Mutual funds' troubles may negatively impact the Premier Boxing Champions

Mutual funds' troubles may negatively impact the Premier Boxing Champions

There is a boxing card on broadcast or basic cable television in the U.S. just about every weekend, courtesy of Al Haymon and his Premier Boxing Champions. 

It's almost mind-boggling, though, how many in the sport are vigorously rooting against Haymon and for his venture to fail. It's not just the promoters -- with executives at Top Rank, Golden Boy and Main Events chief among them -- who want to see the PBC die a quick but painful death. It's also a lot of reporters and a vocal segment of the fan base.

Haymon is far from perfect, and he's trying to effect profound change in an industry which is conservative and has often resisted it. It's mystifying, though, why so many of the sport's most ardent fans are so dead set against the PBC.

Haymon's refusal to ever speak to the media is not only confounding but is also a mistake. It's turned a large number of reporters virulently against him and his product. His company is a closed shop and its response to just about any question on any topic is no comment.

A lack of media attention didn't keep Haymon from putting together a series that shows fights on NBC, CBS, ESPN, Spike and several other networks, however. He managed to round up more than $400 million in funding from outside investors, largely from Waddell & Reed, an American asset management company.

As a result, he has money to spend on production and pays his fighters more than the industry average, which has raised the cost of doing business for others. That hasn't made him popular with the Top Ranks, the Golden Boys and the Main Events of the world.

What's clear is this: A world in which the best fights are on free, over-the-air TV, or, at worst, on basic cable, is the best for the sport's fans. For several decades, fans either have to buy subscriptions to one or more prermium cable channels (HBO and/or Showtime) at a cost of roughly $150 a year each to watch most high-level fights. For the rest of the big fights, it was a pay-per-view proposition.

The PBC has changed that equation, though the question is for how long. Golden Boy has already filed a federal anti-trust suit against it, and more may follow.

But the ratings have so far been fairly good, particularly on NBC, and have led to optimism in some corners that boxing can work on network television with the right parameters.

That said, there was ominous news last week for the PBC, and good news for its haters. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 10 that investors pulled more than $12 billion from Waddell & Reed's two largest mutual funds in the last year. That is significant because, according to an excellent piece by Sports Business Journal's Billl King in Arpil, it was discovered that Waddell & Reed had invested $425 million in the PBC.

The Wall Street Journal reported that investors were becoming wary of Waddell's so-called "go anywhere" funds, which can trade in things such as stocks, bonds and precious metals.

From the WSJ story:

Waddell & Reed Financial, Inc., one of the biggest beneficiaries of the recent boom in mutual funds, has hit a rough patch. Nervous investors pulled $12.5 billion out of the investment company’s two largest mutual funds over the past 12 months.

Waddell & Reed has grown primarily by marketing to mom-and-pop investors, which make up 86% of its clientele. That makes it more susceptible to shifts in popular sentiment than larger competitors that also invest for pension plans, insurers and sovereign-wealth funds.

The Overland, Kan.-based firm almost tripled in size from 2009 to 2013—it now manages about $123 billion—and pioneered a trend in “go-anywhere” mutual funds that, much like hedge funds, can trade almost anything, from stocks to bonds to precious metals. Now, investment dollars are going the other way. 

The go-anywhere fund took big losses from bets on gold and Asian casino stocks last year, rattling investors.

Yahoo Sports reached out to Tim Smith, the PBC's vice president of communications, for comment about the Wall Street Journal story and its impact upon the PBC, if any. Smith, after speaking to company executives, said the PBC would have no comment.

Golden Boy Promotions, under the leadership of president Oscar De La Hoya, filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the Premier Boxing Champions and its founder, Al Haymon, last month.. (Getty Images)
Golden Boy Promotions, under the leadership of president Oscar De La Hoya, filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the Premier Boxing Champions and its founder, Al Haymon, last month.. (Getty Images)

If the money is beginning to dry up for Waddell & Reed, that would be an ominous sign for the PBC. As a new venture attempting to break into a competitive and difficult marketplace, it needs money, and lots of it, in order to succeed.

It seems inconceivable that the PBC's shows are making money on their own, at this point, and there still isn't a lot of advertiser support.

So if the well runs dry, the Wall Street Journal piece could be a sign of the beginning of the end for the PBC.

However, no one can be sure right now.

The only thing that is clear is that the PBC has some challenges to overcome. It started off strong with its matchmaking, and Saturday's show at the MGM Grand Garden that will air on NBC, featuring Adrien Broner against Shawn Porter, is solid. But after a strong start, the quality of the matchmaking hasn't been as good recently.

The quality of the matches has to be consistently good for the PBC to make a long-term impact. It also is going to rack up considerable legal bills defending itself in its lawsuit against Golden Boy and, potentially, against other promoters.

So it has numerous real and significant challenges it must overcome.

Haymon is one of the most astute businessmen in the country, but whether the money runs out before he can get the PBC on the right track is still to be determined. He is in a similar situation wth the PBC now that the UFC was in around 2005. At that point, the UFC was hemorrhaging money and was roughly $40 milllion in the hole.

UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta told the company's president, Dana White, to look to sell it. But as White was doing that, its reality series, "The Ultimate Fighter," became a hit and the company became exceptionally profitable.

The PBC is in a position where it could go either way. It has a lot of people working against it, and it has a significant lawsuit to defend, but it also has a lot of money as well as a lot of smart people working for it.

Either way it goes, it's going to be fascinating to watch, and will have a significant, long-term impact upon boxing.