Typically our focus for articles here has been Asian boxing, but today we want to slant that somewhat, and talk about something that British boxing could learn from what we saw this past weekend in Japan. And it wasn't the first time we've seen it done in Japan In fact it wasn't even the first time we saw it happen for Naoya Inoue. So please let us ramble about how British TV could learn from Japan!
This past weekend we saw a lot of boxing, on a lot of different TV outlets, and streaming services, all over the world. Genuinely there was so much boxing this past weekend that you could easily drown in it if you were that way inclined. Included in the events were several PPV's, and several shows on premium TV channels around the globe. There were also a number of bouts that aired in multiple countries.
Notably both the UK and the US had PPV boxing this weekend, with the UK having a Sky Box Office PPV and the US having a Showtime PPV, whilst many other boxing countries avoided going down that avenue. It's worth noting that the PPV model is really very rarely done outside of a small handful of countries, and in those countries we have seen the number of PPV buys per event drop notably in recent years, with the core audience of fans shrinking. The top stars are still really big draws, but the reality is that the PPV market has been pricing fans out for a while and saturating it's self, to the detriment of the sport and to benefit of a very small number of fighters.
Interestingly one country with a very vibrant boxing scene that hasn't, for the most part, gone with PPV is Japan. Instead the country has gone with a more nuanced distribution of fights spread across pay TV, free TV, online subscription and free online shows.
For the most part big fights in Japan are live on free to air TV, be it TBS or Fuji TV, and their relevant local affiliates. In the past TV Tokyo, TV Asahi and NTV have also shown big fights, and it seems likely that NTV have still got the door open for big fights in the future.
For domestic cards we see a more complex mix of free and pay.
TBS and Fuji TV show free domestic action on a somewhat regular basis, albeit on tape delay.
There are paid options for TV, with G+ being main channel for live domestic content, and for streaming, with Boxing Raise being an invaluable tool here. There is also a growing number of shows being streams for free on YouTube, thanks in part to Shinsei and Yokohama Hikari who have given us a good amount of free boxing this year.
The mix of free and paid TV in Japan is somewhat the opposite of how things work in the UK.
In the UK a big name fights on Sky Sports or BT Sports, behind a paywall, with many domestic fights also blocked from the casual channel hopping fan. The biggest names are behind a further obstacle, PPV. In Japan the big names are on free TV, with the idea being less about the money now and more about the exposure and longer term stability of the sport.
This past weekend in Japan we saw Pay and Free TV work together, finding a perfect compromise between money and exposure. In fact it seemingly is a compromise that would massively help get eye balls on the sport in the West, without massively harming PPV or subscription numbers, and would likely also make piracy of events less tempting. Especially the "morning after" piracy that seems to be very prevalent.
Let me explain exactly what we saw.
On Sunday morning in Japan WOWOW aired Naoya Inoue's win over Jason Moloney live. This allowed fans with the premium service to watch the bout live with no issues, and enjoy the event, whilst cheering on their boxing hero. The hardcore fans were satisfied, even if they did have their Sunday morning interupted.
If you want to put WOWOW on to the scope of Western TV they are somewhat similar to HBO or Showtime. They broadcast a mix of sport, concerts, movies, anime and dubbed Western TV. For the UK audience there isn't quite a like for like, but given how Sky packages work WOWOW would be like having the on going "Sky TV and Sky Sports offer".
So the live broadcast of Japanese boxing biggest star was shown on a premium channel, to a relatively small audience, with there only being around a few million subscribers.
Then, just 12 hours later, it was shown, during prime time, to a much, much wider audience on terrestrial TV. In fact it averaged over 10.6% in the Kanto region, suggesting multi-million viewership across the country for a bout that, by then, had it's result reported online, and was essentially available to watch via illegal means.
This essentially found the compromise between "premium service" and "people watching", something that seems to be missed in some countries.
It's amazing in the UK that a fighter like Anthony Joshua can get around 1,000,000 buys of a PPV. The reality, however, is that that that's probably as many as he will get given the current Sky Box Office approach. We really don't imagine the market has the flexibility to extend beyond that number, with out attracting new fans to the sport. If you don't let people see the biggest star without paying for the privilege, then who's attracting those new fans?
It feels very much like that UK somewhat corners it's biggest stars away from growing, put them in a walled up garden and doesn't let the public see them. Then it complains about piracy, which has almost certainly increased in recent years with the increase of PPV prices and broadcasts.
