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Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred international podcast, the publisher of the No Holds Barred blog, and a senior contributing editor at the ADCC News.

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    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Boxing, Pay-Per-Views, and Piracy: So Just Who Are the Real Pirates Anyway? 

    The debate on boxing pay-per-view piracy has been taken to another level as Thomas Hauser has written a follow-up to his recent piece on this subject, called “More on Pay-Per-View Piracy and The Internet”.

    This new piece quotes extensively from the flood of many intelligent responses he received about this issue. We also blogged about the original piece, and had our own smaller set of exchanges here. Hauser's original piece was here.

    What is clear from the intensity of this debate as well as the volume of responses is that many people regard the networks like HBO as being bigger and worse pirates than those individuals who steal their pay-per-views. The proliferation of so many of these pay-per-views is a bigger problem to the boxing business than their piracy, with the sport's increasing marginalization to a major degree a result of this policy.

    Of course, boxing faces more issues, such as the rampant corruption in the sport and its inherent violence as well as disregard of fighter safety.

    Case in point: Saturday's card at The Theater at Madison Square Garden was given the name “UNDISPUTED”, in all caps. The poster clearly stated that the Judah-Baldomir fight was for the “WBC/IBF/WBA UNDISPUTED WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP”. Yet when Baldomir won this fight, as we reported, he only took home the WBC belt.

    Whether it was through misunderstanding, miscommunication, or trickeration, this fight was not, as it was advertised, for the undisputed world title. Baldomir and his camp pointed out that he was only Judah's mandatory challenger for the WBC, and that fighting for all the other titles would have only meant paying more sanctioning fees to these alphabets which had not ranked him as their top contender. Scott Woodworth of Sycuan Ringside Promotions, which promotes Baldomir, said of these groups, “Rape me.”

    As I wrote to a colleague about this title confusion, “It all should be very simple, like in other sports. Judah was the undisputed champion, a distinction he won in the ring against Spinks. Baldomir beat Judah fair and square, also in the ring. If they ran football like they run boxing, the Giants would still be in the playoffs.”

    Hauser's latest article closes with a poignant quote from someone not named who commented on his first piece:

    “Les Moonves and Tom Freston [then the co-presidents of Viacom] each received $52,000,000 in compensation last year. Who did you say was ripping off the system?”

    Let the anti-pay-per-view rebellion begin.


    Links to this post:

    Comments:
    The e-mails Hauser quotes are hilarious examples of self-righteous moral obtuseness, combined with a dash of Flip Wilson's "the devil made me do it" and a heaping portion of economic ignorance.

    They're pretty hilarious, even the naive moral preening. To wit: we're not stealing - it's a revolution. And it's not any old revolution - it's a revolution designed to save boxing! By stealing these PPVs, we'll bring the big corporations to their knees, so to speak, begin the re-education of the American public to the glories of boxing, and - somehow - everyone will make more money even though we've reduced the revenue stream. In a few years, because of our high-minded idealism, we'll have fights again at Yankee Stadium.

    It's so patently idiotic I hardly know where to begin. I'll leave issues of morality aside, lest I succumb to the sanctimony of Hauser's e-mailers, and address just one issue as summarized in this electronic missive:

    "Does it make sense for a sport with an aging and shrinking fan base to charge more and more for a product and make it increasingly difficult to access? The start of the solution is to expand the audience, not to further fractionalize it with new exclusionary technologies. Piracy cannot be effectively policed, so go with the flow. Make fights easier to obtain, not more difficult. Improve the quality of the product and grow the audience."

    It makes a perfect sense to charge more because alternative revenue streams don't exist. For television, it's Time-Warner, Viacom, ABC/Cap Cities and Newscorp, with the last two displaying nominal interest. GE isn't interested at all.

