Over the last couple of weeks we have seen Top Rank become the first US promoter to step up to the plate and offer some boxing. Sadly the shows have failed, massively, to connect with the general populace and the ratings are, if we're being honest, pathetic. Especially given the fact there is no other live sport on to compete with boxing.
Whilst we can all understand their being no big bouts on at the moment, with reduced money in the sport, lower TV, no fans, and lower advertising revenue, we do need to question whether there are things promoters can do to make people care more about the fights than they currently are.
One of the problems with boxing is the story telling aspect of the sport.
We often get given a story about the rising hopeful and their hard life. It's something to make us feel a connection to one of the fighters and sell them to us. Sadly however that paints a story that attempts to make us feel sympathetic to the massive favourite rather than telling us a story to paint the fight. Boxing is, for all intents, the only sport where the story of the favourite is the only story given to a neutral fan. The fan is meant to buy in to the event, not just one participant fighter, before the fight. Instead the marketing for boxing is very much about buying into the house fighter, the big favourite.
Just imagine, if you can, a sports channel trying to sell you a match up between Liverpool and San Jose Earthquakes, or the Kansas City Chiefs and the Toronto Argonauts...and then tried to make you feel sympathy for the bigger team.
If ESPN is going to run stories about one of the fighters, during their live broadcast, they should look to run stories on both fighters. Get the casual and neutrals to buy in to both men, rather than continue the narrative that is currently being pushed. Afte all who wants to see a bout between "this future superstar you're telling me is amazing and this other fella who you've told me nothing about". That however can be tricky and really quite awkward, taking up more of the broadcast than it needs to.
Another option, an option we see working well in Asia, is tournament boxing. Give the fans a reason to buy in and to follow a story they can see being weaved in front of their faces, over a number of months. This not only leads to short term story telling that the fans can see being told but, when the sport can resumes normal service, their will be a fighter at the end of it with a lot of extra added value.
Recently we saw Clay Collard pick up his latest upset win, beating David Kaminsky. If their 6 rounder, along with 7 other bouts spread over the next few weeks, was part of a 16 man tournament over the next 6 to 12 months fans would begin buying in early and want to follow their man through out. The eventual winner would then have fans for the sports return.
With the bouts on these shows, for the most part, being 4 and 6 rounders a fighter could, in theory, fight 3 or 4 times between now and the end of the year. Heck Collard's fight was his 4th since November, and if fans keep seeing the same names winning they will begin to care.
For us tournaments are also an easy sell to fans and something boxing, in the west, doesn't have enough of. In the East they are done regularly, with things like Rookie of the Year, the B Class tournaments and the recent KO Dynamite, God's Left Bantamweight and Hajime No Ippo 20th anniversary tournaments in Japan.
It's not just Japan however and Korea has it's own Rookie of the Year tournaments, Thailand had a brilliant little tournament last year dubbed "The Fighter", which has helped launch 16 year old Phoobadin Yoohanngoh into a regional title fight, and China hosts Major League Boxing and the Silk Road tournaments.
Of course the WBSS and the World Boxing Super Series have both helped launch careers internationally, proving their is interest in tournaments at the highest level in the west. Our guess is that interest will also work lower down the sports levels.
It's clear that the current format doesn't work, the only people really tuning in are hardcore fans, so why not take the opportunity to try something different, give the lesser fighters a reason to fight and give fans a reason to care.
By all means keep the "co-feature, under-card bouts, feature" running order, which is something I'll admit I'm a fan of, but make those under-card bouts matter. Put those bouts as preliminary bouts to a tournament, market the tournament, rather than the fighters, and make people care about getting into the story at the beginning rather than in middle, or the end.
It's clearer now, more than ever, that Top Rank doesn't have the star power among their prospects to carry the number of shows they are planning. and it feels like they missed a trick here.
Whilst it seems unlikely Top Rank will run with a longer form tournament, especially with all the issues that boxing has, a short format, either an 8 man 1-night tournament such as "Prizefighter" in the UK, or a 4 man knockout tournament, could still work and could have helped the sport capture the attention of fans when they needed them tuning in.
Whilst I'm on a bit of a rant I also can't help but feel the whole ESPN broadcast needs a shake up. Timothy Bradley and Andre Ward have been awful, so bad they've been making Joe Tessitore look fantastic. It would be nice to hear only one of the two former fighters, working as part of a 2-person booth. What Chris Algieri and Crystina Poncher are doing for the international broadcasts is fantastic, they sound like a coherent unit, not always agreeing but coherent. The current ESPN set up is a mess of in fight narratives and too many voices. It needs streamlining, and people need to just calm it will make the whole thing a lot, lot easier to watch.
We also need to see the judging pick up. We can understand a bit of rustiness but some of the scoring has been truly atrocious. Patricia Morse Jarman having Kaminsky beating Collard, Dave Moretti having Joshua Greer Jr level with Mike Plania and Eric Cheek splitting Cameron Krael and Bobirzhan Mominov by a single point. Come on folks sort that out, there isn't enough fights for you folk to ruin the results!
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