By Clive Bernath: It is rather ironic that Audley Harrison's (pic by Mr Will
17th and last fight on the BBC against Poland's Tomasz Bonin was both his finest and most controversial in equal measure. I say his finest performance because for the first time in his professional career the 32 year-old Olympic super-heavyweight champion was pushed to the limit and at last we were provided with a glimpse of the inner steel that is required of him in order to reach the very top in world boxing. Sadly, the highly controversial ending robbed Harrison of full and legitimate glory.
For me 'A Force' was at least two rounds behind when he got the Polish International champ in trouble with a series of unanswered uppercuts and referee John Keane prematurely stepped in to wave the fight off. The way the contest looked to be going (in my view) Harrison may well have finished the job off in the next round anyway but the 3,500 fans watching at ringside and the 2.5 million armchair fans tuning in at home were entitled to expect a natural and acceptable conclusion.
Anyway, that's another story. Just as our Olympic super-heavyweight champion was about to 'step up to the plate' and move forward in his career the BBC decided to pull the plug on our Aud and possibly boxing altogether in favour of bringing back premiership football highlights on Saturday night.
I'm told the reason for this is simply because the BBC paid £105 million for the premiership football highlights over a three year period and cannot afford to continue building boxing back up on terrestrial television. Maybe, the aforementioned coupled with rumours going around boxing circles that exhaustive and unrealistic financial demands by Harrison's A Force Promotions and another BBC promoter could well have put the icing on the preverbal cake but that rumour is by no means set in stone.
Many reliable and respected boxing writers have openly reported that boxing on the beeb will be no more when the Fight Academy's contract of between four and five highlighted shows comes to an end in March 2005. Fight Academy of course promote unbeaten cruiserweight prospect David Haye and were only allocated their quota of shows on the strength of having the 22 year-old Londoner in their ever growing stable.
As far as this writer understands it the BBC's director of Sport Peter Salmon has not made any official announcement that boxing is to totally disappear from his sports calendar. What he has said is that the BBC is to cut back on their boxing coverage. Now, myself being the eternal optimist leads me to believe that maybe, just maybe if Haye can make a name for himself in the next few months and amateur star Amir Khan can emulate Harrison's Olympic Gold in Athens then Salmon may hopefully realise boxing does warrant a permanent place on our screens.
And just to convince Mr Salmon of this I feel it my duty to remind him of what he must surely already know.
From a financial and viewing point boxing is by far the better value for money sport compared to football. From April 2003 until April 2004 the BBC broadcast 24 shows, mostly late Friday (midnight) night or the following day, averaging 1.1million across the board. On the few occasions boxing went live on Saturday night, the average audience peaked at 2.5million. The budget for the entire 24 shows amounted to around £4 million plus and represented a 14% share of all TV viewing at that time.
The Match of the Day live and highlights last available average viewing figures was 3.2 million, which represented 26% of all TV viewing at prime time on a Saturday night. We must bear in mind, though, that one year of football highlights will cost five times more than boxing.
It seems to me that boxing and football fans are predominantly one of the same so would it not make sense to screen both on Saturday night one after the other? Manchester Utd vs Arsenal followed by David Haye vs a genuine top ranked world ranked fighter would surly be a ratings winner.
It has been said many times over the last few years that Sky Sports has done a fantastic job in keeping professional boxing going and still does. But the fact that Sky's audience is hidden away on satellite TV and that the Sky Sport 1 coverage has now moved to Thursday evening's instead of the prime Saturday night slot is another perfect reason for the BBC to rethink their decision on boxing.
Is it just me that believes there is a permanent place for boxing on terrestrial TV or am I just an eternal optimist? I cannot reiterate enough the excellent job Sky Sports does. But for boxing to grow, which means enticing youngsters through the doors of our many amateur gyms around the country the sport needs to be seen on terrestrial TV.
Have your say. Is the BBC making a mistake in scaling down their boxing coverage? Email editor Clive Bernath at email@example.com with your thoughts and we will put the best responses on the site.
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July 12, 2004.