    Boxing promoters may be a lot of things, but stupid isn't one of them. The argument that they're pennywise/pound-foolish doesn't hold, because not only are there no other ways of making money off the sport, there's not a scintilla of evidence that boxing is missing out on potential viewers. Sure, there are some people who don't want to pay, but judging from the desultory results whenever boxing is shown on free television - either fights or "reality programming" - it's pretty clear boxing's day has come and gone. And that's true no matter how many re-education projects our revolutionaries will establish, though it's my guess the total will be zero.

    Furthermore, pirating PPV all but guarantees a corporation like GE won't have any interest in televising boxing, because these privateers have made it clear they aren't interested in spending money. That's a demographic Madison Avenue salivates over!

    If you want to sock it to the man, be an adult. Here are some easy suggestions that don't involve theft: 1. Support deregulation of cable by eliminating the awarding of exclusive cable franchises; make these giants compete with each other, the regional phone companies, and satellite providers. If it's self-evident that people will flock to providers that de-link cable channels, then it will happen. 2. Don't buy fights you don't think are worth it. 3. When you've decided you have to see Hopkins/Jones, have friends over. Pool the money. Or have someone bring the beer, another the pizza, etc. This requires you to not only have friends, but to have friends who like boxing. You want more people to like boxing? Look around the room.

    And one more thing... One of the reasons there aren't better fights - though this is hardly the only one - is there aren't a lot of good fights to go around.
     
    Thanks for the comment.

    First off, those justifying the stealing are basically full of it. This is not some honest but starving and abandoned person in devastated New Orleans breaking into a store to get water. Frankly, if many of these thieves spent a fraction of what they do buying illegal dope from their mob-controlled suppliers, they would have plenty to squander on some mediocre boxing pay-per-view. And don't tell me that any number of these young, tech-savvy Internet pirates on their up-to-date computers and with their broadband connections have to beg on the street to feed their hungry kids.

    That said, the primary reason boxing was bumped from network TV was not low ratings. It was lack of interest from advertisers. The fight which killed Beny "Kid" Paret was on free TV, ABC. Ray Mancini-Deuk Koo Kim was on CBS on Nov. 13, 1982, with the bloody Larry Holmes-Tex Cobb spectacle just 13 days later on Nov. 26, 1982, also on ABC, prompting Howard Cosell to leave boxing. Plus, there had already been the ABC-Ring-Don King scandal over their 1977 tournament, documented in books such as Jack Newfield's on King, "Only in America", and Tom Hauser's "Black Lights".

    Then after all the big fights migrated to pay per-view, we saw Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield's ears, and the robbery in Lewis-Holyfield 1. This cemented the wall between boxing and potential advertisers.

    So yes, the promoters and networks are shortsighted. They could have decided, like baseball did after the Black Sox scandal, to clean up their sport. That brought it almost a century of unprecedented prosperity. The promoters, as did the rival NFL owners, could have decided to band together to cooperate, which meant more money for all of them. The NFL's lead as America's most popular sport is widening every year, and certainly not because the quality of play on the field is improving.

    The pay-per-view pirates may be blowing smoke, but just because they may be full of it doesn't mean we should dismiss the numerous critiques of the networks and promoters. We now even get pay-per-views as warm-ups for future pay-per-views, and it seems never to end.

    But the promoters show no sign of wanting to work together, even the newer, younger promoters who are still technically active fighters like Oscar De La Hoya.

    Boxing's precipitous decline is not mainly because of changes in the marketplace, culture, technology, etc., and was not inevitable. It let all sorts of nonsense go on which other sports did not, and paid the price, as again seen in the Baldomir title confusion.

    And Tuesday there is the Rahman-Toney press conference here in New York. What chance do you think there is that this will go on without some ugly incident? That's how fights are marketed today, through sleaze. And when you roll in the sewer, don't be surprised when people hold their noses and turn away.
     
    Eddie,

    If what you say is correct, then why aren't other advertising-based media companies running live boxing? They rip-off every other aspect of HBO's programming - often racy stuff that's supposed to be advertiser poison - but advertisers don't bat an eye.

    Advertisers are all over pro wrestling, a "sport" that a) carries the pall of death about it; b) embraces corruption; and c) charges the same dough boxing does for its PPV.

