A saturated Big Apple
Last weekend at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder faced Bermane Stiverne, in a rematch, as part of a Showtime tripleheader. It began a six-week stretch in which New York will host five major cards.
This Saturday night, from the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, Daniel Jacobs makes his Matchroom Boxing debut against Luis Arias on HBO. Then on November 25, from the Theater at Madison Square Garden, former unified light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev takes on Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. From the big room of the Garden, on December 2, WBO junior middleweight beltholder Miguel Cotto will perform in what is being billed as his farewell fight, against Sadam Ali. This busy stretch will then conclude the following week as the Theater is opened up again when Vasyl Lomachenko defends his WBO junior lightweight title against WBA junior featherweight beltholder Guillermo Rigondeaux on ESPN.
(Yes, MSG is hosting boxing on back-to-back-to-back weekends, an unprecedented modern-day run).
Wilder-Stiverne II had an announced crowd of just under 11,000. This means that basically half of the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, was filled.
“But with Barclays, that’s obviously exaggerated, consistently,” said ticket broker Jim Boone of KO Tickets, during his appearance on “The Next Round” podcast on Monday night. “They did some papering of the venue but it wasn’t really their fault. I mean, lets be honest; I personally believe if (Luis) Ortiz wouldn’t have fallen out, that show would’ve done really good.”
Ortiz was originally scheduled to face Wilder, in a highly anticipated match-up, but ran afoul of VADA and was eliminated from this fight, when he failed a pre-fight drug test. As a result, ticket prices were rolled back. Boone said Stiverne ”was a very poor opponent to replace Ortiz with. So it did what you would expect, based on the circumstances.”
As for Jacobs-Arias, well, with a competing show on ESPN on this same evening being televised from Fresno, California (where a packed house is expected at the Save Mart Arena, to see Artur Beterbiev challenge Enrico Koelling for the vacant IBF light heavyweight title), and a loaded college football schedule, promoter Eddie Hearn might get a dose of reality of just how tough the American boxing market is. Long Island ain’t London and Hearn wont have his army of casual fans to fill seats.
Boone says, “I’ve been working with the show. I’ve had a very difficult time myself selling tickets for it, so we’ll see how this week goes. I think the biggest problem with this show is that the show is in New York but it shouldn’t be at Nassau Coliseum. That’s just the wrong venue for this show.”
Jacobs is from Brooklyn and it’s been told to this writer, several times, that it’s a long trek to make it to Long Island for those in other boroughs. And it’s a rather big building, to boot. “If they would’ve got it – and there’s a million shows right now at the Theater at MSG – I think that would’ve done much better for the simple fact that, if you looked at Danny Jacobs’ last fight, with ‘Triple G’, I mean, the fight started; 98 percent of the crowd is chanting ‘Triple G’! Later in the fight, a lot of the crowd had turned and were really going for Jacobs,” said Boone, referring to Jacobs’ battle against unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin on March 18, which played to a sold-out crowd at the Madison Square Garden.
Boone continued, “So I think that follow-through with the crowd, with him back in New York again in a reasonable amount of time, he would’ve gotten a lot of spill-over. Is that really going to translate at Nassau? We’ll see but it’s going to be a tough week for him; I believe.”
Heavyweight Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who is in the HBO co-feature, hails from Brooklyn and junior welterweight Cletus Seldin, who is promoted by local promoter Joe DeGuardia, has been added to the bill. Boone believes it was a smart move to partner up with local promoters (Dmitry Salita is also involved in this show) to get a lay of the land.
As of now, the only card that is selling – and, in fact, is a complete sell-out – is Lomachenko-Rigondeaux, an unprecedented battle of two-time Olympic gold medalists. Everything else…well, as they say, plenty of seats are available.
“Listen,” said Boone, an 18-year veteran of this racket, “it’s a marathon in this business, not a race. So just because the shows are extremely slow, from what I can see, right now, it might turn around but I think this week is going to be tough. Hopefully it picks up. Certainly the 25th, from what I can see, is doing extremely poorly with Kovalev-Shabranskyy and the Cotto fight, once again, his fans tend to buy late but December 2nd, we’re a month out from that already or three weeks out.”
