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.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces