WE caught up with Eddie Hearn when he was in thick of his isolation period after testing positive for COVID-19 for the Boxing News podcast. In typically high spirits and good health, but admittedly going a little stir crazy after not being able to attend his show in Milton Keynes, the conversation occurred at a time when fans were furious that a major UK broadcaster had not picked up the upcoming Vasiliy Lomachenko-Teofimo Lopez clash. Adding to that fury was the announcement that Hearn, on the Sky Sports Box Office platform, will stage three pay-per-views between now and Christmas…
Watching the Joshua Buatsi and Chantelle Cameron bill at home, did it bring to mind any changes you’d like to make to improve the experience, be that in production or otherwise?
I was definitely one of those fans who disagreed with the commentators on occasion. I actually texted Adam Smith and Matthew Macklin. John Hedges was fighting, a young kid who is only 18. He was lucky to get the win, I must admit, I actually scored it a draw.
But I said to Adam Smith, ‘You decided he lost after 30 seconds of the first round!’ [The commentary was saying] ‘…he’s only 18 and he’s up against it…’ and I was thinking, ‘No! He won that round!’ I was texting Adam and he’s probably thinking, ‘Go away, leave me alone.’
From a production perspective, I thought it looked really good. We went from Fight Camp, which was just a dream in that setting and environment. When we went into an empty arena, it’s a lot more difficult, but I thought it looked really good.
If I’m being critical, it was a bit late for a Sunday. It overran. We came off the back of the football which was a plan to drive the fans into it, but a lot of the fights went deep so Buatsi came on at about 10:30, which is probably late for a Sunday. But I wanted to try Sunday boxing. I always felt it was a bit of a dud time after 7pm on a Sunday whereas on Saturday, you’re competing against other events and prime time programming.
I wanted to experiment.
How hard is it for boxing to compete with football, particularly in this environment, for attention?
In terms of digital noise, boxing is right up there in terms of competing with football. There are no sports that can compete with football in terms of viewing figures, commercial revenue or as a subscription driver but – in terms of noise – boxing is right up there.
Looking at viewership, I would say boxing is top five. Darts outperforms boxing all the time. I always have a laugh with my dad about that. Darts trumps it sometimes and that’s frustrating for me because you don’t hear a lot of noise about darts on social media. Maybe it’s because we live in this bubble of boxing.
Ultimately, for a broadcaster, if you can produce a sport that is a subscription driver, that has immense value. Boxing is definitely a sport that drives subscriptions whereas darts, though the viewership might be huge, it may not be a subscription driver.
It’s very difficult at the moment in business, no one wants to spend any more money than they’re contracted to do. Many people don’t even want to spend that. Everyone is using the excuse of the pandemic, and everyone knows business is tough right now, to spend less. It’s very challenging for every business to make sure that we can keep some kind of normality in the shows that we do and the business that we run.
Which brings us to the Lomachenko-Lopez fight not being picked up by Sky Sports or BT Sport. It’s sending people mad on social media…
This is where we go back to the ‘bubble’. The truth is, in our boxing bubble, it’s sending people mad. But we have look at the bigger picture.
Bob Arum, God bless him, will tell you his interpretation of the situation. Bob Arum received an offer from me for the Lomachenko fight. This is the same Bob Arum who approached Sky and asked them to put [Terence] Crawford-[Kell] Brook on pay-per-view on November 14 and when they said that’s not a pay-per-view, he threw his toys out of the pram. He asked for a certain amount of money and was told, ‘We don’t have a budget for that, Eddie does our [boxing] budget, he plans what we’re doing.’
Now, when we get to Lomachenko-Lopez, he goes to Sky again, direct. Sky said, ‘Talk to Eddie…’ So I put an offer in to Bob, it was an average offer, but by that moment he was too personally disrespected by the comments about Crawford-Brook and being told that the budget was with Matchroom.
From there, they can’t bring themselves to approach me. It’s a weird set-up in boxing. ‘I don’t want to ask Eddie if he’ll buy my fight for the broadcaster.’ So I phoned up Bob and I said, ‘Bob, I haven’t got a lot of money because I’m spending it on my fighters and my business, it’s very difficult, but here’s our offer for Lomachenko-Lopez.’ He said, ‘I’ll pass.’ OK.
I don’t even think it was that much less than what he’s going to get from Fite TV but by then he was so p**sed off inside, that his head had gone. What we have to remember, in a commercial world, is understanding that boxing, at 4am in the morning, doesn’t work. It’s all very well saying the noise on social media is huge but when we broadcast it, the numbers are s**t. The top guys at Sky won’t know who Teofimo Lopez is. They may not even know who Lomachenko is. All they’ll want to know is the numbers it will do.