    The difference is that people want to watch wrestling and they don't want to watch boxing.
     
    Every show and sport is different.

    Case in point: NBC, which briefly ran the "Budweiser Boxing Series" a year or two ago, had in almost the same time slot, and against weak opposition and no major live sports, the Olympic freestyle skiing trials on Sat., Dec. 31, at 2:30 PM ET. The Nielsen rating was 1.0 with a 2 share. The boxing series, sometimes against live sports, generally got better ratings, in the low to mid 1's. Yet it was dropped.

    NBC paid no rights fee for the boxing. It was called the "Budweiser Boxing Series" because Budweiser put up most of the dough. The show was put on by a partnership of sorts between Budweiser, Main Events, and NBC. The fights involved Main Events guys, and were generally pretty good. But they could get no other sponsors, despite the decent ratings. Skiing gets lower ratings but has a different image, so here it is.

    Advertising is based not only on numbers but on perception. There is no country music radio station in New York. Every study shows that if there were one, it would be in the top ten in the ratings, perhaps as high as number seven. But the advertisers believe that the demographics it would draw would not be that desirable to them. The perception of the advertisers may be preposterous, but it exists, which is why no country radio station exists in New York, and even after the CMA Awards were moved here in Nov. 2005 for one year.

    Pro "wrestling" is different as well. Overall boxing beats it on cumulative pay-per-view buys for the year, and average per major show. This was true even in 2005, without any huge boxing pay-per-view, only one with Tyson that flopped, and a lot of lousy ones by HBO.

    Of the top drawing 15 pay-per-views in the U.S. in 2005, eight were boxing, six were WWE, and UFC had one. And three of the top four and seven of the top ten were boxing. (Figures taken both from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer and ESPN.com.)

    But the mainstream media and advertisers are lazy, and particularly intellectually lazy. The only issue for them is if it is real or fake. Since WWE and McMahon admitted years ago that it was not a real sport, but "sports entertainment," that is enough scrutiny for them.

    So this does not have corruption in the same sense that boxing does, and cannot. The corruption shows up in the accepted widespread use of steroids, painkillers, and other dope which has killed off dozens of top stars, most recently 38-year-old Eddie Guerrero. Except for Meltzer and sometimes Phil Mushnick of the New York Post (whose facts are sometimes as skewed as the rest of this tabloid), almost no one else covers this issue. The rest say, ha ha, I know it's not real, so who cares about anything else? That insulates it in their minds from any other type of analysis. Meanwhile, the list of the dead grows, but the advertisers are happy.

    So there are audiences for both boxing and pro "wrestling." Remember also that the latter is rarely on network TV any more and mainly on cable, where the networks get a chunk of the fee customers pay to the cable companies, as well as advertising as a revenue stream.

    If boxing put its top stars on a free show, as WWE does most weeks, it would outdraw it, even if the top fights were still on pay-per-view. And if boxing put its top fights on a network, for example, even one or two a year, its ratings would be excellent. It just wouldn't get the advertising.
     
    Post a Comment

    4 Comments:

    The e-mails Hauser quotes are hilarious examples of self-righteous moral obtuseness, combined with a dash of Flip Wilson's "the devil made me do it" and a heaping portion of economic ignorance.

    They're pretty hilarious, even the naive moral preening. To wit: we're not stealing - it's a revolution. And it's not any old revolution - it's a revolution designed to save boxing! By stealing these PPVs, we'll bring the big corporations to their knees, so to speak, begin the re-education of the American public to the glories of boxing, and - somehow - everyone will make more money even though we've reduced the revenue stream. In a few years, because of our high-minded idealism, we'll have fights again at Yankee Stadium.

    It's so patently idiotic I hardly know where to begin. I'll leave issues of morality aside, lest I succumb to the sanctimony of Hauser's e-mailers, and address just one issue as summarized in this electronic missive:

    "Does it make sense for a sport with an aging and shrinking fan base to charge more and more for a product and make it increasingly difficult to access? The start of the solution is to expand the audience, not to further fractionalize it with new exclusionary technologies. Piracy cannot be effectively policed, so go with the flow. Make fights easier to obtain, not more difficult. Improve the quality of the product and grow the audience."

