UK’s Flirtation With Terrestrial Must Not Devolve Into One Night Stand

The BBC One expenditure on content was £1.02 billion in 2014. This equates to a mean of £2.79 million per day on content for the most watched channel in the United Kingdom. Eastenders had an annual budget of £29.8 million in 2010 – a time for which accurate information appears freely available as per an NAO report. Applying Consumer Price Index (CPI) Inflation for UK for the period that £29.8 million in 2010 becomes £34.4 million in 2015. This nets the channel around 200 episodes per annum at a cost of around £172,000.00 per 30 minute episode.


Anywhere from 3,900,000 & 9,360,000 viewers on average (during the telecast) will tune in to a given episode of Eastenders going on recent history. Whilst a far way away from their heyday the implications for entertainment sector competitors or would be competitors – which professional boxing is – are startling.


If we take 5,200,000 viewers per episode as a loose rule of thumb for the most complained about show on the BBC the content cost per million viewer hours is £172,000.00/5,200,000/30*60*1,000,000= £66,153. For every £66,153 invested the public broadcaster has 1 million viewers watching for a period of one hour. Certain economies of scale are of course in play here – but this can nevertheless be regarded as a low-end estimate of what prime time content is actually worth to a major terrestrial broadcaster in 2015. Anything approaching – or dare I say, bettering – this cost base should – non-economic impositions notwithstanding – represent outstanding value to the UK’s number one televisual platform.


A little creative thinking goes a long way when faced with such gloomy economic impositions. By returning to a mainstream media platform the sport of boxing will reattain whole societal significance – as will their practitioners. Suddenly the narratives of the sport’s participants is given the scope to leverage commercial opportunities of its own creation – Neymar, Messi, Bolt & their ilk are not uniquely bestowed with Police sunglass; Pepsi-Cola & Virgin Media advertising campaigns by some divine force – it helps that they are known to the public. By positioning itself as a sport of exclusion in the Pay per View era boxing has committed a form of drawn out cannibalistic suicide. Serious commercial sponsors – of both individual fighters & of entire boxing shows or series of shows – require a commensurately seriously high level of eye balls being exposed to their brands to show any real interest.


Additionally as boxing events draw more public attention via an exponentially higher level of generalized exposure on de facto free to access platforms an inevitable rise in demand for event admittance will take place – potentially tickets with a face value of £35 to £50 that previously could not have been given away will become aspirational items fetching £80 to £150 at the base level if the quality of the product – the competitiveness & authenticity of bouts can similarly match the pace of other structural quantum leaps already alluded to above.


If you feel this is far fetched – allow me to elaborate: are you more likely to pay £35 to see a series of 6 padding exercise bouts which no sane bookmaker would even offer a price on given the fully pre-meditated over-matched nature of opponents up & down the bill or £100 to see 6 mini-classic wars featuring 12 superbly matched & skilled legitimate professional boxers? If you’ve ever not bought the cheapest car on the market I suspect I know the answer.


This leads to the inevitable & touchy subject of professional standards in professional boxing. There are approximately 18,500 active professional boxers in the world today. According to personal research & allowing for some educated guesswork no more than 500 at the top end of these fighters are professional in the sense they earn enough from boxing professionally to have no short term need to supplement their income with personal training; clerical work or any other form of employment. A further 1,500 make a reasonable & liveable living from playing the role of professional loser – boxers who are brought in, often but not always at late notice, to lose to prospects whose promoter (acting with significant vested interest in the outcome) seek to build their fighters unbeaten record to a lofty & unrealistic level in the long term building project that is undertaken with a view to a lucrative title shot down the line. This process is immoral; inauthentic & an impediment to the sport’s survival as one of wider significance.


The talent pool should be culled to include only legitimate entrants. This would allow less room for skullduggery; more legitimate sporting contests & a more vibrant competitive landscape. The ilk of BBC, ITV & co sure as heck have zero interest in glorified padding exercises.


Let’s take the Carl Frampton ITV deal & extrapolate discerned value from the lessons above – suspending the quite obvious difference between advert free public broadcaster BBC & the ad driven model of ITV for one moment. Frampton’s bout with Chris Avalos of course breaks a handful of cardinal rules – it is not the best fight that can theoretically be made at the weight – whilst not being a terrible class match up by boxing’s comical standards either. Given Frampton’s status among his stellar native fanbase alone ITV’s somewhat recent Barker vs. Butler’s 299,000 from 2009 appears a less likely viewership return than 2005’s Audley Harrison vs. Danny Williams’ 6,100,000 although the latter is perhaps an overly optimistic projection. 2007’s Amir Khan vs. Willie Limond’s 3,500,000, though, does make the case for a 4,000,000 to 4,300,000 return that much more credible given the nature of the buzz fuelling the Frampton marketing machine. One shudders to think what a Frampton vs. Quigg on ITV1 might have achieved – 7,000,000 to 11,000,000 would be my best guess at this juncture.


