Venue Matchmaking Has Been A Lost Art Amongst The Major Promoters In Recent Years
WE’VE ALL SEEN IT—the sparsely filled arenas for big televised shows. Too often in the sport, major promoters are booking big arenas for every show, just to secure booking deposits on venues. It makes no sense for Joshua Buatsi to fight Pawel Stepien in Birmingham when he’s a London-based fighter.
Similarly, there’s no need for Leigh Wood to rematch Mauricio Lara in Manchester on a defining night in his career because it deprives his Nottingham faithful of the chance to witness his dramatic revival as a world champion.
Put simply, the leading promoters aren’t getting venue match-making right. A desperate attempt to lock in big venues, in the hope of making the dream fight before it’s secured, is at a detriment to the fans and the growth of the sport. The fans have to pay for travel and accommodation rather than cheer on their hometown boy or girl in a local venue, while the optics of empty seats are terrible from both the live event and TV perspective; people want to be at popular events.
One smaller promoter is getting the venue match-making on the money. TM14 Promotions are making use of an economic deal with the Peacock Gym for standing-room-only shows featuring up-and-coming prospects. These shows are also streamed, so the fighters don’t feel like there missing out on any exposure, from not fighting under the bright lights in an inevitably under-packed arena.
TM14 is also going to stage Lucas Ballingall’s English title defence in Portsmouth which is his home city. It fulfils a dream of his to fight locally and shows ambition to at least try to host a boxing event in an area that doesn’t see a lot of the pugilistic art.
There is no doubt that the event will have a huge turn-out because Ballingalls friends, family and fans will come through to watch him defend his title and a potential star can be built as close to home as possible, the way it should be done.
But the bigger promoters keep getting it wrong. Craving the prestige of selling a show on the back of it being staged at a known arena is a trend that is worryingly growing. Take Joe Joyce-Joseph Parker fight, for example. That fight could definitely sell out the Copper Box or even Wembley Arena and possess the premise of being a ‘hot ticket’.
But it certainly can’t sell out, or come close to selling out, the bigger Manchester Arena. Joyce isn’t from anywhere near Manchester, Parker is an international fighter and whilst he does train out of Morecambe, not many devoted Morecambians are going to make the drive to Manchester for a New Zealander, just by dint of the fact he trains with Tyson Fury.
TM14’s promoter, Jon Tretheway commented on my earlier example of Leigh Wood’s fight in Manchester and saw the merit to both the argument I am making in this piece and a devil’s advocate defence of TV promoters going to bigger venues, in this instance, the promoter in question being Eddie Hearn.
“Eddie is the master, he would take it where he thinks it is going to make the most money and get the best capacity in,” Trethway told NoSmokeSport.com, “But I guess if you’re a local person you want to ideally stay in Nottingham so it’s not as far to travel, and Leigh Wood would get more fans there.”
The solution seems glaringly obvious: boxing promoters need to swallow their pride of billing televised events on being at big arenas and need to instead focus on more appropriate smaller-scale venues, that they can pack out. That creates a better atmosphere for the fans and is a better product to sell to an armchair viewer, who can see a full backdrop of cheering supporters rather than the paintwork of row F at the OVO Arena or even worse, the stark, black backdrop of curtains covering the upper tiers.
To their credit, Boxxer and Sky Sports are at least trying to go to York Hall this weekend, and I’m sure Matchroom would revisit trips to the Copper Box Arena if it weren’t for an apparent lock on the perfectly-sized arena for mid-tier fights from Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions (apparently a case of proximity to BT’s Stratford studio HQ rather than a masterstroke of venue match-making.)
Jon Tretheway added that the situation is not helped by this level of territorial politics, where boxing promoters set out their stall as laying claim to a patch and try and ward off other competitors from staging shows there. But with 28 shows a year, he’s keen to make sure that TM14 is bold in their venue matchmaking and trial out different regions.
‘If you are one of the promoters that are quite happy that they’re just sat in the same towns every time and make a couple of a grand from each show that’s fine, but we’re a little bit more ambitious than that.’
Of course, there are economies of scale between TM14 flexing its connections; with the well-sponsored Peacock gym to give a run-out to fighters not blessed with extraordinary ticket-selling abilities, putting Essex and East London fighters on at the York Hall where it can be packed to the rafters and venturing out further afield to accommodate homecoming bills and the larger TV promoters.
But the rationale needs to be translated into the big leagues of boxing. Buatsi can do numbers at the local, Croydon Sports Arena– it fits 8,000. That’s slightly more than half the size of Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena, but still, a realistic capacity for Buatsi to at least have a fighting chance to sell out.
The Motorpoint Arena has to be booked for any Leigh Wood fight that isn’t a fulfilment of his City Ground dream. And if BT has such a stranglehold on the Copper Box, why is Putney-born Joyce being punted up the M1 to Manchester?
We want boxing events to be stand-out attractions where local lads and lasses get a chance to become the talk of the town, a la Ricky Hatton. Not desolate ghost towns where the average Joe has no clue there’s a fight happening.
Or even worse, a boxing fan does rock up at the show, but leaves before the final bill of the main event because he simply has no affiliation to the fighter in the ring, is bored to death by the eerie silence of the crowd, and is wondering why he even bought into the sport in the first place.
By Harry Duffy