Yet again, the cost of an event is overshadowing the fights taking place on it. Matt Christie on the pay-per-view question
PAY-PER-VIEW: Three little words guaranteed to get many of us riled. Three words capable of tarnishing an entire fight card long before a punch has been thrown. Three words that have spawned tens of thousands more on these pages over the years.
Ultimately, we expect only the very best from pay-per-view. Quite right, too. We pay an awful lot of money to watch our sport.
As recently as last month, promoter Eddie Hearn told me he was getting tired of arguing over the merits of certain pay-per-view events with disgruntled fans – and the odd journalist – who don’t believe they’re worth the cash. He said if an event achieved 300,000 buys that validates the extra cost but admitted, without the price tag, such events could draw more viewers and therefore increase the exposure in the long term. But boxing has never been particularly good at planning ahead.
In short, a PPV is judged on the numbers it will attract and is not designed with long-term audience growth in mind. It may not please everyone but – like any consumer-reliant business – the more money it makes today the bigger success it is deemed to be, regardless.
There is a huge split in opinion on the merits of the recently announced pay-per-view card on May 1 which features Dereck Chisora, Katie Taylor, Dmitry Bivol and Chris Eubank Jnr. Three of the four have big profiles who are proven to draw large audiences in the UK and Ireland. Bivol is the odd one out but he’s among the best light-heavyweights in the world and a talent to savour. So even before we examine their opponents one can already understand – begrudgingly or otherwise – why such an event will come at an extra cost, particularly in 2021.
Chisora takes on Joseph Parker atop the bill. As a crossroads heavyweight fight it’s solid, it’s difficult to pick a winner with confidence but as a Box Office bill-topper – a platform originally designed to only showcase the sport at truly elite level – it’s some way below what we have a right to expect. Chisora is coming off his 10th career loss and Parker hasn’t beaten a legitimate contender, if you count Hughie Fury as such, since 2017.
Taylor will face her old amateur rival, Natasha Jonas, over 10 rounds. It’s a very good matchup, the best on the card by some distance and one, if seen by enough eyes, that could do wonders for the women’s code. Craig Richards makes an outrageous leap from domestic level to world class to take on Bivol, the unbeaten WBA light-heavyweight king. It’s brave and daring but on paper it’s a mismatch. So too is Eubank Jnr versus Marcus Morrison. And mismatches shouldn’t really be anywhere near PPV.
The crux here is that the majority who will pay to watch won’t be that bothered if the matchups are competitive or not. Boxing fans can be split into two oft-defined categories. There’s the hardcore fan who will watch every single fight that is televised and buy every pay-per-view. Small in number but loud in voice, at least on social media, they’re the ones who can be relied upon to put their hands in their pockets every time. And as a consequence of that outlay, they’re the hardest to please. Then you have the casual fans who will dip in and out, who are attracted to big names and storylines and, crucially for the marketeers, they’re a bigger, more amenable and carefree group. They will be seduced by the pre-fight razzmatazz, they’ll enjoy seeing Chisora being Chisora, they’ll invest in the Richards fairytale and revel in Eubank doing his thing, irrespective of the opponent.
This card is the sum of several parts, I understand that. It’s a curious selection of fights that, Taylor-Jonas aside, the world was not exactly crying out for but might just welcome at a time when entertainment is thin on the ground. It will only take Chisora-Parker to deliver, one of Eubank, Taylor or Bivol to be drawn into a war and the two remaining fights still to be announced to be well-matched and the price tag might not seem so bad after all. But only you can decide if it represents value for money.
Pay-per-view? It’s really up to you.