Story by: Chip Mitchell
If boxing’s immediate future ever needed a crash-test dummy, it may come in the form of intercollegiate and professional sports. College football, professional basketball and football, and (presumably) Major League Baseball have plans in place to pick up action during the COVID-19 era.
While boxing returned to national television on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, the official restart date was Saturday, June 6, 2020. On this date, the sport played host to cities such as Beijing, China and Siheung, South Korea, and (in the States) Abilene, Kansas.
Just as with the ESPN card, the Kansas card was fought with no fans in attendance. The 17-fight card, (yes 17 fights), had a little bit of everything. It was a mixture of boxing, MMA, kickboxing, jujitsu, and bare-knuckle fighting.
Fighters came to Abilene from many different cities to make the card happen. There were promoters and healthcare professionals to enforce safety, with masks on attendees at all times, and temperature tests upon entrance. Once again, no fans were in attendance- just competitors and trainers. This is the new norm for boxing moving forward. The question is how long will it last?
Some in the arenas of college and professional football believe fan attendance, whether scaled down or not, is inevitable. Listen folks, no matter how cautious the athletes may be, we live in a world where the dollar is the bottom line.
Other sports will gamble with allowing fans to play. They don’t have a choice. Florida State football is scheduled to open against West Virginia on a neutral field. Both teams are supposed to be paid money, much of which will be spent before the game. Let’s say $5,000,000 per team, for example. Athletic budgets need this money not only to pay the team’s airfare and hotel- but for many other sports related expenses. If fans don’t attend, neither school will hit the break-even point and this game will result in a loss for everyone… including the sponsors, hosts, and financiers. If the NCAA allows a half-full stadium of 35,000 fans, the teams may still just break even.
So, what happens when the numbers don’t add up?
The NFL, with its exorbitant salaries has a more complex problem. The players are set, but what about those who run the business? In other words, the owners. How do they recover? How about the food and drink vendors with contracts in place? No fans, no profit. No fans in NFL seats works even less than the empty college stadium scenario.
Let’s go back to boxing. Shakur Stevenson fought last week in an empty arena and earned a reported $400,000. Nice payday against an over-matched opponent. Nonetheless, this can’t continue if ThaBobFather (Bob Arum) wants to continue into his 55th year as a promoter. Arum didn’t get this far by paying mid-six-figure purses for mismatches.
So where does boxing go from here? The answer may lie with the end result of events where fans are allowed. The answer may also lie with the health of athletes after competing in said events.
Boxing for the time being can work with tune-ups and maybe even semi-competitive matchups. However, neither a Mayweather/Broner fight nor a Golovkin/Alvarez III match will work. The numbers won’t allow fights of this level to be successful without a live gate. The same live gate needed for NFL profits to roll in.
Moreover, the lack of energy from fans in attendance prevents mega fights from giving us special moments in boxing. Consequently, the question remains where do we go from here?
In my opinion, the end result is the aforementioned sports may lay the groundwork for the future of boxing. If fans and players test positive in patterns deemed related to attending the events, boxing could face an unsettled reality.
In reality, there are some boxing fans and scribes who don’t mind the uncertainty. They feel the ‘buck’ they dish out for major fights doesn’t result in the ‘bang’ they expect. Others feel boxers are overpaid for their deeds, and lower purses due to the current climate couldn’t have come at a better time.
No matter what side you are on, the coming months will play a major part in dictating what happens next in our sport. Notwithstanding any differences in protocols for each sport. Whatever happens, we’ll have other sports to thank for assisting in how things play for boxing. Good or bad.