Guest: In Thailand, there is no PPV

There is no such thing as bad publicity, except your own obituary.”  Irish author Brendan Behan once wrote and despite his celtic roots suggesting a pre-disposition to the noble art, I’ve no idea where he stood on the great PPV debate. However, the announcement Amir Khan is to feature on the premium format has so enraged boxing’s keenest observers one wonders whether their collective outbursts has served only to further promote the show?. In the meantime, guest writer Oliver Fennell provides a stiff retort to Andrew Mullinder’s prose of yesterday from his new home in a far more humble Thailand.

In Thailand, there is no PPV

By Oliver Fennell

There is a lot to be thankful for in living in a tropical developing country: plenty of sunshine, a cost of living that comes in at about a quarter of the UK, and the lack of a ubiquitous presence of television in society rendering such concepts as pay-per-view sports unfeasible.

Which got me thinking: here in Thailand, not everybody has a TV set, let alone a cable subscription. The few who do have a cable subscription with the full complement of movie and sports channels pay about a third of what they’d pay for similar from Sky in Britain. And in recent months they have gotten, among others, Margarito-Cotto, Hatton-Lazcano, Calzaghe-Hopkins and Pacquaio-Diaz for their money – all fights which were on PPV in either Britain or the United States.

Obviously there is a reason why things are cheaper in developing countries, but surely the rights to broadcast major international boxing cost much the same anywhere in the world? In which case, how does a cable TV provider in a poor country, which would have a significantly smaller take-up than, say, Sky or HBO, afford these contests which, in the developed world, viewers are asked to pay a further £15 or $50 a time for.

Inevitably, the thrust of this piece is the outrageous decision to out Amir Khan’s next fight on PPV in Britain. But it is not actually a rant against PPV in general, despite my thinking out loud on the subject above. PPV in Britain is a permanent fixture. I accept that, and more often than not I gladly stumped up these extra-curricular costs while I lived there.

But putting anything less than a top-level world champion and/or A-list big name on PPV really is taking the proverbial. And Khan’s next fight is for the WBO Inconsequential title against an opponent that had even the sport’s biggest anoraks rushing to log on to BoxRec.com when his name was announced. Not to mention Khan’s name value, while admittedly considerable, is not even close to that of Hatton, De La Hoya or Tyson, to name three men who have typically been afforded PPV status in recent years regardless of the opponent.

I say typically, because even De La Hoya’s last fight went on standard-subscription HBO and Sky, and while it was indeed an “event” rather than a competitive match, at least his opponent, former world champion and Contender alumnus Steve Forbes, had both pedigree and a recognisable name. Khan’s September 6 opponent, Breidis Prescott of Colombia, has neither.

Of course my argument is nothing that has not already been expressed ad infinitum by other indignant fans. The internet’s boxing message boards are abuzz with negativity, there is an anti-PPV/anti-Khan v Prescott petition doing the rounds, and even Boxing News, criticised by some for perceived editorial caution, dared to run a negative piece about the affair on one of its blogs.

But I felt I had to counter Andrew Mullinder’s previous commentary on the matter here at BoxingWriter.co.uk. He essentially argues that nothing in life is free, and our criticisms of this – and any other PPVs – naively miss this fact. He tries a little bit of emotional blackmail to back up his argument, reminding us that every fight carries an inherit risk of the ultimate sacrifice for our entertainment. He also puts on his economic analyst’s hat by pointing out the various costs and financial risks involved in staging and broadcasting any boxing show.

And he’s right on each front, but boxing existed – no, thrived – on terrestrial TV for decades, despite all the costs and risks. The nature of broadcast media has changed, of that there is no doubt, but the arguments Mullinder puts forward as justification for Khan-Prescott coming with a £15 price tag are hardly modern concepts. Boxers have risked their lives and promoters have risked their money ever since the commercial potential of public bloodshed was recognised centuries ago.

No argument comes without a few good insults – my own mother taught me that much and led by example – and so Mullinder reaches for his weapons, pulling out the big guns of “arrogant”, “absurd” and “odious” to describe his opponents and their desire for “free entertainment.

I won’t do likewise and counter with some name-calling of my own, as Mullinder’s argument is presented with much finer direction than many of the message board mainstays he criticises (even if I agree with them), but I will point out the flaws in his reasoning.

Correct, there is no such thing as free entertainment. Watching boxing on standard Sky Sports is far from free. Your taxes and your license fee make watching it on BBC far from free. Even on ITV, where Khan built his reputation, it strictly speaking is not free, because the channel is funded by advertising, which essentially is paid for by you, the consumer of the products advertised. If likening the situation to a food chain seems convoluted, it is better than Mullinder treating us like autistic children and attempting to lead us by the hand around the zoo, reading the information plaques for us, but then getting the species’ names wrong.

Finally, he suggests the injection of PPV cash helped save his beloved sport, as it paid the boxers and promoters the required amount to make the best matches. On the contrary, is it a coincidence that British boxing faded almost into insignificance at the same time as the likes of Lewis, Bruno and Hamed migrated to the format? Is it also a coincidence that British boxing’s recent resurgence – both in terms of popular appeal and world-level success – came at the same time as terrestrial television renewed an interest in the sport, primarily on the backs of Audley Harrison and Khan’s Olympic exploits, but also showcasing the likes of Joe Calzaghe, David Haye, Junior Witter, Enzo Maccarinelli, Scott Harrison, Herbie Hide, and more.

PPV money is all well and good, but the long-term benefits of making boxing available to as wide an audience as possible is undeniable. It could be argued that Khan would not even have been considered for PPV if he had not first been made famous by terrestrial TV. And before anybody fires back that Hatton was built into a PPV attraction exclusively on digital TV, consider he didn’t actually headline a Sky Box Office event until he fought Kostya Tszyu. Khan-Prescott at £15 is the equivalent of having put some of Hatton’s more water-treading WBU episodes on Sky Box Office.

Boxing fans, despite Mullinder’s suggestion, are not naïve. They realise PPV boxing is here to stay. They don’t mind paying £15 for competitive, top-level, genuine world title action such as Hatton-Tszyu or Hatton-Mayweather or Lewis-Tyson, or even “special events” such as Tyson-Francis. What they object to is being asked to pay extra for a bill which is no better than standard ITV or Sky Sports fare. It’s like getting used to paying £15 to eat out, and then suddenly your wife starts charging you the same price for home-cooking.

Luckily, here in Thailand, it’s cheap enough to eat out every night. And did I mention there was no pay-per-view boxing?

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