So I clicked the "power" button on my remote control on Saturday night, and brought up the program guide, and scrolled down to the 300s, where the pay-per-view offerings lie.
I went past the true red light district, the filthy titles, and settled on the In Demand region. I found that Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Top Rank/HBO PPV offering, gulped at the $69 price tag and pressed "buy and record."
I could have not done that. But I'm a fight fan, and enjoy watching the biggest bouts, and beyond that, I am duty bound to do so, as the editor of TheSweetScience.com. So, really, I had to buy the event. I had to pull the trigger, and I had to swallow the certainty that my cable bill will arrive in three weeks, and go from Elvis 1975 bloated to Rush Limbaugh 2006 bloated.
I won't be happy when USPS drops off that rude mailer, as because I live in NYC, and the cable company I deal with enjoys a near monopoly, and pricing power, my bill, with the premium channels I enjoy, comes to around $200 a month. That does include a high-speed internet connection. And, if I may further digress, service that is oftentimes lacking. How so, you might ask? Lacking like this....on Sunday night, at about 9:15 PM ET, while counting down to the 2014 premiere of "Mad Men," a fave in this house, the cable box, an HD version which had been installed by a Time Warner Cable technician about three weeks ago, started blinking, the letters BLSTR pulsing, while a strange noise was coming from the box. I though the thing was re-booting...but oh no. The wife thought she smelled a bit of smoke...and it became clear that the box had simply up and overloaded and fried itself. It was dead dead dead, like the prospect of a Mayweather-Pacquiao clash. Yeah, virtual monopolies, coupled with exorbitant fees! Digression over...Looking on the bright side, the system held long enough for me to watch that Pacman PPV, which I did with a pal, the journalist Mark Jacobson, a boxinghead who delivers high quality text to New York Magazine, and Rolling Stone, and has a piece on Adrien Broner coming out in the next Men's Journal. Now, Jacobson proved himself a fine guest, bringing with him some beers to share. I had my number raised to the rafters in '95, after sampling the whole kit 'n' kaboodle, be it liquid or what have you, but the gesture was decent.
Anyway, contrary to what promoters like Bob Arum and Richard Schaefer, the two main drivers of these PPV events, like to say when they are hyping PPVs, I didn't ask Jacobson to pony up, split the bill. I wouldn't do that, out of pride, if for no other reason. My finances aren't of the sort that I NEED help paying for this product, my mind tells me, even if the paltry amount sitting in the IRA would indicate me and this family need to follow a better budgeting plan (and perhaps cross the fingers harder that the stagnant wages we've all enjoyed in recent decades and indeed, downward pressure on wages in the media sector, get a kickstart).
I myself enjoyed the PPV kickoff, that Bryan Vasquez-Jose Felix Jr. bout. Not sure everyone else who ponied up that not inconsiderable fee enjoyed it as much as I did, though, because I know some people involved in Team Vasquez, and thus had something of a vested interest in the outcome. That scrap was one best suited for appreciators of the finer points of ring combat, something Vasquez displayed to the point Roy Jones Jr. was basically gushing over the guy. The next bout, a clash between Jessie Vargas and Khabib Allahkverdiev didn't, frankly, do much for me or Jacobson, who found himself being distracted by my wife, who was querying him about his life, how many kids he has, etc. Vargas leaves me meh, and Khabib seems to possess more in the willingness department than the skill department.
Now, some reading this might want to hop in, and tell me to zip it with the critique of the undercard. They might note that their market research, I mean, their anecdotal evidence suggests that most folks don't care much about the PPV undercard, and simply care about the feature bout. To them I say, zip it.
In my universe, and that's the same universe we all share, a consumer seeks out and damned well deserves to get their money's worth for the entirety of the duration when they buy an experience.
I mean, do you pay your fee to Disney World, and Disney tells you, OK, the first 3/4 of your time here is going to be crappy, or maybe decent, or, if you're lucky, swell? Do you go to a restaurant, and agree that you will be fine with getting a subpar salad and soup, and stale rolls, but will give the whole experience an enthusiastic thumbs up, because you're steak was juicy and flavorful? Only if you're a fool...Or you're a steak addict. We're all steak addicts, friends. We have been conditioned to accept soup slop, and salads with Wishbone dressing and iceberg lettuce, and cold rolls, and then cross our fingers, and hope the steak lives up to its high billing.
The "salad" on Saturday night, by the way, was fight between Ray Beltran, a solid boxer who not long ago was doing his thing on ESPN's Friday Night Fights, basically Triple A...which is where I last saw his foe, last-minute replacement Arash Usmanee, who was in over his head, and wasn't able to compete on Beltran's level, which, no offense to Ray, isn't of a superstar plateau. During the Beltran fight, I posed a question to my Twitter followers, wondering what they thought of the PPV undercard. Some liked it, giving it decent marks. I won't joke about how many Heinekens or blunts they'd taken in, instead I will respect their POV. Many others gave the undercard low marks. Some of these folks attached an "I'm mad as hell and won't take it anymore" followup, but more consumers indicated that they have come to expect this low grade entertainment. They have been beaten down by what has become the sad status quo, and exhibit nothing resembling an oppositional defiance to being fed soup from a can with the waiter having stated for the record that a bowl full of bliss would be forthcoming. We, the consumers, the steak addicts, the beaten downs who are too quick to accept the sad status quo, and not stand up for our ourselves, for what we deserve in exchange for our extremely hard earned money, deserve better.
We deserve better undercards, and that goes for the Top Rank presentations, and the Golden Boy presentations, the lot of them. And we deserve to NOT have to dip into our wallets every six weeks to pay extra to watch the best bouts. No, as a subscriber to HBO and Showtime, two "premium" networks, I believe those networks should be offering the best bouts on their channels, not being part of a campaign to collect piles and piles of cash via the pay-per-view model.
Check back for part two, where I will take a closer look at the PPV construction, and argue why ALL involved in the sport, if they do indeed seek the viable long-term health of boxing as a mass audience sport, should agree amongst themselves that there should be no more than one or two pay-per-views annually. I will be peeking into the Forum for responses from our faithful readers, and will incorporate some of the points and insights from responders in the next installment.
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