For years, boxing has been marginalized with a sense of false superiority gained from pay-per-view greed. Fight fans were missing key moments in boxing history in real time due to exorbitant fees that were barriers to entry for certain folks that weren’t diehard enthusiasts with some disposable cash laying around.
However, now the new trend is to put high-level championship bouts on free TV, making it accessible to the wider audience who might love the sport, but not enough to spend extra in order to see it from their homes.
Manny Pacquaio and his long-time promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank have now seen the light and are entering into boxings return to the non-paying mass TV market.
This weekend, Pacquaio returns to defend his World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight title live on ESPN against Jeff Horn. The bout will take place at the SunCorp Arena in Horns native Brisbane, Australia. This will be the first time Pacquiao has not fought on pay-per-view since Sept. 10, 2005, when he stopped Hector Velazquez in the sixth round. That was 12 years and four weight divisions ago.
Top Rank, which usually airs its fights exclusively on HBO or pay-per-view, is taking a stark new outlook on the way it distributes its boxing content. With a deep roster of stars like Pacquaio, Terence Crawford, Tim Bradley and up and comers like Oscar Valdez and Shakur Stevenson, this move could prove to be a game-changer in the quest for larger audience market share.
Manny Pacquiao reflects on how his great career began with a special relationship with his trainer Freddie Roach.
It is a reversal from the hostility that Arum, along with other promoters like Kathy Duva of Main Events and Oscar de la Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions, exhibited with the entrance of Premier Boxing Champions. The platform created by ghost-like boxing impresario Al Haymon took many of boxings champions off of premium cable and returned championship level fights to network TV.
Arum filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, contending that Haymon’s PBC series is monopolistic and violates federal antitrust laws as well as the federal Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. Haymons role as advisor to his high profile clients like Floyd Money Mayweather was deemed problematic for Arum with the advent of Premier Boxing Champions.
Haymon, with perhaps as much as $500 million-plus secured to bankroll the venture from Kansas investment firm Waddell & Reed, purchased time for the PBC series on a multitude of television networks, including ESPN, NBC/NBC Sports Net, CBS, Spike TV, Fox/Fox Sports 1 and Bounce TV. Haymon normally aligns with a local promoter to host the event under their promoters license, which skirts his culpability as the promoter on record.
After much dissent at Haymons monumental move and HBOs lack of securing the broadcast rights for fights like Shakur Stevensons boxing debut and some of Terence Crawfords bouts, Top Rank has changed the dynamic.
If you can’t beat them, join them. That is the best analysis of the move, and it is ultimately good for boxing.
The fight will be shown live on both ESPN and ESPN Deportes, and also streaming live on the ESPN app this Saturday at 9p EST. The fight will be called ringside by ESPN commentators Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas and they will be joined by guest analyst Timothy Bradley, Jr., a former two-division world champion.
Australian boxer Jeff Horn takes on current champion Manny Pacquiao at Suncorp Stadium this Sunday (2 July) in what promises to be a history-making event.
ESPNs coverage of The Battle of Brisbane begins tomorrow, Friday, July 30th, and includes live coverage of the Pacquiao and Horn weigh-in on SportsCenter and Golpe a Golpe on ESPN Deportes.
Also, classic Pacquiao fights were made available on demand and streaming via the ESPN app this week, including his bouts against Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Mrquez and Tim Bradley. With over 85 million subscribers, this is a key sportscentric demographic and a major boost to veteran fighter-statesmen like Pacquaio and future hall of famers such as Terence Crawford.
With boxing back delivered back to the masses, future events will be treated like other major sports events like the NBA championships and the Super Bowl, free and available to the world.
This can only mean bigger things for boxings future and with a stable full of stars without the hype value of a Floyd Mayweather, ESPN is the perfect vehicle to tell the back stories of these athletes and promote their events better than ever.