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ITV interest shows just how big boxing has become again

Posted on: 24 Feb 2016

Frank Warren’s Scrapbook – 24.2.16Frank Warren ITV Boxing

The fact that ITV’s hierarchy are said to be seriously considering bringing back boxing to the terrestrial channel’s screens on a regular basis is yet another indication of the robust health and growing popularity of this great old game.

Apparently ITV bosses will be meeting this week to discuss a potential deal which could see some 20 fights a year split between ITV1 and ITV4 with additional plans for a separate pay-per-view channel also said to be in the pipeline.

All very interesting. It probably stems from the ITV1 showing of Carl Frampton’s IBF world super bantamweight title defence against Chris Avalos over a year ago, when the undercard was on ITV4.

The fight had peak viewing figures of 1.9 million for ITV’s first live boxing event in almost six years.

Now, with British world champions coming out of our ears, it seems the commercial boys may have got the taste again. But it is a huge commitment, and how will it work?

The understanding is if that happens it will be in conjunction with  some of US music mogul Al Haymon’s regular PBC events broadcast on free-to-air networks such as  NBC and CBS across America.

It is known that Haymon would like to get a foothold here in the UK and has already signed up a number of British fighters on advisory deals, including Amir Khan, James DeGale, Lee Selby and Frampton.

I am curious to know how this will work as according to Eddie Hearn some of those boxers are promoted in the UK by him and he has an exclusive deal with Sky.

I can’t help wondering if the model on which Haymon bases his TV shows in America is actually feasible here. If so, that’s great for boxing.

But the reality is that when it comes to really big fights you need to get on Pay-Per-View. So the burning question is whether ITV are going to also invest in a PPV channel.

And if they do, will it be exclusively for boxing?  Or will they seek to establish a PPV platform which includes, say films? That market is now dominated by OTT services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

They are talking about screening four big fights on ITV1 and the rest of the card on ITV4. But what calibre will these fights be?

And how happy will they be about investing big-time in boxing when the boxers they have built up bugger off elsewhere when they get to a certain level, as has happened before?

Look, I was a pioneer when ITV first entered boxing in the eighties and I was with them when they returned to the sport briefly in the 2000’s. Our shows together featured many big names like Benn, Eubank, Naz, Khan and Calzaghe.

BoxNation’s accomplished presenter Jim Rosenthal was one among those who cut his teeth on ITV boxing at a time when ‘The Big Fight Live’ was one of the most popular of TV shows.

But times have changed, and so have fighters’ loyalties and contractual deals.

For instance, Haymon may have an arrangement with Khan but Amir owns his own TV domestic rights. If he was to get lucky and beat Canelo Alvarez in May there is surely no guarantee any future deal between ITV and Big Al would include him? With Sky currently scheduled to show Frampton, and DeGale’s and Selby’s most recent fights being aired by them, and Hearn saying he has DeGale and Selby how will that sit with ITV?

What is interesting is that over the past few months some PBC fighters have done their own deals such as Khan who has been inactive for nearly a year with PBC, he signed with rivals Golden Boy to fight Alvarez. PBC’s heavyweight Charles Martin has been sent over to defend his title against Anthony Joshua. To me this is puzzling as PBC made substantial investment in them.

All this has to be considered before ITV come out fighting again. But what it does show above all else is just how popular boxing has become amid this resurgence of interest, and how well it has been sustained by both BoxNation and Sky – and occasionally by Channel 5, where Tyson Fury nurtured his early career.

I have always believed the BBC were wrong to turn their backs on the sport because of that ill-fated affair with Audley Harrison and if ITV do resume featuring boxing regularly again it underlines what they have been missing.

Tomorrow: More from Frank Warren’s Scrapbook

 
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