, and even fighters—big money upfront, with no vision for the future or a plan beyond the event that exists. The way boxing moves forward into the future is structure, set dates allowing fans to travel, and build up budgets, yet it is a sport of chaos as of now.