Boxing’s “ballon of insanity is over” according to Lou DiBella as the sport deals with a fearsome double whammy – a global pandemic which arrived literally as the sport was entering a natural period of adjustment.
Streaming platform DAZN’s entry into the United States market in the second half of 2018 ushered an era of spending almost unheard of in the sport – notably via a reported $1billion eight-year deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom and a $365million 11-fight pact with Mexican megastar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
DiBella, appearing on the SI Boxing Podcast with Chris Mannix, said: “That balloon of insanity is over, and why is it over? Because honestly DAZN didn’t get a couple of billion dollars of results for the couple of billion dollars worth of spending in boxing.”
If one thing has killed boxing in recent times according to DiBella, it is the exclusive contracts which have become en vogue between networks and promoters (example Top Rank with ESPN, DAZN with Golden Boy and Matchroom and PBC with Showtime and Fox).
He explained: “By not having an open marketplace, which would really sort of force the biggest and best fights to happen – if nobody had their exclusive multi-gazillion dollar deal where they can play in their own back yard without playing with everybody else, you would see more of the best product.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has really hit boxing hard from a financial perspective, but DiBella believes had it come at a different time it could have been a great opportunity – particularly for DAZN.
“Honestly, if this pandemic hit and this was three years ago and DAZN was in the beginning of its burst of spending, right, not in the end, DAZN could have cleaned up right now,” he said.
“They could have come back, thrown on some huge stuff, this would have been the time to put out $20million, £30million – not $300million – but $20million/30million. You know $5million or $6million for a couple of super shows that preceded everyone else, would have been a great opportunity, but DAZN wasn’t in that economic situation at that moment. Neither was Top Rank and ESPN.”
The difference in vibe and success between boxing and UFC – a single governing brand with one title and one champion in each weight division – couldn’t be more marked right now. And DiBella says boxing’s complicated politics will continue to shoot the sport in the foot until things change.
“They (the sanctioning bodies) are not part of the solution, they have been part of the problem. A rational reboot of boxing wouldn’t involve those four organisations. Maybe in the beginning, as part of a transition, but if there was ever a rollup of boxing – you wouldn’t have the WBA, the WBO, the WBC and the IBF – at least in their present structures.”
DiBella says while he doesn’t want to say that the hardcore audience for boxing is shrinking, it is definitely “limited” with the sport struggling to attract crossover fans based on pay-per-view figures over the past four or five years. It all adds to a situation of adjustment and change for the sport.
“I think the entire sports business and live event business is going to be suffering for a foreseeable period of time. I don’t think we’re going to have things exactly back to where they were, maybe ever. But in terms of getting to some semblance of normal, I think it’s pretty clear that’s not happening until there’s a vaccine.
“How did all of this affect people’s habits – for example boxing tickets have all been extraordinarily expensive. Are people gonna go back to paying 2 and 3,000 dollars for a ringside seat to sit elbow to elbow? Time will tell.
“Part of the reason boxing is in such an interesting place right now, is we were heading for an adjustment any way. There was a bubble of crazy spending and the results didn’t appear to be justifying the level of expense for anybody who was spending crazy, and we were likely to be hitting period of adjustment.
“Interestingly, I think we were hitting that period literally right as the pandemic laid its ugly self on us. This has just exacerbated things, and brought things about more quickly. Boxing’s really in a situation of change.”