By Dan Ambrose: Promoter Lou DiBella likes the idea that Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has of staging the Anthony Joshua vs. Kubrat Pulev fight in front of a small group of wealthy high rollers.
DiBella thinks that’s a great idea for Hearn to bring in money during the pandemic with the economy doing poorly in the U.S. and U.K.
The ones that are doing well, the wealthy, can afford to purchase high priced tickets to watch Joshua fight with social distancing, champagne, excellent wine, and safe service. Hearn wants to stage the Joshua-Pulev fight in the U.K. in front of a crowd of 1,000 to 2,000 people.
If they’re willing to pay high prices to see Joshua battle Pulev, then that would make up for a lot of lost revenue from a crowd of 70,000+ that you would typically see for one of A.J.’s fights.
Joshua-Pulev in front of a small audience
“I see the Pulev fight with social distancing and tables, fine champagne, nice wines, safe service, and a room where you can put 1,000 people in a room and distancing, and people are socializing with their own groups that they’ve already been quarantine with,” said DiBella to Seconds Out.
“I think in that kind of circumstance, there are wealthy people. The kind of people that are going to buy the first two rows of an A.J. fight is going to buy a VIP table. And by the way, in typical fashion, during this s*** who gets richer? The rich.
The American billionaires, their net worth is increasing during this. And I’m sure this is true for the wealthiest people in Europe. I can see this idea. It’s not rocket science. I can respect Eddie [Hearn] for going in that direction. That’s the way to go.
It’s hard to imagine a crowd being quarantined. How do they pull that off?
Certainly, A.J. and Pulev is a heavyweight championship fight, and AJ is undoubtedly a superstar. Will, there be 500 people or 1,000 people willing to pay top dollar for a VIP situation, getting to see a live person when everybody else dying for that?” said DiBella on the Joshua vs. Pulev fight.
It would be sad if Joshua fighting in front of small crowds consisting of the uber-rich is a thing of the future for him. But with the pandemic, this could last for a while yet. It’s risky to stage fights in front of large crowds right now. Even a small group would be dangerous, but less so.
The wealthy will be buying tickets
“It’s not going to be you and I buying tickets for that,” said DiBella about Joshua-Pulev tickets. “But I do think there’s a place for it, and I do think it’s the kind of creativity that we’re going to need as an industry. Look, Eddie’s not a moron.
“He’s looked and assessed the market place, and it’s an intelligent type of thought. I’m having that same kind of feeling. By the way, there are going to be wedding venues that are not going to be used until there’s a vaccine, and it may create the opportunity for smaller shows.
“People with the means want to go see live sports. So that may create a bit of a niche. We have to create ways to do things in this environment,” said DiBella.
Hearn hasn’t said how much the tickets will cost. If they’re being sold to the high rollers, then you can only speculate how much they would cost. Will they sell for the price of a front-row ringside seat?
Insane offers to stage fights overseas unlikely
“I don’t have a lot of these contracts where I’m guaranteeing these people millions to fight an ordinary fight,” said DiBella. “Arum, Eddie, Haymon, they’re saddled with a lot of those contracts.
“They have to be creative. They’re going to have to use pay-per-view for those used to it, and a fighter has to do that based on his own popularity. Across the board, they’re going to have to look at ways of finding money where it’s not typically readily available.
“The oil industry is a complete mess. It’s hard for me to see insane offers coming out of places. However, all you need is an offer. If the proposal makes the economics workable, I think you will see people go where the money is. I think promoters are going to be looking for foreign rights fees and site fees, and let’s see if they materialize.
“But I got to tell you something. These are pretty tough times all around the world right now, so I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of insanity,” said DiBella.
With the oil prices down, it’ll be interesting to see if countries like Saudi Arabia make huge offers to bring Joshua’s fights over there. Hearn is counting on one of the Middle East countries throwing crazy money at them to bring the potential Joshua vs. Tyson Fury unification match over there. We’ll have to see if that happens in 2021.
If not, then Hearn will need to stage the fight at home in the U.K. or in the U.S., and it won’t make the same kind. Assuming large crowds still aren’t allowed to attend sporting events in 2021, Hearn will need to make a decision whether to delay the Joshua-Fury fight or stage it behind closed doors.
