2017 will usher in with it a new era for British boxing – the success of Eddie Hearn & the Matchroom/SkySports alliance has awakened (on the face of it) not one but two high powered market participants in ITV plc & BT Group plc. And let’s be clear – the younger Hearn’s success is unmatched in terms of public uptake in the post-Terrestrial/premium subscription television era of British boxing – soon to be multiple stadium shows coupled with routine visits to the finest arena venues in the land.
But is he ‘bovvered’? I asked him as much. His response spoke of a man in control of not just his industry but its general expansion in Great Britain, “I’m glad, because when that ITV announcement was made people look at me as the Messiah again. I mean, if I put that fight (Chris Eubank Junior vs. the world famous talent of Renold Quinlan) on a normal Fight Night, I’d get lynched – and they want to make that PPV? It’s a move I don’t really ‘get’. I’d not pay to see that & I don’t think many people will.”
The disadvantage serious competitors (and by competitors I mean broadcast competitors not promotional competitors) will have is the dearth of a serious alternative to Matchroom. The Brentwood based company have a 34 year history of promotional success in a variety of sports (snooker; darts; boxing etc.); easily the most professional purpose built boxing specific promotional staff & operation in European if not world boxing; a strong & consistent balance sheet & “the energy that can only come from youth” [to quote Ambrose Mendy] of the most successful British boxing promoter since Jack Solomons in Eddie Hearn. Combine that with the only premium sports channel that currently really matters in the UK market (with whom they are contractually bound until at least 2021) & you have one hell of a mountain for any other broadcaster/promotional combination to climb.
The relationship between fighters & promoters has traditionally been an intrinsically adversarial one in the recent past – as the litany of court cases involving unpaid fighters & high profile champions would suggest. Here, too, the Eddie Hearn era is different – such stories of financial exploitation have quite literally vanished.
Thus the coming battle, for as long as it lasts, is not so much BT Sport or ITV vs SkySports as it is major broadcaster without a product ready for market vs. a major broadcaster which is hot to trot. British boxing, frankly, is not ready to profitably fulfil obligations to the ilk of BT Group nor ITV. A-side talent does exist outside of the Matchroom stable but it is fractured & usually not assimilated into the promotional hyper power for good reason (short termist managerial stupidity being a leading cause of such) – and as such can not, by definition, constitute much of a ‘stable’. There are essentially three types of fighters in British boxing under consideration here – those signed to Matchroom; those Matchroom have chosen not to sign & those Matchroom have discerned provide a poor return to hassle ratio.
I will of course be criticised for such a damning indictment/objective assessment of the non-Matchroom promotional competence in the aspirant TV segment of the market but I say this in return – consider me the best friend who tells you you stink so you can apply deodorant. You might not like that no one outside of Brentwood is ready to fulfil a television contract with a serious media outlet in the UK but isn’t taking on multiple such endeavours on nothing more than a wing and a prayer the sort of ludicrous, reckless & mutually unprofitable move that lost the sport major broadcaster’s favour in the first place? Isn’t that a far bigger danger for the sport in the medium to long term?
Sky plc has operations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy. It is Europe’s largest pay-TV broadcaster, with around 21 million subscribers. The company has a market capitalisation of £17.04 billion & revenues of £11.97 billion – at that level of the corporate world you can afford to insist on only dealing with competent professionals who can deliver results. Sky is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.
The ‘Competitors’/Lambs to the Slaughter
“One of the most important keys to success in the UK market is the right broadcaster – VERY important” Eddie Hearn
ITV does revenue of £3.12 billion – respectable but significantly down on Sky – more significant, though, is their at best lukewarm commitment to building a sport franchise or to delivering sport (never-mind boxing) specific viewers. The broadcaster is a major one but one that is juggling way too many balls to have time to worry about legitimate (fan building) opponents for a Chris Eubank Junior or to click that asking fans to pay to see him fight a nobody is an insulting joke to the sport’s existing fan-base.
BT Sport as a largely experimental subsidiary of the far larger and more established BT Group plc (primary listing on the London Stock Exchange & a secondary listing on the New York Stock Exchange) who whilst possessing deep pockets (revenue of £22.08 billion & a market capitalisation of £36.55 billion) are both inexperienced at delivering premium sports content & have too fragmented (that word again) a product offering to be considered a serious medium term threat to SkySports domination of premium sports broadcasting in the UK. You don’t need to be Oxbridge educated to realise that spunking your programming budget on cornering the market in the Aviva Premiership; Serie A ; FA Community Shield; Bundesliga; Ligue 1; exclusive(!) live rights of the Scottish League Cup; the Italian Rugby Union Team’s Autumn internationals(!!) & the UFC (whose viewership numbers reflect its timing in the wee hours on another continent) plus second (at best) tier domestic boxing isn’t a roll-call likely to have subscribers stick around beyond the loss-leader introductory offer. The mix is too schizophrenic – targeting public school rugby types whilst doing nothing more than irritate football fans by taking lesser football content around the periphery of the core SkySports content. Under its current stewardship BT Sport will last only as long as the patience of its parent company’s gullibility allows.