If, however, Joshua was on PPV one week, then the bout was given to the BBC or ITV at a reduced cost to show a replay a week or two later, we do wonder what sort of viewing number that bout would get. Would it match the audience share of Inoue in Japan? Also how many opportunities it would open up to new fans, who would then latch on to Joshua in the future, maybe even opening up their wallet to watch him down the line?
Whilst there would, potentially, be fewer people willing to pay for the PPV if it was then going to be made available for free, the special thing about sport is the live experience. And those paying for the PPV almost certainly want the "live" aspect, they are paying for the occasion. Those unable to, or unwilling to, pay for that live experience would likely love to see Joshua but are locked out by the paywall. As a result we don't imagine the PPV revenue would be reduced as much as many may think. If you're paying for the live broadcast you're probably not going to wait a few days to watch it. And what deduction there is in a PPV revenue, would likely be partially offset by the potential for advertisers to have their advertising banners and logos shown on free TV to a nationwide audience, and by future PPV's sales from a man who would be a bigger star afterwards.
It goes against the current idea of how boxing is shown in the UK but, for the sport and it's growth, it needs to be visible to a wider audience. And it's not just fans that we need to be thinking of, but also the stars of tomorrow. They are inspired by the fighters of today and if the fighters of today are fighting hidden behind paywalls the number of future stars seeing them are reduced, giving us a shrinking sport.
Yes you might believe Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren when they tell you British boxing is in great health, and in fairness it is in good health, but it could be a lot better.
Before we finish this we want to talk about a fighter who is much maligned now a days but someone who does go some way towards proving our point.
Audley Harrison, who won an Olympic gold medal for Great Britain, on free TV.
In 1984, 1988 and 1992 Great Britain won 1 Olympic at each games, a bronze. In 1996 it won 0 before Audley Harrison won gold in 2000. In 2004 Amir Khan won Silver. Then we saw British amateur boxing really take off, and in 2008 Britain won 3 medals, more than they'd won in the previous 3 Olympics combined. In 2012 they won 5, including 3 gold medals to top the table, and they took 3 again in 2016.
Harrison's success saw interest in British Amateur boxing pick up, it saw an increase in funding and gave fighters someone to look up to. Without Audley and his success there's a good chance that fighters like James DeGale, Billy Joe Saunders, Joe Joyce, Luke Campbell and Amir Khan wouldn't be where they are today.
We can only imagine the boost that British boxing would get if Joshua, Tyson Fury, and other leading stars had their fights made freely available and gave professional boxing the same rub Audley gave amateur boxing.
Yes it would harm the fighters, promoter and TV channels in the short term, but longer term opening up the broadcasts for a single replay on terrestrial TV would help more fans see the top stars.
*In 2018 there was 1 PPV in Japan, and in 2020 there will also be 1 PPV event in Japan. Neither of these were major fights and were more experimental tests done by one very specific promoter. In neither case did the promoter freeze fans out of big fights or popular stars.
Note - NTV will show their first world title fight in quite some time later this week! That will however be on tape delay following a live broadcast on Pay TV, with G+ and NTV BS showing it live.
A new week begins and looking back over the last 7 days we some good, some bad, and some bloody ugly. It's a week that will last long in the memory of some fans, be forgotten easily by others and really fade into a blur for others. Some fighters really shone, other covered themselves in nothing bis disgrace, and an extra layer of fat. Sometimes this sport does it's self no favours, however in a week like this we really did have more than enough positives to go with the bad.
1-Ryosuke Iwasa put in career best performance
On Saturday night Ryosuke Iwasa put together one of, if not the, most accomplished performance of his career to dismantle former WBO Bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales. Iwasa, who turned professional with expectations, has been inconsistent through out his career but here he really showed what he could do and twice dropped the rugged Tapales. Through the fight Iwasa was busy, accurate, heavy handed and really, really impressed. Too many times in his career he has been focused on his power but this was an all round performance from a fighter who may, finally, have found his recipe for sustained success. Fingers crossed he can replicate this type of performance next time.
2-Kosuke Saka steam-rolls Sueyoshi
From one inconsistent fighter to another! Kosuke Saka really showed what he can do as he dominated the usually tricky Masaru Sueyoshi to become a 2-weight Japanese national champion. It was only around 8 months ago that Saka had been stopped in 2 rounds by Joe Noynay, but here he looked fantastic, aggressive, powerful and confident. He pressured Sueyoshi from the opening bell and refused to give Sueyoshi any space before dropping him in round. Saka's performance was the antithesis to how Andy Ruiz Jr fought Anthony Joshua, and showed how a pressure fighter should cut the distance.
