Boxing's Pay-Per-View Problem

If you were heading into 2022 hoping one of boxing's New Year's Resolutions was getting rid of silly pay-per-views, you'd likely think we weren't getting off to a tremendous start.

In fact, the first major show of note for the new calendar year is a PPV broadcast that falls directly into the silly PPV pile. With a main event of Charles Martin vs. Luis Ortiz, an all Heavyweight card will be brought to us by Premier Boxing Champions. At a discounted price of $39.99, fans will have a chance to shell out even more cash this Saturday, on a broadcast that seems better suited for the odd Showtime timeslot.

Right after the holidays, too. Just the way I like it.

While the card certainly isn't worth the price tag in my humble opinion, it's not completely devoid of quality. Ortiz, while twice stopped by Deontay Wilder, is a formidable foe for any other top Heavyweight. Add to that, you have Frank Sanchez, a Cuban prospect that faces Christian Hammer on the under card. He certainly seems a big man worth watching.

However, those two facts alone do not come close to tempting me to pull out a couple of twenties this weekend. There's simply not enough value for money, even at the lower-than-usual asking price.

Effectively, that's the world in which we live. Consumers, for perhaps the first time in history, have broadcasters bent over the proverbial barrel as it were. Once was the case that networks could put out just about any product and, because of a lack of options, large audiences would tune in and watch.

Now, with just a few dollars down and virtually no commitment beyond a single month necessary, the plethora of content-creating outlets need to ensure they are providing content for which users will return.

What's more, if fans feel so compelled, they can find many (often times illegal) methods through which they can view otherwise pay-restricted media.

The only advantage that providers now have is simple: They can theoretically ensure high resolution, uninterrupted visuals that illegal streams cannot. But even that isn't worth the price if the value isn't there. Fans are willing to gamble on finding a reasonable stream if they think missing the content isn't the end of the world.

With pay-per-view in boxing, the only way you combat that, and effectively hold on to your advantage, is by ensuring you're putting forth the best possible show. You have to make fans scared to gamble on shoddy streams and hit or miss underground links.

In 2021, the biggest pay-per-view event of the year was Canelo Alvarez taking on Caleb Plant -- barring the reported success of Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren. Still, when sticking with a more traditional fight for this example, Alvarez-Plant landed at 800,000 PPV buys, and a sold out crowd of 16,000 plus, which netted somewhere around $20 million for the live gate.

And this was up against a rather stacked UFC 268 card that surely shared some of the pay-per-view buying audience. Still, this can be only partially considered a success.

In February of 2020, Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder 2 sold approximately the same number of pay-per-views, but had more than 20 million people illegally stream the encounter. With more and more people finding ways to watch fights without having to pay, you can imagine Canelo-Plant suffered from similar unpaid views.

What's more, in a post-pandemic world where many are still struggling monetarily, shelling out the random $80 just doesn't seem on the agenda. Further suggesting that less-reputable routes may have been taken more often than not for fans wanting to watch Canelo become undisputed king at 168 pounds. Truthfully, the same could be suggested of the MMA broadcast.

So, even with a big name (Alvarez) or a stacked card (UFC 268), combat sports are more than ever finding it harder to get fans to come out of pocket. Hell, even if you somehow paired both mentioned events together, you get somewhere around the 1.5 million buys mark. Impressive, but only when you ignore that a mere decade ago, Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez 3 reached somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.3 million buys on its own.

The point is times are changing, as is obvious to anyone that even pays a little attention.

Personally, I'm not someone that believes all PPVs are inherently bad. Sometimes, due to risk, demand, expected purses, etc., it takes an extra stream of income to make a fight happen. However, it shouldn't just be used as a money grab, which happens far too often in boxing.

Undefeated Gervonta Davis, as an example, has fought exclusively on pay-per-view since a late 2020 clash with Leo Santa Cruz. That contest brought forth roughly 300,000 plus buys. His next encounter, a win over Mario Barrios in June of 2021, came in at around 200,000 buys. His most recent outing against little-known Isaac Cruz was in the vicinity of 120,000 buys, according to multiple reports.

Davis makes a prime example out of two flaws within the PPV system as it stands. Firstly, it shows that you can't just sell anything. Almost in a straight downward line, as the fights became less interesting with smaller names, the numbers dropped. Equally, you could argue, that as fans got tired of having to pay to see Davis, they were obviously less willing to do so.

And you don't make many new fans for Davis when you make the odd fan that might be looking to get into him as a fighter have to pay large sums of money just to see him perform. This especially hurts younger fighters that simply haven't cultivated large enough audiences to justify fighting solely on PPV.

For Davis and his team, perhaps the perception of keeping Gervonta a "PPV fighter" is all that matters. Perhaps they feel it conditions fans to feel this is the only way you get to see the talented American fight. However, I would argue the perception isn't worth it when the numbers seem to dwindle fight to fight. They may have made money on Davis-Cruz, but the perception with many fans is that Davis isn't exactly as big a draw as his team suggests.

In 2021, even when you had legitimate fights with top quality combatants, such as Terence Crawford and Shawn Porter in November, business wasn't exactly booming. Reports ultimately surfaced that the Welterweight event only amassed 135,000 buys. According to multiple reports, the event lost money when all was said and done.

In some ways, this could be perceived as a negative for boxing, a sign that all those UFC fans named Kyle were right when they said that the sweet science was dead. However, I choose to be more optimistic. Instead, it let's us know what boxing has and what it needs to do moving forward.

Obviously, the stars such as Canelo will always sell, but they could sell more if the undercard was given a little more attention. Also, when you aren't dealing with the hottest hand in the sport, you need to make sure the show brings forth enough value that the average fan will feel compelled to pay.

But...there's a little more to it.

Earlier, I mentioned that Paul-Askren was a massive success, even beyond Canelo-Plant in terms of raw sales (if you are to believe such reports). While the fight was promoted well and there was intrigue with Paul fighting an actual fighter, it surely helped that the show came in a lower price of $49.99. Granted, I started out by mentioning a PPV at an even lower price wasn't worth the purchase. The difference is value.

Paul gave fans what they wanted, for better or worse. They wanted him to face a real fighter. When they were offered what they wanted, they were willing to pay. Boxing needs to learn more and more in 2022 that those three components are of the utmost importance going forward.

Star power, stacked cards and prices that fall on more of a spectrum based on quality than they have in the past. That's the key moving forward, or these trends will only continue to head south.

And as fans, we have to continue to demand the fights worth watching and neglect the ones we feel fall short. No, I would never suggest stealing feeds (not that I would need to anyway). But I will certainly say you should make boxing work for your money.

Boxing is a stubborn beast and will only change if it needs to change. And that only happens when it stops getting a pass for fights that simply don't deserve your hard earned cash.

So, though aimless as this wish may be, here's hoping boxing in 2022 is full of the fights fans want, and that boxing can learn from some of its missteps in 2021.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed. I do appreciate any and all comments or feedback. Also, if you're interested, you can check out my predictions for Charles Martin vs. Luis Ortiz here and my pick for Jonathan Rice vs. Michael Coffie here. Also, you can check out my picks for Year-End awards by clicking here.

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