The biggest promoters in boxing must bury rivalries and work together to ensure fans are not financially hit when the sport squeezes a barrage of shows into the second half of 2020, says 5 Live’s boxing experts.
The fight business has ground to a halt across the world in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and boxing is suspended in the UK until at least the end of May.
But a note of warning from British boxing chiefs last week pointed to the sport perhaps not being able to start back up as swiftly as some may hope given its reliance on the emergency services at a time where the NHS is under immense pressure.
So why might an eventual resumption hit fans in the pocket? And why might music acts even have an impact on when and where boxing can take place? BBC Sport boxing correspondent Mike Costello and 5 Live analyst Steve Bunce have had their say.
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‘Boxing may take longer to return’
The British Boxing Board of Control last week stressed that while the NHS is “fighting” and “recovering from” the coronavirus pandemic “we cannot place any further pressure on the system”.
General secretary Robert Smith went further by stressing that “professional boxing cannot happen until normal NHS services resume”.
“NHS staff will have come through one of the biggest challenges faced by the NHS, in its history,” Smith wrote. “All involved will be physically and mentally fatigued. They will justifiably want to take rest and recuperation time. Therefore, due consideration has to be given to the medical personnel before any appointments to tournaments can take place.”
Smith’s words went further than many others have up to this point in intimating that boxing may not be able to roll out shows – even behind closed doors – as soon as restrictions on movement and mass gatherings are lifted.
In addition to the need for multiple ambulances at fight venues, rules state hospitals with specialist neurosurgery units must be close by.
Speaking on the 5 Live Boxing podcast, Costello said: “It might be that boxing takes longer to get going again than other sports because of the reliance on medical support. What struck me was the last statement by the board on recognising how NHS staff would need time to rest and recuperate.”
Bunce replied: “The idea that things get lifted in May and we could have a fight the next day is woefully misguided. One thing that is also being overlooked is that these boxers will need a good bit of time to get back fit and spar. Even if things were lifted in May you’d be looking at mid July at the earliest. I agree completely with the board.”
A boxing jam and fight for venues
Promoters such as Bob Arum have said ticket prices may need to fall when action resumes as a result of the economic impact the pandemic has had on fans.
But with no fight nights in sight, the window of opportunity for boxers to earn in 2020 gets tighter and the number of weekends on which promoters can stage shows lessens.
“There are so many boxers, promoters and commercial interests that need the sport to get going again and there are only so many dates out there,” Costello said.
“It’s not just the boxers and promoters picking dates, what about all the bands and acts that also want to use these huge arenas? There will be such a jam in terms of wanting to use these venues that I don’t think we will be able to avoid clashes with big fights on the same nights. We may be condensing pretty much a year’s boxing into six months, with all of those boxers wanting to fight and get their money.”
Can a mediator help fans?
A potentially packed schedule late in the year raises the prospect of rival promoters staging pay-per-view shows on the same night or at the very least on consecutive weekends, meaning fans may be faced with deciding which events they can afford to pay to watch.
Late in 2018, British promoters Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn faced criticism for putting on high-profile pay-per-view shows on the same night, meaning fans had to pay around £40 if they chose to watch both on television.
Bunce said: “What boxing really doesn’t need when we come out of this is clashes. Let’s hope going forward we do not get a single clash. It will be really petty if we get out of this and we have promoters pointing fingers at one another.
“Hearn and Warren claim they have never shaken hands or met. They have definitely been in the same room as I was there.
“I’d like to see them sit down in a room with a mediator and look at the shows they want to put on between now and Christmas and they can find some dates and slot the nights in because the British boxing public deserves more than, in the middle of October, to have to choose which pay per view to take.”
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