ONE would presume that Eddie Hearn or Frank Warren generated the biggest British television audiences for boxing shows staged and broadcast in the UK. Certainly, they have the famous fighters and the marketing pull, but the British promoter who delivered the highest TV ratings in Britain – working on an average per show basis over the last 12 months – was Mick Hennessy.
While Warren works alongside the excellent BT Sport for his Queensberry shows and Hearn’s Matchroom is a long-time partner of the impressive Sky Sports, Hennessy has been plugging away on Channel 5. Terrestrial television is not particularly cool these days – when was the last time you heard a boxer declare it was their dream to be showcased on Channel 5? – but putting on a half-decent boxing match on prime time on a Saturday night, on a free and easy to access channel, is still a sure-fire way to generate big audiences.
For context, Saturday night’s Sky Sports Jono Carroll-Scott Quigg event pulled in a little over 118,000 viewers but Alex Dilmaghani’s 12-round points win over Francisco Fonseca on Channel 5 late last year boasted eight times that. And though the Dilmaghani-Fonseca bout turned out to be a thriller, it wasn’t exactly all over the media beforehand being advertised as such (imagine the numbers if it had been). Furthermore, the combined reach of Hennessy’s last four outings on Channel 5 have been in excess of seven-million; something not lost on the Warrens or BT as they recently utilised terrestrial platform ITV (broadcasting alongside BT) as a tidy segue into Tyson Fury’s box office beating of Deontay Wilder last month.
But today’s marketplace is complicated. Boxers can find themselves on pay-per-view without being household names and thus make their contests a very hard sell – irrespective of the appeal to those in the know. To combat this, free-to-air TV shows can be utilised by all promoters atop their marketing funnels (the bottom of the funnels being pay-per-views and the like). Selling something familiar and trusted to the masses is far easier than putting a price tag on something unfamiliar, after all.
The flipside: Amir Khan’s farcical win over Billy Dib in Saudi Arabia last year (which reached over three million on C5) highlighted why free stuff isn’t always the best stuff. However, the point here is that stations like Channel 5 – which according to their Head of Sport, Caj Sohal, are committed to at least four shows a year, beginning with the British light-heavyweight clash between Shakan Pitters and Craig Richards on March 28 – remain underrated platforms that, if managed correctly, can boost the widespread appeal of the sport.
It’s all an interesting aside to international streaming giants DAZN announcing plans to enter the UK market in May this year, starting with the attention-grabbing Billy Joe Saunders-Canelo Alvarez super-middleweight showdown in Las Vegas. Their arrival, which will come at a monthly cost to the consumer, coincides with a run of five potential pay-per-view offerings in the heavyweight division (see pages 16-19). The cost to the boxing fan is far higher than to those dedicated to any other sport.
The need for pay-per-view has long been debated. The current market demands subscription channels and box office platforms because fighters of a certain level now expect to earn the money that, we’re told, only those avenues can provide. But, with fans growing increasingly frustrated at the burden on their wallets, it’s not exactly a robust business model. Indeed, the rise in people watching on illegal streams was referenced recently as a major reason why Fury-Wilder II underperformed on pay-per-view in the USA; the public, it appears, are getting fed up with coughing up.
In the UK, though, Fury is now a bona-fide superstar. His recent documentary series, designed to boost his reputation among the general public, was expertly done by terrestrial giants, ITV, and cleverly engineered by the world champion’s management team. Fury’s certainly come a long way since he won his first major titles back in 2011, when, promoted by Hennessy, three million watched him beat Dereck Chisora on Channel 5.