By Jason Pribila: The spirit of the holiday season has spread to the Secondsout.com Team as we continue to reveal our 2015 award winners. I was selected to write about the winner of our “Services to Boxing” category: Al Haymon (Premier Boxing Champions).
While the verdict remains out as to PBC’s overall effect on the sport, anyone responsible for bringing the sport of boxing back to network television on a consistent basis deserves our year end kudos. On March 7, 2015 boxing was televised on NBC, and for the first time in over thirty years a generation of fight fans had access to boxing’s elite on “free” TV. Keith Thurman held his ground against the rallying Robert Guerrero in the main event of the Inaugural show, and finally boxing fans had what they had been clamoring for.
Premier Boxing Champions was the end result of boxing manager Al Haymon’s plan to take over the sport of boxing. Haymon gained prominence in the sport by becoming the manager of the sport’s cash cow Floyd Mayweather Jr. He formed a cozy relationship with then Golden Boy partner, Richard Schaefer. That relationship gave all of the fighters that Haymon managed a successful promotional banner to fight under. To De La Hoya’s surprise he was building the profiles of fighters for an empire that belonged only to Haymon.
The wheels were now in motion for Haymon to bring boxing back to network television. He was able to broker deals with all four major networks, as well as cable channels Bounce TV and Spike. Haymon was able to bring this vision to reality because he had enough money to broker deals with television executives. Rather than having the network pay for a rights fee, Haymon pays for a block of TV Time in return for a cut of the advertising revenue. This agreement puts all the risk on Haymon’s shoulders, but it also buys him at least thru 2016 to not only convince current boxing fans that his brand represents boxing’s best, but it also needs to use the reach of the television networks to cultivate new fans. Boxing stars of yesterday became so popular because people watched their careers blossom in their living rooms on Friday Nights and Saturday afternoons.
Of course, boxing being boxing, the PBC Revolution has been greeted controversy and multi-million dollar lawsuits. The controversy remains that Haymon fighters do not appear on HBO, meaning that none of the fighters on HBO are available to do business with Haymon fighters. Lawsuits by Golden Boy and Top Rank have accused the PBC of breaking anti-trust laws, monopolizing broadcast rights, venues, and forbidding his fighters from signing with either promotional company. They also claim that Haymon is acting as both manager and promoter, which would violate the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act.
While Oscar De La Hoya still had a successful 2015, one could understand why he’s willing to lace up the gloves in the courtroom. Not only was he shocked that he did not have the promotional rights to the Haymon fighters that his company was promoting as Showtime was closing the gap between themselves and HBO, but he is also witnessing the exact mission statement that he wanted for his own company back in 2010.
At that time, De La Hoya was quoted as saying that boxing needed to be run like the UFC. He wanted there to be one promotional banner that would ensure that the best fighters would fight the best on the HBO platform which would create quarterly Pay Per View shows. This would eliminate co-promotions, it would make fights easier to make, and the promoter would be able to control what fighters were paid, thus creating more money for the Promoter.
Haymon took Oscar’s vision and took it a step further by taking his product to network television. That being said, the PBC was not an overnight success. Boxing is not the UFC. Boxing has been around for over 100 years and therefore it appeals more to historians than pioneers. The sport and its fanbase are slow to make changes, and many are set in their ways. They have been conditioned to look to HBO for the boxing elite. Boxing on free tv usually meant that one was watching prospects or has-beens. The lights shined brighter on HBO.
Casual sports fans do not know who Al Haymon is. His company does not have a personality that fans could relate to like the UFC has Dana White. Premier Boxing Champions does not exactly roll off the tongue and PBC sounds more like PBS than it does a company of fighters.
The Haymon fighters also previously gained their popularity on Showtime. While Showtime made great strides, the network reaches far fewer homes than HBO. Another disadvantage is that the US Amateur boxing program has failed to produce a male gold medal since Andre Ward. De La Hoya himself was the last time that the Olympics generated fan interest from the infancy of a fighter’s career.
So while Haymon succeeded in getting fighters back to network television, they need to continue to build the profile of the fighters. This could prove to be difficult as Haymon has yet to create his own star rather than poaching established stars. Therefore, I’m not sure that a reality show would be the answer. Although, when the Contender was on NBC, I had more women ask me about fighters like Peter, Sergio, and Alfonso, than boxers like Keith, Robert, and Danny.
I do believe that Haymon has enough fighters between 140 and 147 to stage a tournament. Imagine if the Super Six aired on CBS rather than Showtime? This would force fighters to remain active. Fighting 2 times a year is not the best way to raise a fighter’s profile. This would also provide fans with a fight schedule. They would know when and where they could find a fight, rather than searching up and down the dial. Fight fans would develop relationships with the fighters as they would know not only when they would fight next, but they would know the opponent. I think the PBC has an opportunity to illustrate how little boxing fans care about whether or not a fighter loses, as long as he is testing himself by fighting the best. Boardwalk Hall was sold out as soon as Arturo Gatti announced he was going to fight, and it did not matter who was in the other corner.
We are about to enter year two of the PBC. Danny Garcia is scheduled to fight Robert Guerrero on January 23. We could only hope that the PBC continues to think outside of the box. Tweak things that don’t work (ring walks, Hans Zimmer’s score rather than a fighter’s own music). Realize that playing well with others could only help raise your own fighter’s profiles. Realize that “Golden Boy” and “Top Rank” are not going anywhere. Boxing fans are more dedicated to their sport than any other fan base. But they will not follow blindly. As long as they see Sergei Kovalev and “GGG” knocking people out, they are never going to accept your titlists as “champions” unless the olive branch is passed and at the end of the day the best fights are made at the time that the demand is highest. The sport may not be able to survive another money grab like we saw on May 2nd, 2015.