In the latest of my many marathon discussions with legendary boxing historian Hank Kaplan, he happened to mention reports he had heard of a recent upsurge on the club show circuit. I told him it would great news if it were true, but that I hadn’t seen any overwhelming evidence to that effect.
We both agreed on one thing – the re-establishment of the club show as a major boxing staple is going to be critical if boxing is to pull itself out of the doldrums and gain some ground on other sports to which it has lost market space over the last few decades.
Neophytes, whose only contact with boxing is through shows they see on television, are generally under the impression that the sport is thriving because they see so much of it on the tube. “Those people are going to feel that way about boxing, because they don’t really have anything else to compare it to,” said Hank.
Certainly I concur. Whenever I hear an argument insinuating that the boxing economy is “booming,” I respond the same way. I will consider it a barometer that the business is completely healthy when two things happen: 1) Significant fights – even world title fights – can be held on a semi-regular basis here in the U.S. without a television or casino subsidy. In other words, they can turn a profit by virtue of LIVE ticket sales; and 2) Every major city in the United States has at least one club fight promotion that can run regularly at a profit. That means no Ponzi schemes, no “angels,” no borrowing Peter to pay Paul.
THAT’S the only way you’re going to see a real turnaround.
You see, a healthy club show circuit provides a “foundation” in so many ways. It is populated by promoters who recognize that their customers are not the networks and casinos, but the fans, making it much more likely that the needs of the fans will be served first. More promotions would mean more choice for fighters in terms of which promoter to align with. It creates more interest in the media. It fosters more local interest in local fighters. It cultivates a fan base for the bigger promotions, building it from the ground up.
Of course, because of all this it offers a platform by which fighters can be developed. For example, if you’re an aspiring pugilist in St. Louis, and there are no regular promotions going on there, you’d have to go out of town – possibly far away – to get any fights. Invariably it results in less work. Fighters in that situation start to pack it in. That, among other things, leads to the deterioration of the infrastructure.
The healthy conditions I describe don’t exist in boxing now. So, you may ask, why is our company making such an investment in the game now?
Because we know there’s room for hope. The decline of boxing coincided with the explosion of television. Less fans wanted to see the local club show when they could turn on the TV and see, in most cases, better fighters without having to buy a ticket. There were great parallels between boxing and minor league baseball; after all, if you lived in Little Rock, and could see the Dodgers and Cardinals on television, there was less of a chance you’d want to go see the local minor league team, the Arkansas Travelers. Club shows were more or less the “minor leagues” of boxing.
But minor league baseball is in the midst of a comeback. Why? Well, partly because team operators understand that in a competitive world, they are in the entertainment business and as such have to make their event more fun to attend. They’ve got to improvise, adapt, promote and innovate. Boxing needs more promoters who can think “outside the box” rather than follow the same tired old formula. On the horizon, I can see the potential for such a thing happening (obviously this is a subject for a much longer essay), and our every intention is to help fuel a resurgence in any way we can.
We know it’s a long haul, but I wouldn’t bet against us.