IT is terrific that Anthony Joshua, the owner of three out of four major heavyweight belts, is in action this weekend. The return of one of the world’s most famous athletes, after the most difficult year British boxing has ever endured, should only be a cause for celebration.
Not only that, fans will be in attendance. Every promoter in the land deserves praise for the mountains they have climbed this year. Moreso, every fighter who has risked their careers and reputations by competing for less pay in alien environments should be championed to the hilt. The fights we’ve had and the fights still to come speak of a sport doing all it can to thrive in exceedingly difficult circumstances.
Boxing, from the inside looking out, is ending the year on the kind of high that was unthinkable only a few months ago. One hopes that the fans who pay the wages of everyone who is lucky enough to work in the industry feel the same way.
The pandemic not only threw the sport into chaos, it left an entire world on its knees. Positivity of any kind was hard to come by. There have been over one-and-a-half million reported deaths attributed to coronavirus and even more find themselves unemployed and their finances in disarray. The palpable sense of doom, fed by practically every news bulletin, has affected everyone in their own way.
It was predictable, then, that Sky Sports’ decision to price Joshua’s pay-per-view defence against Bulgarian veteran Kubrat Pulev at £24.95 (a fiver more than what Eddie Hearn recently indicated it would cost and a fiver more than the £19.95 fee we’re used to) would be met with significant outcry. The 25 quid price point was first introduced 12 months ago, as a one-off we were told, due to the anticipation surrounding Joshua’s return with Andy Ruiz Jnr.
When speaking to Boxing News in October, Hearn addressed the fans’ concerns that the cost of pay-per-view would continue to rise regardless, particularly with a Tyson Fury-Joshua showdown in the offing for 2021.
“I would think that [Fury-Joshua] would escalate to £24.95 or whatever it is on an absolute one-off basis but certainly there are no plans to increase the price point of the pay-per-views,” Hearn said. “That would quite frankly be a p**s take and I’m not here to take the p**s, I’m here to deliver value and I think the price point is right for the product that is being delivered.”
Many fans, particularly hardcore fans, believe that Hearn is now taking the p**s. Hearn has continued to stress that he doesn’t set the price points and Boxing News understands this is completely true. But the buck has to stop somewhere. Both promoter and broadcaster open themselves up to criticism when the promoter becomes the voice of the broadcaster, particularly when that promoter is entrusted with managing that broadcaster’s annual boxing budget and then goes back on a promise that the cost will not increase.
It’s the same promoter who will be championing DAZN’s entry into the UK market in the next few days. The streaming giants will initially charge just £1.99-a-month (and for that you can watch Canelo Alvarez-Callum Smith), which is a far more palatable fee. It’s the same promoter whose long-term deal with Sky Sports is up for renewal in 2021. Forgive us if we’re suspicious about the mixed messages.
The concern with raising the price is not just that many won’t be able to afford it. It’s where those fans will go instead. The rise of illegal streams will continue. The long-term implications of that shouldn’t need spelling out any further here.
However, what shouldn’t be forgotten, and is being forgotten in all of this, is how insanely difficult managing any kind of business has been in 2020. Everyone everywhere is looking nervously at their accounts and trying to balance the books. Decisions are being forced as the New Year, and the extent of profits and losses become clear, draws closer and closer.
The argument from Sky Sports and Hearn that the world is now a very different place are indeed convenient. But they’re also true. Joshua events generate millions from gate receipts. This fight will attract 1,000 fans compared to the usual 80,000. Joshua has taken a pay-cut. The £5 increase can be reasonably justified if one looks at it with only their business hats on. But if we’re going to use the current landscape as a reason to increase costs, we also have to recognise that many of those being asked to pay those costs simply cannot for the same reasons. The financial goalposts have to change.
Prices are rising everywhere it seems; everything from the cost of property to the cost of a pint is increasing. It is surely not sustainable, however.
The only way you, the consumer, can change the trend is by not putting your hand in your pocket. Ultimately, as Hearn will tell you until he is blue in the face, the choice is yours.