“It might do 30,000.”
“Really? What’s the value of that then?”
“Not a lot of money.”
Again, we go back to the noise from the boxing community, which is so amplified and it’s ‘Sky Sports are a disgrace!’
Did you know that Bob Arum pitched the fight to BT Sport, ITV, Channel 5 and all the other businesses and nobody wanted to buy it. Why? Because nobody is really spending any money at the moment, it’s a fight at 4am that would have a very limited audience.
I think it’s a great fight, which is why I made an offer, out of my budget to try and make it happen. Now it’s on pay-per-view here [on Fite TV] and Bob is accusing us of doing too many pay-per-views.
Fans may say that everyone will watch that fight when the reality is they won’t.
We love the fight at Boxing News but we also understand it’s a difficult sell outside the hardcore at 4am. To give some context, what were the numbers when Canelo Alvarez fought Sergey Kovalev on Sky last year – which is a fight of similar appeal?
I don’t know. Perhaps the same numbers as we’re talking here – 20 or 30,000. Lomachenko [vs Campbell] was the second worst-performing pay-per-view after Josh Taylor-Regis Prograis that I’ve been involved in.
I knew that going in, that he would only appeal to the hardcore. We do our American boxing on Sky with DAZN and I see it every week. I know these numbers inside out – 5,000 average, 10,000 average, 15,000 average. The only one that performs quite well? Deontay Wilder. A big heavyweight like that might do 60, 70 maybe even 100,000 but not Lomachenko-Lopez, I promise you that.
It is a great fight, I am a hardcore fan, I want to see that fight. But let’s look at the audience again. More people paid for Dillian Whyte-Alexander Povetkin than watched the recent fights of Joshua Buatsi and lots more than Josh Taylor on BT. What does that say about the hardcore audience?
You no doubt have a similar problem at Boxing News. Every hardcore fans buys it, you couldn’t be without it. But how do you increase that circulation? You have to bring in casual fans to read that publication. The hard thing for you is, the only way to bring in casual fans is to make the magazine more unattractive to hardcore fight fans. What these numbers tell you is, more people want to watch these big nights and the hardcore fanbase is very, very small.
In terms of people’s appetite, is it still going to be there if there is a succession of pay-per-views between now and Christmas?
This won’t go down well with the Boxing News audience but I think, as long as they’re providing value, people like the pay-per-view nights. I might not be talking about the hardcore fans. I think I have a good understanding of the audience. The big fight is on, come on over, we’ll get the grub in, we’ll have a beer.
As every day drew closer to Whyte-Povetkin, which was a gamble to put on pay-per-view, I started thinking to myself, ‘We’re going to do big numbers here.’
Because there’s nothing to do, right? If I do a normal pay-per-view in the summer time and it’s blazing sunshine, I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh no, everyone’s out at the BBQs or down the pub’. Now we live in a mentality, you can’t go to live events and you can’t really go out. So that night in is the new night out.
I always felt that Dillian Whyte-Alexander Povetkin would do good numbers. The rematch is a must for anybody that watched the first fight. Oleksandr Usyk-Tony Bellew did just under 500,000 buys and that was at a stage when Bellew was a big name but Usyk was unheard of to the casual fans. Now he’s back on Halloween night and, by the way, you can’t go out on Halloween either! So we have Usyk-Dereck Chisora and that will do more buys than Whyte-Povetkin. Whyte-Povetkin II for me is a must, I believe that does more buys than the first fight and then on December 12 you have Anthony Joshua against Kubrat Pulev.
Now we don’t just take it for granted that AJ does a million or 800,000 buys, but he is certainly the biggest star in the sport and if you want to get argumentative it’s him or Tyson Fury who’s the biggest name in the UK. So I’m very confident to be honest with you.
Unfortunately, without crowds, you are dealing with fighters who are used to getting paid a lot of money and when you’ve made millions and millions of dollars or pounds for a fight, you’re not going to take half-a-million to just do it, so pay-per-view is definitely the way we can keep the big fights coming without live gates.
To be honest with you, we were doing these three fights as pay-per-views anyway. We had already announced them before the pandemic, there was no moan, but now the only one that we’re adding is the rematch [between Whyte and Povetkin]. Our plan for this year regarding pay-per-views was to do four or five, and we’re probably going to do that, but we’re doing it between August and December, that’s the difference.
As always the proof will be in the pudding. I love it when fans say about Whyte-Povetkin: “That was never pay-per-view.” But we did 300,000 buys. “Yeah, but it wasn’t pay-per-view.” Okay, so what constitutes pay-per-view? “A great fight.” That was a great fight and it did fantastic numbers, so you can’t say it’s not pay-per-view when it does massive numbers.
