How Marv Albert, 73, could help boxing regain traction with younger crowd

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Boxing desperately needs a younger audience, and fast. Scan a television ratings spreadsheet and it's impossible to miss that the largest numbers of viewers for any boxing telecast almost always fall into the category of what is referred to in the ratings business as "P55+."

It shouldn't be confused with Tony Horton's workout program, P90X, which is very popular among young people.

No, in the television ratings game, P55+ isn't anything to be excited about. It refers to people aged 55 and older, perhaps the least desirable audience segment. Advertisers are desperate to reach a younger audience, particularly the coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

Over the last 25 years, boxing hasn't been able to do that.

And so to some, it might seem a curious choice on the part of NBC and the Premier Boxing Champions to name a soon-to-be 74-year-old who hasn't called a boxing match since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, as the play-by-play voice for the upcoming series.

Yet, on so many levels, it was a brilliant idea to name Marv Albert, the iconic play-by-play man so closely associated by so many with the Knicks and the Rangers and the NBA and the NHL as the No. 1 voice for the PBC on NBC series.

Marv Albert attends the Annual Charity Day in New York on September 11, 2013. (Getty)
Marv Albert attends the Annual Charity Day in New York on September 11, 2013. (Getty)

The first episode in the series will debut on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT on NBC from the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, with Adrien Broner facing John Molina and Robert Guerrero taking on Keith Thurman.

For the first time since May 20, 1985, when Larry Holmes defeated Carl "The Truth" Williams at Lawlor Events Center on the campus of the University of Nevada-Reno, boxing will air in primetime on NBC.

Then as now, Marv Albert will be the man calling the fights.

To that, to borrow Albert's distinctive catch phrase, fans can only say, "Yes!"

NBC and Al Haymon, the powerful boxing manager who put together the Premier Boxing Champions series, could have gone out and named an edgy 30-something announcer with the idea he or she could have appealed more to the younger audience.

Naming a young announcer wouldn't have suddenly convinced the 20-something crowd to sit in front of their televisions and watch boxing on a Saturday night.

What might – might, because it's far from a guarantee that the PBC will be a ratings winner – work is putting on a compelling product with exemplary production and innovative technology.

What PBC on NBC needs to succeed is simple:

• First and foremost, the fights have to be good and relevant, and consistently so.

• The broadcasts must be well-produced and clearly a better product than anything currently on the air, with new and innovative ways of bringing the viewer inside the ring to give them a sense of the action they haven't seen before.

• They must be promoted and marketed well.

• The broadcast should create a passion among the fan base. The show needs to give viewers a reason to care about the fighters, the outcome of their bout and about boxing in general.

The announcer's role in this can't be understated. In many ways, the 73-year-old Albert, arguably one of the three most iconic boxing announcers in the sport's long history on television along with Howard Cosell and Don Dunphy, is the perfect choice to bring and keep that younger audience.

Marv Albert interviews Dominique Wilkins (L) and Gerald Wilkins (R) before a 1987 NBA game in Atlanta, Georgia. (Getty)
Marv Albert interviews Dominique Wilkins (L) and Gerald Wilkins (R) before a 1987 NBA game in Atlanta, Georgia. (Getty)

His passion for the sport is unmistakable. His son, Kenny, an accomplished broadcaster in his own right who will do play-by-play for the PBC fights on the NBC Sports Network, called it one of the secrets to his father's success.

Marv Albert, Kenny said, is more prepared for a broadcast than just about anyone he's ever seen. And because he loves what he does – and Marv really, really loves boxing – his passion is easily passed on to the viewer.

If the announcer cares, and is enthralled by what he's seeing, there's a good chance he'll bring the viewer into that moment with him.

"He loves what he is doing, no doubt," Kenny Albert said of his father. "On the air, whether it was with Ferdie Pacheco in boxing or Mike Fratello in basketball or his analysts in other sports, that good-natured kidding around and the sense of humor he was able to go to at key times means so much. We're watching sports on TV and he's having a good time and so are we.

"And he is so good with the voice inflection and the excitement. You'd know it was a big moment just by his voice inflection."

Marv Albert is the lead announcer for NBA games on TNT, so he's already familiar to the younger crowd that the PBC will seek out. The NBA is huge among the 18-to-34-year-old demographic that is critical to boxing's long-term success, and Albert is a familiar, friendly voice with them.

Though he hasn't done a fight in nearly 30 years, he still keeps up on the game and is excited by the prospect of calling Guerrero-Thurman and Broner-Molina.

He's also excited to play a role in whatever resurgence or shot in the arm that having live fights in primetime on network television can do for the sport.

"I would sure hope that's the case," Marv Albert said of the series' potential impact upon boxing. "I haven't met Al Haymon yet, but it's certainly impressive what he's done and what we're opening with. These are both very good fights and it was nice to see the kind of reaction [the announcement got] both online and among the few newspaper boxing writers we have left. They were very favorable about Adrien Broner going up against John Molina and then Thurman and Guerrero, and I think they were pleasantly surprised that these are such good fights.

"When people say that this could be boxing's last gasp, I think it's hard to say that that would be the case. But it's most definitely a step in the right direction. Even the fighters at the initial press conference are very excited about it."

NBA analyst Grant Hill and Marv Albert talk during an NBA summer league game in 2014. (Getty)
NBA analyst Grant Hill and Marv Albert talk during an NBA summer league game in 2014. (Getty)

Albert traveled the world covering fights for NBC during the 1980s, calling blow-by-blow for fights in spots as varied as Bloomington, Minn., Monaco, Italy and South Africa, among many others.

Boxing has so many characters and unique personalities, and Albert was able to help them become larger than life. Men like Johnny "Bump City" Bumphus and Frank "The Animal" Fletcher became minor celebrities because of their appearances on NBC.

"There are so many things that make boxing different from other sports, but one of the things that I think is a part of its charm is that you just never quite know what might happen next," he said. "Anything, quite literally, can happen and often does. There are so many wild endings and that's part of the attraction of it.

"But we did a lot of really good, really competitive, really important fights. People respond to that. And from what I can see with the fights being put together for [the PBC], that's what we're going to be getting again."

The viewers will be getting a guy who cares, a guy who enjoys what he's doing, a guy who will be happy to be ringside and isn't there simply for a paycheck and an audition tape that will lead to another job.

And so, even as the end of his legendary career is coming near, Marv Albert is the perfect choice to, if not resuscitate boxing, to at least give it a boost to the next level.

If Haymon's gambit doesn't work, and viewers don't tune in en masse, and there isn't an upsurge in interest in the sport, it certainly won't be because he named a 73-year-old play-by-play man.

That move is one of the best he could have made.

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