DiBella: DAZN needs to come back with a plan
“You’re a subscriber-based business, and there have been no sports for months,” said DiBella in addressing the rumors that DAZN is in trouble financially. “You were already a loss leader attempting to build a subscribership.
“You can’t build anything in a pandemic with no one fighting, and no one is performing in any sport. They stopped paying the right’s holders because they weren’t getting any product. And they never even got to do their grand launch of the international app.
“And by the way, they’re owned primarily by one guy who is a multi-billionaire but has to decide what his tolerance of pain is. Look, I need DAZN to succeed. I’m rooting for DAZN to come back, and come back with a plan and come back strong.
“But they certainly have business issues that they’re going to have to confront, and decisions that they’re going to have to face and the choices they’re going to have to make.
“I don’t think it’s foolish for them to take their time because you want to come back the right way, not in their situation. Look, for them [DAZN] to come back and bleed more money and put on programming that’s not going to bring in subscribers doesn’t make any sense,” said DiBella.
If there’s a way for DAZN to insist that fighter like Canelo Alvarez, Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gennadiy Golovkin only fight the best, it’ll help them. The problem is, how can DAZN force these fighters to fight quality instead of fodder level opposition? I don’t think they can.
DAZN won’t go down
“I do expect them to come back in some form, and I do believe that DAZN is not going to go down right now. That’s my personal belief. I think you’ll see changes and adjustments.
“I’ve been saying for months that there was going to be an adjustment in the marketplace without a pandemic because boxing has been in a bubble of big spending that hasn’t seen comparable results that have been from everybody.
“Eddie has been spending big in his bouts in the States, without bringing you big subscribership. The ratings haven’t been astronomical in any of the networks doing boxing.
“Maybe some of them have been solid, but they haven’t justified the bubble of big spending. So I think we were heading towards an adjustment without a pandemic, and the pandemic is certainly going to lead to changes and adjustments.
“I also think there’s going to be adjustments for the fighters that are used to getting much bigger purses, but those adjustments are going to take time. Also, the fighters that have firm contracts set for big minimums aren’t going to let their promoters off the hook so easily,” said Dibella.
A lot of the fighters that compete on DAZN are with Matchroom Boxing and Golden Boy. Getting those guys to agree to face good opposition could prove difficult. For example, look at Canelo Alvarez.
He wants to fight Billy Joe Saunders, who has almost no chance of beating him. Canelo recently fought Rocky Fielding and Sergey Kovalev in mismatches. Gennadiy Golovkin, another popular fighter that performs on DAZN, wants to defend against little known Kamil Szeremeta. That fight is viewed as a dull mismatch too.
Will Canelo and GGG agree to start fighting quality fighters, or will they continue to stay with the same match-making as before?
There will be adjustments
“Yes,” said DiBella when asked if fans are going to be grateful to see any boxing when it starts back up again. “You’re going to see hungry fighters fighting, and I suspect that some of the fights where people aren’t overly excited about on paper.
“I think you might see better fights than you’re anticipating because there are a lot of variables. Fighters aren’t used to coming out with no gym time; fighters aren’t used to fighting without having appropriate sparring. And fighters aren’t used to fighting in front of no one.
“So I think there’s going to be an adjustment period. Boxing fans want to see boxing. So I think these early fights will get attention and do ratings. I think they’ll do ratings in the U.K. at the Matchroom headquarters, and I think they’ll do ratings in Nevada when Top Rank comes back, even though the fights aren’t of a huge magnitude.
“It’s still a return to boxing. You don’t come right back with your biggest, best, and most expensive stuff. FIghters have to adjust to the adjustment of purses. We’re not coming back to the same economy, and we’re not coming back to the same revenue streams.
“Initially, we’re coming back with fighters that are used to fighting on short notice for money that is appropriate to them but not to the top of the market. That’s how I think we’re creeping back in.
Fans will be excited and grateful to see boxing return in June on ESPN in the U.S. With that said, these cards will need to improve in the future if they want to bring in good ratings.
Fans will get tired of seeing B-level fighters involved in mismatches, and they’ll tune out if quality matches aren’t made.