"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
~Mike Tyson

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Boxing - Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Boxing And Technology

1986!
Photo: .soundandvision.com
All sports evolve as times and technology change; all sports that is except for boxing. Alright, that may be a bit hyperbolic but there has been little change when it comes to the technology boxing adopts or embraces. With a few notable changes serving as the exception, boxing exists and is viewed today much as it has been in years and decades past. When you look at what other sports have incorporated technology wise and how their deliveries and presentations have changed and then juxtapose that with the archaic operating models boxing employs at the time of this writing you'll understand how the hyperbole is justified.

Every other major sport, save for boxing, has latched onto things that improve them; utilizing new technologies that not only improve the sports themselves but help them reach broader and new audiences. Take a look at the tech the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB use for their television broadcasts as an example. Some may pejoratively assert that broadcasts look more like video games than actual sports telecasts but the lines, circles, and numbers all over the screen make the game easier to follow for veteran fans and make things less complicated for the casuals and new fans that don't yet grasp the nuances of the game and its rules. Conversely boxing has yet to implement something as simple and useful as instant reply; a technology implemented by the NFL on September 7th, 1986, 1986! How many bad calls and errors has this technology corrected and how many wrongs has it righted? Now ask yourself how many bad calls in boxing could be corrected by this now antiquated technology? Why this technology is used in virtually every major sport outside of boxing probably has more to do with the fractured nature of the sport and a lack of a central governing body but that's another article for another time.

The Times They Are A Changin'

Search for yourself!
Television is no longer consumed the way it once was. Gone are the days of watching something only when a network decides to air it. Both broadband internet and the widespread adoption of mobile and streaming technologies forced networks to begin reviewing their business and delivery models nearly a decade ago. Consumers in 2017 can now view virtually any program they want, when they want, through any mobile or home based device and have been doing so for several years. The NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and nearly every other sports league has it's own dedicated television and/or streaming channel/application. Moreover the majority of these entities has had their apps and channels up and running for many years now though they have evolved since their inception. Any guesses on which sport doesn't have anything like this for its connoisseurs? Fans of these other sports can watch any game live, watch games after they've aired, etc. all for a reasonable monthly fee. To pull another 80's reference from my aging hat, Eddie Murphy's Prince Akeem once remarked, "But it is also tradition that times *must* and always do change, my friend."

"Listening On The Radio"

Edward Teach would be proud.
Although boxing hasn't given its fans any type of dedicated channel that allows them to watch any fight, including pay per view events, for one monthly fee, boxing fans have long been using modern technologies to consume the sport they love. Until recently when Banner Promotions streamed Petr Petrov vs Terry Flanagan live on Twitter the power brokers in boxing have largely ignored streaming technologies even though the sport's fans have not. Boxing aficionados have been watching "illegal" streams of the fights they want to see for years. They stream both fights of little note and pay per view events for a variety of reasons. For some it's a matter of convenience for others it's a matter of cost. Sometimes it's a matter of both. The ever increasing amount of streaming fans however seems to suggest that they no longer see value in $60, $70, and $100 pay per view cards (did they ever?).

The aforementioned Petrov vs Flanagan stream is likely boxing's first foray into a technology it should have adopted and presented to consumers long ago. Perhaps there is a light at the end of this pugilistic tunnel. The problem boxing currently has with shrinking pay per view purchases and a growing number of streamers reminds this scribe an awful lot of the Napster fiasco at the turn of the millennium. Instead of embracing new technology and finding a way to incorporate it into new business models or methods of delivery, the myopic music industry obstinately dug its feet into the ground, clung to outdated methods of operation with a death-grip, stumbled around suing its customers, and went on a witch hunt that involved bullying and threatening its consumers. Forcing people or coercing them into becoming customers by way of fear does not work and is a bad look for any company.

The powers that be in boxing can and should approach these changing times, not as the RIAA did but as Apple did by utilizing a popular and effective technology to give fans what they want at much more affordable costs. Boxing has long been a cost prohibitive sport for fans and it's time for that to change. Boxing fans and pundits already recognize Mayweather/Pacquaio as the last pay per view event to generate impressive numbers or revenue and that event is just two years old. The fallout and disappointment following that bomb has been the cement shoes on boxing's antiquated business model.  It's time for promoters, networks, fighters, and everyone else involved to not only recognize this but be proactive and aggressive in using modern technology to deliver its product in new and affordable ways.

The Point Of No Return

Photo: http://farmwars.info
"Cord Cutters" as they are called by cable companies are people who've cancelled their television subscriptions in favor of independent services like Netflix, Hulu, or their favorite sports applications. Cutting the cord is a smart move and allows consumers to pay for only that content which they want. There also exists a sub group of cord cutters that don't pay for anything at all, instead relying on friends/family to share passwords, files, etc. No matter how hard those whom run boxing squeeze or try, they'll never stamp out the piracy they are fighting so hard to eradicate. Again, you can not force people into becoming customers but you can make paying for a modern service a much sexier and alluring idea if you're creative. Piracy will always exist in one form or another and so will cheapskates who won't ever pay for anything. Rather than pouring money into shutting down streams that pop up somewhere else later, suing those who make them available, etc. the sport and the networks should invest their monies into modern technologies and give its fans exactly what they want. Bringing itself into the 21 century benefits everyone.

It's fantasy to believe that promoters, networks, fighters, managers, advisers, etc. would all work together for their own common good or the good of their consumer base but this is exactly what the sport and its fans need, even if its in a limited capacity. This type of thing is long overdue as is a change in the sports wavering pay per view model. Boxing is well past the point of no return and can no longer expect it's ancient methods of delivery and business to reap the same returns they once did.

Scott Jarvis is a boxing writer for Split Decision Boxing. He can be reached on Twitter or by email at splitdecisionbox@gmail.com.

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