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DEALING WITH FALSE ADVERTISING IN BOXING

BY Charles Jay ON June 13, 2002
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As I look at the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, I see notations about disclosures that promoters are required to make - disclosures to the boxers, disclosures to the commissions. But conspicuously, I don't see too much in there addressing disclosures to the PUBLIC.

And inasmuch as it can be agreed that false disclosures are indeed contrary to the public interest, I think it might be appropriate to address this matter of considerable concern a bit further, as it applies to reforming the world of professional boxing.

It occurs not just to me, but to anyone who reads the Ali Act with any sense of scrutiny, that the constituency the legislators are primarily concerned about is that of the fighters. And I'm sure a lot of that is well-intentioned. But consumers drive boxing, just like they do any other business-for-profit. And if you're going to propose to put together boxing legislation that has any impact at all, you have to ensure that the public, and not just pro boxers, gets afforded the proper protection from deceptive business practices on the part of promoters.

Yes, I know there are laws governing false advertising in every state. But I think we may have to take a slightly different step here.

What has to be understood is that a boxing promotion must be distinguishable from other products or services. It's not like the sale of a item on display in a supermarket. The "shelf life" of the product is certainly very finite, and the characteristics - the "ingredients", if you will - of the product can very easily and abruptly change at any time during the product cycle.

Let's say I'm promoting a show, and the main event pits Fighter A against Fighter B, with Fighter C versus Fighter D in the semi-main event, and I've sold a healthy number of tickets, bought by people who want to see all four fighters. Then, a couple of days before the fight card is to take place, Fighter B pulls out with an injury, while the next day, for whatever reason, Fighter D doesn't pass his physical at the weigh-in.

Obviously I have stopped printing posters, and I am not producing any new radio spots. But someone may walk into a bar and see my poster, call up TicketMaster, buy a ringside seat, and show up the night of the event, only to see that we have different competitors in place. Am I advertising falsely?

Maybe I am, according to the laws written in some states. But if you look at it from a boxing point of view, it can be demonstrated that these kinds of things are somewhat common in their occurrence, and that they are indeed unforeseen.

The best way to protect myself would be to sign my fighters to bout contracts; with the preliminary approval of the state boxing commission, I can substantiate that I advertised in good faith, and that in fact those performers who appeared in my advertisements were indeed those who were scheduled.

I may not be engaging in any deceptive acts, but I'm still not completely out of the woods, in some places. In the state of Florida, for example, if the fight card changes in any material way, the revised card must be displayed in plain sight at the venue, and even then, the consumer is entitled to a refund if he/she so requests. On the commission's website that is made very clear in the "Information for Promoters" section.

Of course, if I DO NOT take enough care to sign fighters before I put their names and pictures on a poster, then there is no way I could legally guarantee they have agreed to a fight. And it can be argued that I had no right to advertise the appearance of those fighters in the first place.

It follows that if I use a fighter's name to sell tickets, when there is no reasonable expectation established that the fighter (or fighters) would have been on the show, then I AM advertising falsely. This can be extended to include the names of non-participants as well. I don't know about you, but I've gone to fight cards where a special appearance by some celebrity, from the world of boxing or otherwise, was advertised, and the celebrity never showed. It may not be a fighter, but it's still a fight card, and you're still selling tickets to the public, so doesn't a situation like that have to be addressed?

In Georgia, a signed document guaranteeing the appearance of a "celebrity" is required before a promoter can do any advertising or promotion to that effect. Sounds like a pretty good idea to institute everywhere - that is, if you've got some concern for the consumer.

Let's take this a step further - if I know one of my fighters has pulled out of the show, and continue to promote that the fighter will be appearing, whether it be through the press, or through radio advertisements than run well past the time of a "pullout", and at the same time I have the understanding that the fighter was an important, marketable component of my event, then I certainly am misrepresenting my product to the public, aren't I?

Another egregious case of false advertising involves a promoter who puts a fighter's name on a poster, for example, with a record of 15-6, while in reality that fighter might be 2-12. I can almost guarantee you something like this is happening SOMEWHERE in this country. In situations like this the promoter should most certainly know better, and cannot plead ignorance, especially as the records for each fighter must be compiled through the boxing registry - in this case, Fight Fax, and submitted to the commission in order to get fights approved.

I would think the inclusion of blanket regulations covering these scenarios is something any rational piece of boxing legislation should have. If such provisions were included in a Federal bill, it would become the law of the land for ALL boxing commissions, regardless of whether the state boxing laws say, and would serve to supplement the laws that are on the books in each state that apply to false advertising and misrepresentations in marketing.

Of course, false advertising of ANY kind should not be tolerated. After all, a lie is a lie is a lie. So naturally, if, for example, you're advertising a television blackout that does not exist, you should be subject to penalty, at the very least by the boxing commission that has jurisdiction over the event.

Speaking of blackouts, let's now talk about the fiasco where the false announcement of such on the part of SRL Boxing took place in Buffalo, for the April 5 card featuring heavyweight hopeful Joe Mesi, and of laws that are already in place - not necessarily those of the commission specifically but the ones which apply to businesses in the state of New York.

There are two sections of the State of New York General Business Law that serve to protect consumers from deceptive acts and practices.

Sections 349 and 350, Chapter 20, of the law provide that deceptive acts and practices and/or false advertising "in the conduct of any business, trade or commerce or in the furnishing of any service in this state are hereby declared unlawful."

And it explains that any person injured as a result of misleading advertising "may bring an action in his own name to enjoin such unlawful act or practice."

Moreover, it has been held that plaintiffs need not demonstrate specific dollar injury, or any pecuniary injury at all; nor that the deceptive practice even be intentional or fraudulent in nature. And plaintiffs also do not have to prove any particular degree of reliance on the defendant's deceptive practices and/or false advertising in order to substantiate an action.

I concede that class action lawsuits are probably impractical, since it would not be reasonable to expect large groups of paying customers to a fight could be gathered together without a substantial amount of expense and legwork; however, in interpreting the actions that are allowable under Sections 349 and 350 of New York's General Business Law, EVERYONE who bought a ticket to SRL Boxing's April 5 fight card in Buffalo could conceivably petition for a refund, whether they relied on the false proclamation of a "blackout" or not.

If you registered a complaint about this incident in the state of New York, it would likely be dealt with by the Attorney General's office. You may never get ultimate satisfaction, but just be thankful it won't go through the Inspector General's office, where it would most likely wind up on the "cutting room floor", as they say. That's because it just might have to come across the desk of a certain agent - guy by the name of Jack Mesi.

Yup - he's Joe's dad.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2002 Total Action Inc.

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