You’re opening a can of worms there.
But for me, as a businessman in the commercial sense, that’s the only way you can evaluate if a fight is pay-per-view.
Okay, but I think it means different things to different people. That’s an interesting point because it almost sounds like you would say you would do pay-per-view because you know that fight is going to do certain numbers regardless of context.
But that’s what makes it a pay-per-view event.
The next three months for society are pretty crucial. There’s going to be job losses, no question about it, people are going to cut their cloth about what they’re willing to spend. Are you worried about it?
No. Because ultimately I’m not putting my hand in your pocket. It’s up to you if you want to spend the money. I think sometimes we look at a value of a night out in that respect for £19.99 and you know, you have people dropping £50-60 on their takeaways every night of the week. Ultimately if you want to buy something you will buy it. I agree on things getting tough, everything is about levels isn’t it? As a business we might not make any money over this six-month period, we’ll be okay, but everybody is in a position where things have changed.
Like I said, it’s different levels. You might get some people cancelling their [Boxing News] subscription, or if you’re smart enough, you might drive subscriptions as there’s more opportunity to be at home reading or wanting to ingest more content. For me, I look at it as an opportunity. Now the sell on pay-per-views is: This is a night out. This is your opportunity to have your night out. You can’t go out at the moment, you can’t experience it, bring it to your living room. We’ve got the big night in your living room, get your friends round, get your takeaway, have your beers. This is your night of entertainment for £19.99. These people are going out, when life is normal, spending £100 drinking pints, it’s [£19.99] not a lot of money!
The cost of a pay-per-view can be $100 in the USA. Should we be worried that the cost will start to rise significantly in the UK?
You imagine I turn around next week and say, because of the pandemic, we’re doubling the price or even going up to £30, my God, I’d get absolutely lynched. There are no plans at all to increase the pay-per-view price. I’ve got a lot of people saying to me, “Are you going to put the price up because you haven’t got a crowd?”
Okay, I get that but no, no way. The only time there would be an increase in the price would be for a fight that is absolutely huge, and that would be Fury-Joshua. And again, to be clear, I don’t set the price points. People start thinking it’s going to be £30 or 40. No it won’t. I would think that would escalate to £24.95 or whatever it is on an absolute one-off basis, but certainly there are no plans to increase the price point of the pay-per-views. That would quite frankly be a p**s take and I’m not here to take the p**s, I’m here to deliver value and I think the price point is right for the product that is being delivered.
Did you have that meeting with Frank Warren you were coming back off your holiday for?
It was supposed to be tomorrow [October 8]. It was all set for tomorrow and then I went and got Covid. I saw his interview saying that I’d do anything to get out of the meeting. I’m going to have a couple of weeks, and then we’ll get together. Right now, going back to your, ‘it’s challenging for everybody.’ Doesn’t matter if you’re in a 9-to-5, you’ve got a high street business, a major multi-national global empire, the market has completely switched on its head, so the focus has got to be to look after yourself and look after number one.
You talked about Bob Arum coming to you about Loma-Lopez but ultimately, you already had your plans in place. How far in advance are those plans and how much flexibility do you have moving into 2021 to work with other promoters?
That is always there. That option to work with these guys is always there. We’ve been trying to make, for the last three-four months, Conor Benn against Chris Jenkins, that was one that we couldn’t get over the line. Buatsi-Anthony Yarde is one that is a must for me for 2021 and, of course, we know that Frank is on the team with Tyson Fury so I’m sure we’re going to be making that fight [Fury-Joshua] together in 2021.
I think when we talk about rivalries and that kind of stuff. For me, it’s very simple, my job is to put the best fights on I can for Sky with the best talent. His job is to do exactly the same for BT. You don’t really want your talent to leave your platform and box on another platform to be quite honest with you, because your only judged on what you deliver for your platform.
So it’s not that I don’t want to work with Frank Warren, but Frank didn’t want to allow Jenkins fight on Sky and I might not want to allow Joshua Buatsi to fight Anthony Yarde on BT. It’s not because I don’t like Frank Warren, it’s because I want to do that fight on Sky. But there will be occasions where we have to be a little bit clever together to make sure we keep fighters active and provide them with opportunities.
So when we talk about the Warren conversation, 2021 is maybe the year that you see some of those match-ups take place. But this year, everyone is so sort of micromanaged to just get through the problems, provide the content for our broadcasters, deliver the fights for our clients and making sure we get through the year.
The lunch will happen – the very well-documented lunch – and you know it’s a long overdue conversation. But ultimately the fact will always remain, he will quite rightly want to look after the best interests of his business, and vice-versa.