Cotto could be credited with revitalizing the New York boxing market with the success he had filling the Garden during his days with Top Rank, when he regularly headlined the night before the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Ali, while a local boxer from Brooklyn, isn’t a dance partner who moves the needle.
At one point in time, New York was the center of the boxing universe and Madison Square Garden truly was the Mecca of boxing. But that period of time has passed and “The City that Never Sleeps” has a multitude of entertainment options.
But Bob Arum, the founder of Top Rank (and a native of New York) states, “It’s not the toughest market. It’s a very, very good market but it’s not as good as it was before because the publications don’t really follow the sport. So, at best, you’re going to get an article the day of the fight. That’s too late to drive ticket sales and people still read the newspapers in New York, the (New York) Post, (the New York) Times. I don’t think the Post had anything on the Wilder fight and the Times had a story more on (Stiverne promoter Don) King than the fight, the Saturday of the fight – and that doesn’t drive sales.
“So if they only sold 3,000 tickets, it was a lot. And that happens, from time to time, when you don’t have a big attraction. I know when King was promoting, he solved that by marching in troops from the military base by giving away tickets, which made it difficult for promoters who had real attractions to sell tickets because everyone was looking for a freebie.”
Once you start to regularly paper your shows, well, you poison the market. And it’s an open secret that the cards in Brooklyn have been papered.
“Now Barclays Center has become ‘Freebie Central,'”said Arum, with a chuckle. “Nobody buys tickets at Barclays. Everybody waits for the freebies.”
The Lomachenko-Rigondeaux fight will have no such problems. According to Boone, that event “continues to be off-the-charts, while the other shows struggle. That you’re basically paying four-times the face value of any seat, to walk in the door for that fight, and it continues to tighten up.”
While Cotto was once the biggest draw in the “Big Apple,” that mantle is now held by Golovkin (who has sold out several cards at MSG) and it looks like Lomachenko is poised to join him soon.
“I think, at this point, right now, he is a legitimate attraction,” opined Boone, who noticed the uptick in interest with the skilled southpaw, when he faced Nicholas Walters last November at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “I mean, first of all, he’s getting boxing people. It’s the people that always go to the fights, the people that travel. They see Lomachenko’s on a card and they’ve got to go. On top of that – and I know this, based on shipping FedExs out – you can certainly see it’s going to Ukrainians, based on the names being shipped for.”
Boone believes there has been a masterful job of being judicious in which venues they have selected for Lomachenko’s recent fights, like making sure the buildings aren’t too big, while slowly building his fan-base. “Top Rank has done a great job, as far as slowing moving him into the larger rooms,” said Boone.
But while that show is thriving, the others have failed to gain traction thus far. It could be a simple case of saturation.
“I believe so,” stated Boone, “and I think you’re seeing the effects of it here. As I mentioned earlier, the show’s not over until the day of. There can always be a late rush; that’s very possible. That the Kovalev fight, maybe it’s selling so poorly right now because, listen, people know they are going to be able to get tickets the week of the fight. There’s no reason to buy today, when you can buy day of, at the box-office.
“So hopefully these will pick up steam and I believe that having all the different choices, people see that having all these options, it kinda puts them on the sideline and they wait.”
Here’s this week’s edition of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and I (a full two-hour show), in which you can hear the entirety of our interview with Mr. Boone.
BIG APPLE FLURRIES
Yes, it’s true I have decided to attend the Miami-Notre Dame battle at Hard Rock Stadium, on Saturday night. I’ll have to go to Fresno some other time…Yuriorkis Gamboa will face Jason Sosa on November 25, as the HBO co-feature in support of Kovalev-Shabranskyy…Look for the highly-regarded junior lightweight prospect “Kingry” Ryan Garcia to make one more appearance in 2017 on a Golden Boy card…Jim Boone can be reached on Twitter at @kotickets or at 800-283-8699…Watching the Packers without Aaron Rodgers is like seeing a one-legged Usain Bolt run…I can be reached at email@example.com 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.