Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr. proving boxing's business model is broken and in serious trouble
If you wonder why boxing shrinks in prominence week after week, month after month, year after year and, sadly, decade after decade, head over to Twitter and check out the thread between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford from Wednesday.
The two unbeaten welterweight champions bickered like spoiled children over why they chose not to fight each other.
Yes, it was a choice. Crawford and his backers have blamed Spence, and vehemently so. Spence’s backers just as adamantly have laid the blame upon Crawford. Of course, instead of bickering over who’d win what should be a fantastic fight, their fans are arguing about something they don’t have a clue about. They have no idea what the truth is in the matter, they don’t understand the business and yet they fill social media with these rants instead of discussing the actual fight.
That, in a nutshell, is boxing in 2022.
Here is why the fight hasn’t been made: exclusivity and expectations. Crawford for years was with Top Rank, which has an exclusive television deal with ESPN. Spence is with the Premier Boxing Champions, which has its TV deal with Showtime.
Top Rank vastly overpaid Crawford, and PBC overpaid Spence. Top Rank lost millions on Crawford versus Shawn Porter. It sold a small amount of tickets and tanked on PPV, but Crawford walked away with a cool $6 million.
People thought that once Crawford broke from Top Rank, it would be simple to make the fight with Spence. But that’s where the expectations come in. Because both fighters were overpaid, now they find themselves in a situation where they expect to fight each other for an enormous payday that would cause massive financial losses to anyone who funded it.
It makes the sport look ridiculous and decidedly low rent. There is no central authority — a commissioner’s office, let’s say — and so boxing has no rules, no sense of sport, no order or fair play. It’s every man and woman for himself or herself. Nobody in a position of authority lifts a finger to fix it because they can suck some money out of it. Some are smarter than others and squeeze out a bit more, but the business is on life support.
An obscenely small amount of fighters make the overwhelming majority of money in boxing, while a huge number make next to nothing. There is no middle class and so there’s increasingly less incentive for athletes to take up boxing because the odds of them hitting it and making the big money are in the range of those against you or I hitting the Powerball.
Take, for example, the card in Los Angeles on Sept. 4 that was headlined by heavyweights Andy Ruiz and Luis Ortiz. Ruiz made $1 million and Ortiz earned $550,000. Of the 16 fighters who competed that night, eight made $5,500 or less. Antonio Lopez and Juan Carlos Lopez earned $5,500 each; Anthony Cuba, Oscar Perez, Anthony Garnica and Jesus Carillo each made $5,000; Matt Gaver and Kel Spencer earned $4,000 and Deljerro Revello made $2,000.
After Revello paid his debts, such as manager, trainer, cutman, license, drug testing, etc., he was lucky if he could afford a medium pan pizza with pepperoni and extra cheese and a two-liter bottle of soda.
There’s no way a boxer can make a living earning $2,000 or $4,000 a fight, and so who knows how many potential champions walk away and give up because they have a spouse and a child to take care of and rent to pay? They’re ground up by a system that does nothing to replenish itself.
Meanwhile, Crawford and Spence made themselves look foolish arguing over $25 million purse guarantees, hedge funds, who has a boss and other nonsense that has nothing whatsoever to do with the fights. That simply further alienates the sport from its fans, and mostly from its potential fans.
There are no rules in boxing and fewer barriers to entry. Even in the NHL — where at one point John A. Spano Jr., who didn’t have nearly the amount of money required to complete the transaction yet still was somehow approved to purchase the New York Islanders — there are policies and procedures in place to enforce minimum standards.
As a result of those policies, teams operate with an agreed upon set of rules, and every year each team in the league plays the other and there are playoffs and then a championship final held.
None of that is true in boxing. Thus, too many fights aren’t put together because of the exclusive TV deals, the lack of any overriding authority and the lack of rules to regulate how those who do find their way into it operate.
Things occur on a near-daily basis in boxing that would shake the pillars of the major team sports to their cores. You can’t imagine the things that occur regularly in boxing occurring in the NFL because the NFL has systems in place to prevent it.
The exclusive TV deals are death to the sport, period. If Showtime and ESPN, say, were open to all promoters and bid on fights they felt their audiences would love, it would boost the sport immensely. Exclusivity simply prevents a huge number of potentially good fights from occurring.
In the U.S., there are three main broadcast outlets for boxing: ESPN, which has an exclusive deal with Top Rank; Showtime, which primarily does business with PBC; and DAZN, which does business primarily with Matchroom and Golden Boy. There are no viable options for other promoters to get their shows televised. And without TV, they’re dead.
A dispute over which network should televise an interesting fight between Ryan Garcia and Gervonta Davis has that bout on life support. Showtime has Davis, who is with the PBC, and DAZN has Garcia, who is with Golden Boy. The NFL has broadcast deals with CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and Amazon, and no game is ever not scheduled or held as a direct result of them as happens far too often in boxing.
Jimmy Cannon once referred to boxing as “the red light district of sports.” But even that terrific observation doesn’t go far enough, because if you go to one of the places in Nevada where prostitution is legal, you’ll find there are plenty of rules and regulations that govern the operation of the brothels. Boxing? Not so much.
Many fighters have been led to believe getting one’s fights onto pay-per-view is reaching the promised land, because of the success primarily of Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao and a very small handful of others in pay-per-view fights.
Too often, a fight goes to pay-per-view because no TV network wants to fund and broadcast it. That’s how even a quality bout like the one on Nov. 26 in Carson, California, for the vacant WBC super lightweight title between Regis Prograis and Jose Zepeda ends up on pay-per-view.
It’s being sold for a ridiculously high $59.99 and has zero chance of getting anywhere near 100,000 sales, even though it’s a fun top-to-bottom card. Both Prograis and Zepeda are excellent fighters who are exciting to watch, but neither has a high profile and few will shell out $60 to watch.
The sport of boxing is fantastic and, at times, awe-inspiring when you see the courage, bravery and desire these athletes display. But the business of boxing is wretched. It’s a broken system with too many scoundrels to count and no organization in place that would help make the fights the public wants to see.
The public is turning away and the business is going to keep shrinking because there’s no one who cares enough about the sport and the business as a whole to do anything about it.
The sad reality is boxing’s demise is self-inflicted, and no one seems inclined to try to figure a way to solve its many problems.