Taking 4,000,000 as a working estimate that means a low-end costing (as per the Eastenders scale) for content of, say, 2 hours in complete duration – including build up & perhaps the main undercard bout rests at around £66,153*2*4= £529,224. This, I believe, is the amount a television station of the stature of BBC (on which the fight would likely have done somewhat better in terms of viewership) would happily pay for the content. Given that the same event on the BBC1 would likely have managed to reach perhaps 15% more eyeballs or 4,600,000 viewers/9,200,000 viewer hours then £66,153*2*4.6 = £608,607.60 is perhaps a more accurate estimate.


Belfast’s Odyssey Arena holds a maximum of 12,000 people. If we make 500 of those places complimentary (for sundry reasons) then 11,500 paying spectators with prices ranging from £49 through £80 through £130 to £250 for a mean of £76.50 or £879,750.00 in maximal gross gate receipts. Before any form of commercial sponsorship is even considered & before the sale of foreign television rights is discussed we’ve already grossed a combined £1,488,357.60.


£1,488,357.60 should be enough – allow me to rephrase that, for boxing’s survival & upward momentum’s sake £1,488,357.60 needs to be enough. Allowing for insurance; security; venue hire; parking (if required); labor and delivery for setup/teardown; lighting; entertainment/DJs; commentators fees; referees; judges; doctors; on site paramedics; timekeepers; sanctioning fees to the hallowed IBF & other sundry expenses of circa £250,000.00 this leaves £1,238,357.60 remaining in gross pay available to fighters (and by inference their trainers & cutmen); the promoter & the managers representing the fighters.


Let’s assign an imposed £200,000.00 limit on the promoters cut – this leaves us with £1,038,357.60. The Belfast card currently suggests an offering of 6 bouts – with 4 of them as yet to name opponents but I digress – so 12 fighters; presumably 12 trainers; 12 cutmen; presumably 12 managers & any possible ancillary staff will need to be paid from that lofty sounding pot in a measure commensurate with their relative perceived worth in the case of the fighters; their relative guile in the case of the managers & at the standard 10% in the case of the trainers. Marco McCullough – for arguments sake – gets £6,000.00 after expenses (but, critically, pre-tax); from gross pay of £10,000.00 – his trainer £1,000.00; his cutman £500 & his manager £2,500.00. Conrad Cummings roughly the same. Anthony Cacace also roughly the same.


Each of the three “home” fighters opponents fetches £3,000.00 in gross pay. The pot thus contracts to £999,357.60 before the main event & the main undercard bout have been considered. Consider that none of the 12 people on the 3 (unnamed to this point) opponents side of the ledger (including those fighters themselves) are taking a living wage or anything approaching it at that level of remuneration considering a sane amount of fights taken per annum. Indeed, the “house” fighters themselves are barely eeking out a living at that rate should they fight 3 to 4 times per year – taking risks with their long term health for pay that barely covers their short term financial needs.


On to the main undercard bout – Belfast’s Jamie Conlan could expect pay of in the order of £30,000.00 gross for his participation – meaning pre-tax earnings of £19,000.00 with £7,500.00 going to his manager; £3,000.00 to his trainer & say £500.00 to his cutman. The fighter he will face – & beat, as was the intention when his name was pulled from a hat – Warlito Parrenas should be looking at around £10,000.00 in gross pay plus 3 airlines tickets from the Philippines to Belfast return (which SkyScanner assure me can be bought for around £3,039 for the set). This leaves approximately £953,318.60 in the pot for Carl Frampton, his manager, his trainer, his cutman; Chris Avalos; his manager; his trainer & his cutman to divide up.


Let’s give the cutmen £500 each. We’re down to £952,318.60. 75% to the champion – 25% to the challenger: £714,238.95 to Frampton pre-expenses; £238,079.65 to Avalos pre-expenses. £178,559.74 to Frampton’s manager (you know who) & £71,423.90 to his trainer – leaving The Jackal with £464,255.32 in pre-tax & thus £256,697.04 in after tax earnings. This assumes zero expenditure on sparring partners; nutritionists; strength & conditioning coaches etc. Avalos, similarly only walks away with £154,751.77 in pre-tax & £92,660.16 in after-tax earnings.


This represents value for a major terrestrial broadcaster – this would ensure boxing would be as likely to feature on terrestrial television in the United Kingdom as Eastenders sans the objections of boxing abolitionists – from the British Medical Association & elsewhere. The sport would be free to pursue offshoot revenue streams in increased public appearance fees due to heightened exposure for its athletes; increased merchandising and image rights tied income; residual long term income opportunities for boxers after they retire via the exploitation of their greater celebrity & foreign television rights. But none of that is in the thoughts of those who engineered the Frampton – ITV deal – boxing has & seems hellbent on always being too self-interested & too short-termist – the promoter will have squeezed every last drop out of a broadcaster following that well trodden path that begins with enthusiasm & inevitably heads toward despair because the pricing is frankly, out of whack with reality.


The lack of a highly credible product is an issue that perhaps even surpasses the over pricing of the sport – the two in tandem are a recipe for ongoing, ever less public, disaster.