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World Boxing Super Series Hitting Jersey; We Talk Platforms And The Future With Promoter Schaefer

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The buzz on the World Boxing Super Series has been to this point pretty darned solid, and that is saying something, being that when the idea was floated, many assumed it wouldn’t fly.

A super middleweight and cruiserweight version is running now, and we are nearing the end of the quarter finals. On Saturday night, at the Prudential Center in New Jersey, another cruiserweight quarter will unfold, with Murat Gassiev, a Russian smasher, taking on the more experienced underdog, Krystof Wlodarczyk from Poland.

Now, sad to say, not as many folks will be viewing the scrap as is deserved. You can watch it on site, of course, with tix still available and starting at $50. Also, if you get the AUDIENCE network you can tune in, starting at 9 PM ET. Er, I wasn’t even sure if I did or did not have AUDIENCE in my Spectrum-provided bundle. Turns out no, I don’t. So sad, too bad.

Here what Wiki says on the network:

Audience is an American general entertainment television channel that is owned by AT&T Inc. It features a mix of original and acquired series, specials, and feature films. The network operates as a commercial-free service and broadcasts its programming without editing for content. It was originally exclusive to DirecTV. However, after AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV it became available on AT&T U-verse. It is also available on subscription streaming service DirecTV Now.

Richard Schaefer and his RINGSTAR outfit are helping promote the WBSS, which is mainly a European adventure. The Sauerland Brothers in Germany are heavy lifters and interestingly, there isn’t much in the way of American participation. One American, Rob Brant, will take part in the 168 quarterfinal on Oct. 28 in Germany, against Jurgen Braehmer and there are no star spangled cruisers in the mix. Steve Bujaj, a US citizen, fights on the Newark undercard, against Mateus Masternak, in a battle of substitutes, who are ready to step into the breach if a participant gets injured. So, maybe it makes sense that the WBSS scraps haven’t been running on HBO, Showtime, or another large US screening entity. I talked to Richard Schaefer for the TALKBOX podcast about this issue and he explained in some detail the hows and whys of the platform availability.

The promoter told me that he thought there was skepticism on the part of networks questioning if the tournament was really going to happen. Fans and media, too, he stated. “The first year I think has been challenging as it relates to the TV situation, not only to the US but other markets as well, because the people, the network, the fans need to say, ‘Hey, these guys are for real’…so I think that was one thing, and then I think particularly to the US market, as a media member knowing the TV market, it is how shall I say it, a bit of a screwed-up TV landscape. We all know it seems as though HBO has cut back on their budget, at least for now, Showtime is doing a lot of PBC fights and ESPN is doing some time buy or revenue share agreement with Oscar and Bob. And you start thinking who else is there. You have Fox, FS1, who is committed to doing fights with PBC. It is very challenging to really find another network, another outlet. Many of those networks they have been given content for free and if you then come with a new platform like the World Boxing Super Series and you ask for substantial money you sort of get like a blank stare, like ‘What are you talking about?’’’

The tourney is littered with champs, he continued, huge punchers and fireworks are almost guaranteed…but no Americans are in the mix. Schaefer and organizers wanted to have the best fighting the best, national affiliation aside. “Unfortunately the US TV networks are not very open to televising fights which don’t involve an American or a Mexican fighter…There was a little bit of hesitation with the networks when they looked at the field that there was no US representation, and that is really because of the weight classes that were picked.”

There you go, now you have a better idea of why this WBSS isn’t more of a big damn deal in the US. The promoter said he’s happy that AUDIENCE is hooked on with WBSS, and he noted that owner AT&T is also looking to buy HBO…so, maybe, there could be more synergy, soon, if the AT&T merger with HBO gets passed soonish… then things could change. “Now it’s at least available to the AUDIENCE network and to millions more online and social media. So it is available and it’s a great first step.”

(No, this Saturday main event and portions of the card will not be streaming on the WBSS website, as has been the case for many of the clashes, before the AUDIENCE deal was crafted.)

I spoke to Schaefer again, on Thursday early evening, and tried to get a sense if, moving forward, there’d be an attempt to get the semis and the finals on other or another platforms. He told me he’s happy with AT&T, that their people stepped up to the plate and he appreciates that. Also, their ratings sometimes surpass HBO and Showtime, he said. “But all doors are open,” he said, noting that sponsors and venues are now indicating to him that they believe in the validity of the WBSS concept. As evidenced, he said, by the fact that the cruiserweight finals will be held in Saudi Arabia. All of us have heard the Middle East being promised as a venue for so long and the WBSS people pulled it off. “A lot of people have kicked the tires on the Middle East, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, yes,” Schaefer said. The Saudi government is a believer in this event, he said, and their affiliation with the final proves it.

Schaefer also gave a plug to the show onsite Saturday. “It will be in one word, spectacular,” he said of the overall production, which he said will surpass some of those European promotions (Klitschko, Hamed) for glitz and glam. “Ground-breaking,” he promised.

Also: Schaefer spoke of the series in terms of it being not a one off. He a few times talked of this being just the first of a series and he thinks that it only gets bigger, because the concept is playing out as viable. Anyone want to suggest your next weight classes?

Placing it on “free TV,” on a network, is on his wish list, he continued, so it could be seen like the Super Bowl, with no hurdles. It’s clear Schaefer is proud of the execution to this point; he said the WBSS people had to jump hurdles and that jealous and negative rivals worked to undermine the series. But the “determined group” kept on hammering away and fans are telling him they succeeded with the launch.

My three cents: If you are wanting to see a network pick up the semis and finals, I suggest you make your point known to possible platform providers. Also, I see this series as a test to US-based cablers and platform providers on their level of blind patriotism, or their commitment to more so the sport as a whole. Will US fight fans shy away from potentially thrilling content if the combatants aren’t from America? The world is flatter, information and content can be distributed so quickly now. Are US fight fans truly willing to appreciate and watch pugilists based on their abilities…or do they need to identify with the punchers on ethnic origin and cultural correlations? It remains to be seen, that debate is ongoing. We see Gennady Golovkin as someone able to sell out in Cali and NYC and sell PPVs…but if he were Gene Gordon from Moscow, Idaho, how much bigger would he be here? Anyway…most of these WBSS fights have been solid, and as fight fans, that is basically mostly what we say we are asking for.

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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