Boxing and pay per view together are synonymous. Every weekend, some boxing promoter is selling you a PPV card about the next big fight on whatever streaming/promoting platform. While the potential blockbuster event selling over a million PPV’s are few and far between, these promoters are still keen on putting on these events, likely due to the amount of money they have the potential to bring in. But is that hurting boxing? Is it taking eyeballs away from fighters who are great but underexposed to the audience? I’m here to argue yes. While my opinion is assuredly not law, I will still argue that less PPV’s will lead to more stars in not only boxing, but MMA and other sports.
Pay Per View Limiting Exposure
I don't think PPV's will ever go away in the US. But I think some retooling could be in order. Especially in boxing.
— Blaine Henry | Fight Library (@BlaineHenryTFL) September 6, 2021
I’m of the opinion that sports like the NFL and NBA are doing things right. The more exposure and potential eyeballs, the better. With the NFL on ESPN, NBC and wherever else, the fan base of these two sports are rivaled only by soccer (football), which is also widely seen and easily accessed.
It wasn’t that long ago that the biggest match in boxing, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 1 was the biggest event of the year. It eclipsed the Super Bowl, World Series, and any event on TV in 1971. The numbers were mind boggling. It sold 2.5 million tickets on closed circuit television, which was the PPV back in the day. But, worldwide, it was watched by 300 million people, nearly 8% of the world’s population. On BBC1, Ali-Frazier was watched by 27.5 million viewers, half of the population of the UK at the time, 5.4 million in Italy, and 2 million in South Korea. The enthusiasm and sheer amount of eyeballs it pulled in free regions were absolutely astounding.
Now, Andy Ruiz and Devin Haney are doing their own pay per view events. You routinely see numbers sold in the 150,000 range and below. A successful one is often touted at 300,000. But I argue that these guys are hurting their star power by paywalling themselves off. If Ali and Frazier did not put their fight on closed circuit, I’m willing to bet the number of watchers would have been north of 500 million people easily.
Andy Ruiz beat Anthony Joshua. The rematch did well on PPV selling 1.5 million buys, 1.2 by time of the fight and the rest after. But looking at Ruiz next fight, with Chris Arreola, it’s estimated to have topped out at 150,000 buys. That’s a fight that should have been on TV. Andy Ruiz, the former unified heavyweight champion, sold 150,000 buys but could have had over 10 million eyes on him. Less eyes, less exposure, less brand building.
It’s about knowing when and who to sell
These promoters are losing off on building steam on these fighters. The UFC is notorious for this. They put champs behind a paywall and wonder why people aren’t tuning in. Amanda Nunes, Petr Yan, Tyron Woodley, and more are all great fighters and some who should sell well but they don’t/didn’t.
Let’s look at Woodley for example. UFC 201 sold 240k buys. UFC 205 sold 1.3 million but that was the McGregor-Alvarez card. Surely Woodley’s next fight would see a bump right? UFC 209 sold 300k. UFC 214 was Woodley’s next and Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones 2 headlining it. It raked in 860k buys. The next had the UK’s next big star in Darren Till taking on Woodley for the belt. It sold a paltry 130,000 buys. What gives? Shouldn’t the rub from McGregor and DC-Jones help Woodley out?
Tyron Woodley suffers to this day on selling a PPV card. He just took on Jake Paul who sold 1.3 million PPV’s against Ben Askren the fight before. Now, the number being leaked and not wholly reported is that Paul and Woodley only sold 300k buys. Even Jake Paul isn’t immune to the lack of draw Tyron Woodley is.
Boxing wants to complain how nobody watches Bud Crawford or Josh Taylor. But nobody has had the real chance to see them. Boxing doesn’t talk up the prospects enough unless they’re uber-prospects. When these boxers want to fight a can on PPV and nobody tunes in to see it, they’re missing an opportunity to sell the next pay per view to the public. In reality, there are only a handful of boxers that are PPV every time worthy. Names like Tyson Fury, Canelo, Anthony Joshua, and possibly (to the disdain of many), Jake Paul.
I’m not arguing that the pay per view model should go away, even though that would be nice. But I’m saying know when to put on a PPV and with who. Which boxers are bringing in the best ratings on TV? Oh it’s Teofimo Lopez and Tank Davis? Book them on a PPV. Demetrius Andrade is bringing the eyes on television? He and Canelo get an event.
With all that said, it will be a long shot for this to happen. The promoters likely make more money this way, although the boxers are going to probably get the shaft. When a boxer has a low selling event, it’s “Oh, you’re not a draw,” from the business men. It’s never “We haven’t promoted you well enough and not enough people know or care about you enough yet to get you a PPV.” This is the heart of the problem in boxing: businessmen. We don’t know who is good and exciting unless they tell us so from a PPV we didn’t watch.
Your friendly neighborhood fight fan. I watch way too many fights and my wife lets me know it. Also, Cowboy Cerrone is the GOAT.