Guest writer Andrew Mullinder comments on the furore surrounding the announcement Amir Khan’s next bout is to cost SKY subscribers an additional £14.99 to watch, despite featuring an unknown Colombian and lacking the global significance typically found at the core of most pay-per view contests. An astonishing step, and one Frank Warren appeared aware, looks opportunisitic and premature. Mullinder however, has grown a little tired of the boxing fans’ bluster and bleating about PPV and while it doesn’t have the withering zing of Terry Dooley’s article this morning, Andrew makes an interesting point.
There’s no such thing as a free punch
By Andrew Mullinder
It does not take much tinder and puff to get the flames of anti-pay-per-view feeling among boxing fans burning hotter than a car fire on a council estate. Anyone who visits boxing forums regularly, therefore, should not have been surprised that Frank Warren’s decision to put Amir Khan’s next fight on PPV managed to incite more misplaced indignation than a bared nipple at Superbowl half time.
Of course, Warren has shifted boxing’s established paradigms before: in Britain it was thought only free-to-air TV channels could build a boxer’s following until he made Ricky Hatton a national hero on subscription channel Sky Sports.
But this time Warren’s Lazarus impersonation looks ominously like the real thing. It is hard to believe that a virtual novice – even one as recognised as Khan – fighting in a non-title affair against an opponent unknown to the general public will generate enough buys to make the show work. And even if it does work, what damage will be done to Khan’s long term appeal and recognition by only letting a few thousand see him on a regular basis?
However, while erudite commentators like Steve Kim and Thomas Hauser have argued cogently against the sense of current PPV strategies, this only represents a small portion of the complaints of the forum posters, and past form suggests that even this is in most cases a stalking horse for their main gripe. In the same way that middle aged prudes complain about the morals rather than the commercial sense of nudity on TV, the brood of forum posters cluck endlessly about the evils of PPV rather than addressing the real (and more interesting) crux, economics.
Simply, a sizeable portion of boxing fans do not see why they should have to pay to watch their favourite sport; promoters, they argue in a roundabout way, are treating boxing fans like absentee landlords treat impoverished tenants, squeezing them for every penny while providing little in the way of service. It is not purely because Khan’s assignment lacks the fizz of preceding PPV shows, it merely represents a new opportunity to bemoan the reality boxing is an industry, not free and on the NHS (National Health Service).
But why? Every other form of entertainment I can think of charges people to view it, so why should boxing be different? Boxers work in a dangerous trade, putting their lives on the line during every fight. Promoters must organize an event efficiently and sell it skilfully to make it pay. Television companies take huge financial risks to bring shows to our screens. Like all other actors in open economies, they should be free to make as much profit as the market will bear from their toils, skills and risks. If the product is no good, or the price is too much, they will have to adjust their practices or go out of business. Why do boxing fans believe they should be insulated from the rules of the real world? When did they start expecting something for nothing?
The arrogance intrinsic to the implication that boxing fans ‘deserve’ free entertainment is both absurd and odious. The unwillingness to grasp the simple fact organisations like Sky Sports and Sports Network will only promote boxing matches if there is the incentive of profit is risible.
In fact, I would go further and argue that PPV and subscription TV, far from being the equivalent of the cigar-smoking capitalists in Marxist cartoons, have actually saved my beloved sport. As boxing’s mainstream appeal faded, it disappeared from terrestrial (network) television, which may have led to a slow death. Subscription TV injected money into the sport and gave it a home. Without HBO in America and Sky in the UK, where would boxing be? Who would provide the big money to put fights together? The tooth fairy no doubt.
The righteous indignation of those supercilious fans who invade boxing forums before PPV events is as misplaced as the townswomen’s guild members who always seem to be moaning about broadcast standards: just as the dears at the women’s guild can turn off the TV if they think some nudie bump and rub is on the way, so boxing fans can choose not to buy PPV.
And isn’t that a better way to register dissatisfaction than blubbing on a boxing forum anyway?
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