Bob Arum bullish on the future of boxing
Last Friday, Bob Arum – whose company Top Rank Promotions staged a press conference on Tuesday for its April 22 pay-per-view card featuring the quartet of WBO featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez, WBO junior featherweight beltholder Jessie Magdaleno, WBO super middleweight titleholder Gilberto Ramirez and the pro debut of Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson from the StubHub Center – was asked why HBO didn’t approve of a doubleheader that would’ve seen Valdez face Miguel Marriaga and Ramirez take on Jesse Hart.
As this pairing was rejected by the network, Top Rank then was forced to promote this card as a pay-per-view offering.
“That question should be directed to Peter Nelson (Executive Vice President of HBO Sports) rather than to me,” answered Arum. “I can’t answer. All I know is they’re undergoing big things over at Time Warner, as you know, and that’s where their emphasis is.”
What Arum is referring to is the pending merger between Time Warner (the parent company of HBO) and AT&T.
Arum continued, “We really don’t know if and when the merger takes place, whether boxing will even have a place on HBO. We don’t know that and that’s not anything to say about Peter Nelson or anybody – we just don’t know because you can get all the assurances in the world from people at HBO now but they may not be there, once the merger takes place.”
For the past few decades, Arum and his company have been the primary content providers for HBO (which, for years, was the dominant premium cable network for boxing in the United States) but Top Rank’s founder is still incredibly bullish about the state of the business and the future. “I’ve been in boxing – this is 51 years – and I tell you this: That the next 10 years will be the biggest for boxing during my entire connection with the sport,” said Arum, who’s still very spry in his mid-80s. “I’m not going to get into it but I’m telling you – when the announcements are made, you’ll understand.”
Fast-forward to Tuesday at the Manhattan Beach Marriott and Arum was talking about the need to keep his blue-chip level boxers active. And by “active,” meaning fighting more than twice in a calendar year, as so many other marquee fighters have been relegated to recently. “Well, I have a plan but I’m not able to reveal the plan,” Arum hinted.
While he didn’t want to get into details over what Top Rank has in store, logic would dictate that it would involve modern technology, namely the ability to stream content over such devices as mobile phones and tablets. There is more and more cord-cutting taking place with cable/satellite television and how people are now watching television is evolving.
Back in November, Top Rank produced and distributed its own pay-per-view card featuring Manny Pacquiao. Much of its marketing came on the worldwide web. This is no longer 1995 and this could actually aid boxing’s attempt to gain more of a foothold with a younger generation. Technology might just be boxing’s greatest weapon. No longer do promoters have to be beholden to networks to broadcast their content.
“Absolutely, because what’s happened is that the existing technology has, for various reasons, turned its back on boxing. And it’s been our own fault,” admitted Arum. “I mean, you can blame somebody else but you’ve got to blame yourself. See, I remember when fighters were much more relevant, when they were performing on a regular basis on over-the-air networks and, then HBO came along and offered us twice the money – or sometimes more – to go to premium networks and over-the-air networks found that the premium networks were getting all the good fights. So they dropped out because they weren’t getting good fights and it was our fault because we didn’t have the foresight to realize that, by going to the premium networks, we were limiting our market.”
Yes, those exorbitant license fees came at a price – one of them being activity. As networks than began to sign boxers to exclusive deals that curtailed their ability to fight often, as they had finite dates.
“Also exposure because an over-the-air network like CBS had a hundred million homes and an HBO had barely thirty million,” pointed out Arum, who, for years, has promoted pay-per-view cards such as “Latin Fury” and “Pinoy Power” to fill in the gaps when an HBO or Showtime did not have the desire or budget for his fights.
“Obviously we’re not doing this to make money. If you told me, ‘Bob, I have a way for you to break even on this show,’ I’d give you a commission.” (OK, that said, I’m on it.)
It’s clear that, even going back to the 2012 Olympics (when they signed current WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko and WBO flyweight titlist Zou Shiming, along with Valdez, Jose Ramirez and Felix Verdejo), Top Rank has taken a global approach to things, even opening up the Asian/Chinese market. In this past Olympic cycle, they signed Robson Conceicao (a gold medalist from Brazil) and Irishman Mick Conlan, along with Stevenson.
Speaking of Conlan, Top Rank produced this feature on him as he embarks on his pro career:
Nowadays, as a promotional outfit, if you aren’t doing such things and have a strong online influence, well, you’re a BetaMax tape in a Blu-Ray world. Over the last couple of years, Golden Boy Promotions has begun to stream fight cards and has its own in-house production crew to create content that is pushed on various social media platforms and YouTube (which is also now being utilized to stream cards live).
Welcome to 2017.
“I know what we have to do and what we’re doing. We’re doing a feature now on Shakur and I really believe, within three or four months, the whole future of boxing will change appreciably,” stated Arum, on Friday. “And part of that is the necessity to take your athletes and have people understand who they are, so they can identify with (them). If you have faceless guys, nobody can identify with them.”
So yeah, life’s certainties are death, taxes and offers for big fights in the United Arab Emirates falling apart. And the latest was Manny Pacquiao’s supposed date in the Middle East (something he announced a couple of weeks ago with Amir Khan as his dance partner).
And now, that date has gone to “Bolivian” and Pacquiao will not return on May 20 (after originally being slated to fight on April 22).
Trouble seems to find unified super lightweight champion Terence Crawford, who continues to find himself in…well, “interesting” situations like this.
Again, he certainly deserves his day in court or to at least have the legal process play out. That said, more and more, he’s looking like that old Dave Chappelle skit of “When keeping it real goes wrong.”
So what was so attractive about Stevenson to Arum?
“I know what kind of charisma he has, what a terrific young fighter he was and how we could develop him into a major attraction. And I think the public will be really behind him and he’s going to really drive business – particularly in the African-American, young, hip-hop community,” he explained.
Arum says that should all go well in Stevenson’s’ pro debut on April 22. The plan is for Stevenson to return on the May 20 card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey (which, for the time being, is supposed to be headlined by Crawford).
Nonito Donaire is now a free agent, having amicably parted ways with Top Rank…The April 14 edition of “ShoBox” will have Dmitry Bivol-Samuel Clarkson and a co-main of Malik Hawkins-Taras Shelestyuk….So IBF junior lightweight titlist Gervonta Davis is being shipped out to the U.K. for his first title defense? That’s interesting…So now Angel Garcia wants his son to get a rematch with WBA/WBC welterweight champion Keith Thurman? Ughhhh…Spike’s “Bar Rescue” is as good as ever…“Crashing” is very good on HBO…So where does Tony Romo end up?…The 100th episode of “The 3 Knockdown Rule” with Mario “March Madness” Lopez will be taped on Thursday…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.