    It makes a perfect sense to charge more because alternative revenue streams don't exist. For television, it's Time-Warner, Viacom, ABC/Cap Cities and Newscorp, with the last two displaying nominal interest. GE isn't interested at all.

    Boxing promoters may be a lot of things, but stupid isn't one of them. The argument that they're pennywise/pound-foolish doesn't hold, because not only are there no other ways of making money off the sport, there's not a scintilla of evidence that boxing is missing out on potential viewers. Sure, there are some people who don't want to pay, but judging from the desultory results whenever boxing is shown on free television - either fights or "reality programming" - it's pretty clear boxing's day has come and gone. And that's true no matter how many re-education projects our revolutionaries will establish, though it's my guess the total will be zero.

    Furthermore, pirating PPV all but guarantees a corporation like GE won't have any interest in televising boxing, because these privateers have made it clear they aren't interested in spending money. That's a demographic Madison Avenue salivates over!

    If you want to sock it to the man, be an adult. Here are some easy suggestions that don't involve theft: 1. Support deregulation of cable by eliminating the awarding of exclusive cable franchises; make these giants compete with each other, the regional phone companies, and satellite providers. If it's self-evident that people will flock to providers that de-link cable channels, then it will happen. 2. Don't buy fights you don't think are worth it. 3. When you've decided you have to see Hopkins/Jones, have friends over. Pool the money. Or have someone bring the beer, another the pizza, etc. This requires you to not only have friends, but to have friends who like boxing. You want more people to like boxing? Look around the room.

    And one more thing... One of the reasons there aren't better fights - though this is hardly the only one - is there aren't a lot of good fights to go around.

    By Blogger Brian Moore, at 5:53 PM  

    Thanks for the comment.

    First off, those justifying the stealing are basically full of it. This is not some honest but starving and abandoned person in devastated New Orleans breaking into a store to get water. Frankly, if many of these thieves spent a fraction of what they do buying illegal dope from their mob-controlled suppliers, they would have plenty to squander on some mediocre boxing pay-per-view. And don't tell me that any number of these young, tech-savvy Internet pirates on their up-to-date computers and with their broadband connections have to beg on the street to feed their hungry kids.

    That said, the primary reason boxing was bumped from network TV was not low ratings. It was lack of interest from advertisers. The fight which killed Beny "Kid" Paret was on free TV, ABC. Ray Mancini-Deuk Koo Kim was on CBS on Nov. 13, 1982, with the bloody Larry Holmes-Tex Cobb spectacle just 13 days later on Nov. 26, 1982, also on ABC, prompting Howard Cosell to leave boxing. Plus, there had already been the ABC-Ring-Don King scandal over their 1977 tournament, documented in books such as Jack Newfield's on King, "Only in America", and Tom Hauser's "Black Lights".

    Then after all the big fights migrated to pay per-view, we saw Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield's ears, and the robbery in Lewis-Holyfield 1. This cemented the wall between boxing and potential advertisers.

    So yes, the promoters and networks are shortsighted. They could have decided, like baseball did after the Black Sox scandal, to clean up their sport. That brought it almost a century of unprecedented prosperity. The promoters, as did the rival NFL owners, could have decided to band together to cooperate, which meant more money for all of them. The NFL's lead as America's most popular sport is widening every year, and certainly not because the quality of play on the field is improving.

    The pay-per-view pirates may be blowing smoke, but just because they may be full of it doesn't mean we should dismiss the numerous critiques of the networks and promoters. We now even get pay-per-views as warm-ups for future pay-per-views, and it seems never to end.

    But the promoters show no sign of wanting to work together, even the newer, younger promoters who are still technically active fighters like Oscar De La Hoya.

