Sunday, November 29, 2015

Boxing: are the BBC part of the hype or part of the coverage?

I don't follow boxing but couldn't escape knowing there was a big fight last night between Klitschko and Fury. The hype was all over BBC Five Live all day Friday and Saturday, pointing listeners to their Saturday night coverage.

Fury won the fight, which was unexpected. On Sportsweek this morning Garry Richardson spoke to the boxer David Haye about Fury's habit of saying outrageous things in the build-up to a fight. Haye said it was all about selling tickets. But surely, said Richardson, there's more to life than selling tickets. Well, said Haye, this is pay-per-view and there are lots of boxers who suffered brain damage and didn't even get compensated for it. The more that people like you talk about it the more tickets they sell and the better they do.

Haye's got a point. It's one the BBC should think about. Their beating of the drum before a fight drives more people to sign up for pay-per-view than it does to listen to their coverage on the radio. I would guess the BBC coverage is an important part of the hype for the people selling pay-per-view.

It's not just about boxing. The BBC face the same dilemma around the release of the Adele album or the latest James Bond movie. They could cover it after it's happened but that never seems to be enough; they also seem to want to make it happen. They need to decide whether they're providing coverage or playing their part in the marketing mix.


  1. I tend to have a slightly different view. Invariably boxing radio rights deal are either only concluded at the last minute, or there are restrictions placed on the broadcaster being allowed to promote the fact they're covering the event. It now seems standard that for these big bouts, the radio broadcaster can only shout about it in last 48 hours ahead of the fight.

    I assume that's mostly because the promoter wants people to think that pay-per-view is the only way to access a fight and to maximise those orders.

    Either way, the broadcaster only has a very narrow window to let listeners know that the fight is available to hear free of charge. Hence endless plugs for coverage on the Friday and Saturday.

    Now that might also mean that listeners are being reminded that they can still pay to watch the fight, but I suspect that's a happy by-product for the promoter. In this instance, few viewers of Sky Sports channels will have been unaware of the fight being available to buy. The promotion has been relentless across all their channels, and in all their sports coverage in the last few weeks. There were even daily programmes about the fight in the final few days on Sky Sports 1.

    All sports or arts coverage is essentially marketing. Nobody goes on Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross unless they have something to plug. Indeed you rarely even read an interview with a top sports-person in a newspaper these days without also finding out that they're promoting some kind of commercial interest. So do you accept that or miss out on the A-listers?

    Boxing's bigger issue is that relatively few people even know who Tyson Fury is because they've never seen him box. The audience is contracting as it is for cricket and will be for golf.

  2. I have no interest in boxing and all the hype in the world would not make me even watch it for free let alone merely listen to it or (forbid the thought even more) pay to see it.

    However, this is surely a function of the BBC's remit to entertain. As soon as they stop publicising popular events and getting excited about them (whether synthetic or not) the sooner the justification for a universal licence fee goes out the window. So they will, rightly I think, continue to do this for events where they can afford to have an angle - and with an unexpected British winner this time, they must feel vidicated.