3-Akhmedov lands a bomb
We have a few great shots this week, but the pick of the bunch was the right hand from hell that Sadriddin Akhmedov landed on Jose Antonio Villalobos. The 21 year old Kazakh really is one of the best prospects in world boxing, and whilst he's not getting much attention, outside of his native Kazakhstan and adoptive Canada, he is going to become a big star in the near future. A knockout like this one is the sort of thing he will be built on when people start putting together a highlight reel of him.
We're really not sure what the idea behind throwing Miguelk Gonzalez into a world title fight was, especially not on neutral soil. If it was to give Chilean fans something to get excited about it would have made more sense to have got him to fight at home. As it was they sent him to Mexico to get battered by Jerwin Ancajas. The win did Ancajas no favours, and was a third loss at a high level for Gonzalez, who should not be fighting in this type of company. Time for Ancajas to step up and face world class competition and for Gonzalez to be matched competitively, rather than jumping from soft touches to world class.
2-G+ go replay crazy
We love the G+ broadcasts, usually. This weekend however much of the broadcast was spent showing replays. Ususually the shows are smooth, and run from one fight to the next but this weeks it seemed to drag, horribly at times, with too time spent showing replays. The match ups on the under-card weren't good enough, they didn't last long enough, and they should, ideally, have had 1 more bout on the card. A poor show from G+, who consistently deliver fantastic events.
3-Dillian Whyte, Andy Ruiz, Eric Molina and Tom Little
The biggest boxing event of the weekend was held in Saudi Arabia, and while we could easily make a list of complaints about the card, it's venue, lack of atmosphere and the drug cheats on it, we could have potentially enjoyed the show had more than half the card actually looked like they wanted to be there. Dillian Whtyte and Andy Ruiz Jr came into the ring looking like human-whales, Eric Molina looked like a man wanting a way out and Tom Little looked like he didn't belong in the ring with his opponent. From the 5 Heavyweight bouts on the show only 1 genuinely delivered top level action between two men who were well matched and in shape. What was supposed to be a festival of Heavyweight was a showcase of the over-weights.
1-Noynay Vs Ogawa
Man head clashes aren't nice are they? Joe Noynay and Kenichi Ogawa shared headbutts in 5 rounds than fighters should ever share in a bout. Both were left badly cut, the run had little pools of blood on it, especially in Noynay's corner, and the styles never came close to gelling. This was ugly, bloody and a truly horrific mess. The worst thing is that we had really high hopes for this bout, which had two fighters who are a similar level fighting in a bout that promised a lot. Just one of those bouts that didn't click, sadly.
We're back to Andy Ruiz and really, if this is how a fighter with 3 world titles comes into the ring we really need to wonder why he even bothered. He might as well have polished the titles, handed the belts back to Joshua, and gone to take a seat in Burger King. Absolutely pathetic effort, and to the admit he didn't trainer, well we all have eyes Andy, we know you didn't train. Really embarrassing for boxing. Whilst Joshua fought the perfect game plan things were made easier for him by facing someone who had simply given up caring.
UKAD, or UK Anti-Doping, really did themselves no favours this week. Their statement about "clearing" Dillian Whyte for an "adverse sample" left more questions than answers, and really throws into question their entire purpose. They are supposed to enforce rules, push and push responsibility for clean sports. Instead it seems very much like "strict liability" is only applied sometimes and either their testing process is flawed or they don't trust it. To clear a fighter a day before they are scheduled to fight does their reputation no good at all, and looks more than coincidental. Whilst UKAD might have cleared the fighter they have sullied their own reputation in the process and unless things change they may end up getting a reputation similar to that of RUSADA, who proved to be of little use to the concept of clean sport. They have left the door open to too many questions, given too few answers, and we really need to wonder if they are fit for purpose.
Whilst the Whyte test situation only came to light due to Thomas Hauser we need to wonder how many similar adverse tests don't come to light, how many charges are dropped, and how many tests are simply put down to contamination. For an organisation to push clean sport they need to have the financial backing needed to ban fighters, they need a quality drug testing system, and they need to take responsibility of their own findings. What we saw from UKAD was toothless, and not for the first time it appears they don't have the power to fully do their job. There needs to be a massive overhaul of the drug testing system, and a massive financial boost to allow them to do what they need to do. There needs to be transparency and so many changes to an organisation which is losing respect almost by the month.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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