    Boxing's precipitous decline is not mainly because of changes in the marketplace, culture, technology, etc., and was not inevitable. It let all sorts of nonsense go on which other sports did not, and paid the price, as again seen in the Baldomir title confusion.

    And Tuesday there is the Rahman-Toney press conference here in New York. What chance do you think there is that this will go on without some ugly incident? That's how fights are marketed today, through sleaze. And when you roll in the sewer, don't be surprised when people hold their noses and turn away.

    By Blogger Eddie Goldman, at 1:21 AM  

    Eddie,

    If what you say is correct, then why aren't other advertising-based media companies running live boxing? They rip-off every other aspect of HBO's programming - often racy stuff that's supposed to be advertiser poison - but advertisers don't bat an eye.

    Advertisers are all over pro wrestling, a "sport" that a) carries the pall of death about it; b) embraces corruption; and c) charges the same dough boxing does for its PPV.

    The difference is that people want to watch wrestling and they don't want to watch boxing.

    By Blogger Brian Moore, at 1:02 PM  

    Every show and sport is different.

    Case in point: NBC, which briefly ran the "Budweiser Boxing Series" a year or two ago, had in almost the same time slot, and against weak opposition and no major live sports, the Olympic freestyle skiing trials on Sat., Dec. 31, at 2:30 PM ET. The Nielsen rating was 1.0 with a 2 share. The boxing series, sometimes against live sports, generally got better ratings, in the low to mid 1's. Yet it was dropped.

    NBC paid no rights fee for the boxing. It was called the "Budweiser Boxing Series" because Budweiser put up most of the dough. The show was put on by a partnership of sorts between Budweiser, Main Events, and NBC. The fights involved Main Events guys, and were generally pretty good. But they could get no other sponsors, despite the decent ratings. Skiing gets lower ratings but has a different image, so here it is.

    Advertising is based not only on numbers but on perception. There is no country music radio station in New York. Every study shows that if there were one, it would be in the top ten in the ratings, perhaps as high as number seven. But the advertisers believe that the demographics it would draw would not be that desirable to them. The perception of the advertisers may be preposterous, but it exists, which is why no country radio station exists in New York, and even after the CMA Awards were moved here in Nov. 2005 for one year.

    Pro "wrestling" is different as well. Overall boxing beats it on cumulative pay-per-view buys for the year, and average per major show. This was true even in 2005, without any huge boxing pay-per-view, only one with Tyson that flopped, and a lot of lousy ones by HBO.

    Of the top drawing 15 pay-per-views in the U.S. in 2005, eight were boxing, six were WWE, and UFC had one. And three of the top four and seven of the top ten were boxing. (Figures taken both from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer and ESPN.com.)

    But the mainstream media and advertisers are lazy, and particularly intellectually lazy. The only issue for them is if it is real or fake. Since WWE and McMahon admitted years ago that it was not a real sport, but "sports entertainment," that is enough scrutiny for them.

    So this does not have corruption in the same sense that boxing does, and cannot. The corruption shows up in the accepted widespread use of steroids, painkillers, and other dope which has killed off dozens of top stars, most recently 38-year-old Eddie Guerrero. Except for Meltzer and sometimes Phil Mushnick of the New York Post (whose facts are sometimes as skewed as the rest of this tabloid), almost no one else covers this issue. The rest say, ha ha, I know it's not real, so who cares about anything else? That insulates it in their minds from any other type of analysis. Meanwhile, the list of the dead grows, but the advertisers are happy.

    So there are audiences for both boxing and pro "wrestling." Remember also that the latter is rarely on network TV any more and mainly on cable, where the networks get a chunk of the fee customers pay to the cable companies, as well as advertising as a revenue stream.

    If boxing put its top stars on a free show, as WWE does most weeks, it would outdraw it, even if the top fights were still on pay-per-view. And if boxing put its top fights on a network, for example, even one or two a year, its ratings would be excellent. It just wouldn't get the advertising.

    By Blogger Eddie Goldman, at 4:47 AM  

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