Sunday, 15 June 2014

Mainstream media take note: The highest paid sports star in the world is a boxer

I'm hoping that readers of this blog during the first few weeks of its existence have been enjoying the mixture of opinion, chin-stroking reflection and historical analysis that I've been serving up. The feedback I've received so far has been almost uniformly positive, so I'll keep writing until body of opinion tells me otherwise or until I stop racking up the page views. (Oh yes, and hopefully the more people who read this blog, the more will want to buy Boxiana: Volume 1 later this year).

Back to today, though, and I'm going to be posting on a slightly different tack and with a contrasting tone to usual ... because today I'm a little bit angry and I feel like having a rant.

So here goes. (Deep breath...)

Now, I know that the World Cup is going to inevitably hoover up the vast majority of column inches in the mainstream sports press for the next few weeks, and I've reconciled myself to that. True, on a personal level, I've gradually fallen out of love with football over the past decade and a half.  This was a process which began, ironically enough, while actually working in the football industry from 1999-2004, and which has only accelerated ever since. Watching the rampant commercialism and corruption within the sport and its governing bodies, to say nothing of the casual acceptance of ritualised cheating on the field of play, has destroyed my faith in the 'beautiful game'.

At least boxing, which is not above institutional corruption and / or  cheating itself, doesn't bullshit or preach in the widespread way that football does, or pretend to be something it isn't. Nevertheless, despite my personal distaste for what football has become, I can live with the saturation coverage of the World Cup; after all, along with the Olympics it's the biggest multi-nation event in world sport and I've actually quite enjoyed it so far this year, save for the C.J. Ross-style officiating in the opening Brazil v Croatia game that is.

However, World Cup or no World Cup, I can't shake my irritation with the way that I perceive the mainstream sports media in Britain to be consistently dealing boxing a bum hand. To illustrate my point, let's have a look at a couple of the British broadsheets - The Guardian / The Observer and The Times/ The Sunday Times - and their coverage of the sport over the past few weeks. 

A quick look at The Guardian's boxing index page right now reveals that, since their Froch-Groves coverage (which was ample and of a very high standard), there have been just two further boxing-related news stories posted in the last fortnight; one on the announcement of Carl Frampton's next fight (which used Press Association copy) and one a preview of the Andrade-Rose fight by the ever-excellent Kevin Mitchell. (At the time of writing, by the way, I can't find a reference on The Guardian website to what actually ended up happening in that fight, even though it took place more than 12 hours ago).

Now, I know that the last couple of weeks haven't been exactly jam-packed with massive boxing events and news, but there's still been plenty going on: didn't Cotto v Martínez deserve a report or a mention, at the very least? And how about the news, which I'll examine later in more detail, that Floyd Mayweather Jr. earned an astonishing $105 million in 2013?

I don't blame Kevin Mitchell for any of this; at this time of year his dual role as The Guardian's boxing and tennis correspondent inevitably seems to drag him in the direction of the French Open, Queen's and Wimbledon, rather than York Hall or Madison Square Garden. However, given that tennis is a huge sport as well, I can't help but wonder why there isn't a further boxing or tennis journo on The Guardian payroll to help Mitchell out, or to allow him to focus on one sport.

In The Guardian's defence, their excellent 'sports network' also features some splendid boxing writing, courtesy of the excellent blogs Slip the Jab and The Queensbury Rules. However, the weight of boxing content on this page is inevitably out-weighed by the vast swathes of football-related posts and, rather worryingly, Slip the Jab doesn't seem to have posted anything since March, either on its own homepage or in The Guardian. (I'm hoping Boxiana might become part of this network one day, by the way, and I rather hope this article hasn't ruined my chances ...)

Anyway, leafing through The Times and The Sunday Times over the past couple of weeks both reinforces and challenges my thesis. Largely thanks to the tireless Ron Lewis, there are plenty of recent boxing stories on The Times website - a report and preview of Andrade v Rose, some stories on Butler v Hall, and also a report on Nicola Adams' European Championship disappointment. Like Mitchell, Lewis also has a dual role at The Times, doubling up as athletics correspondent, a further example of the way 'smaller' sports are sacrificed at the altar of football's dominance these days. Nevertheless, the extent of The Times' coverage of boxing is good, and the quality of Lewis's work always excellent.

All of which is very encouraging and praiseworthy, but what on earth has happened at The Sunday Times? This morning's sports section had nothing at all boxing related, and neither did last week's. 
I'm sure someone, somewhere at The Sunday Times could give me a list of reasons, probably illustrated on graphs and relating to demographics, advertising revenue, page views and user profiles about why their boxing coverage is as it is, and why there is no market or budget to expand it. However, I'm not sure any of these arguments or answers would satisfy me.

Furthermore, it's really started to irk me that Hugh McIlvanney, once the respected and revered grand-daddy of British boxing writers, seldom bothers with the sport these days in his regular column. When he does devote some column inches to boxing, it's usually, from my experience, for the purposes of denigrating and damning modern-day boxers through unfavourable comparison with ring 'immortals' from the 60s, 70s and 80s. On Froch v Groves 2, McIlvanney produced a mere four paragraphs of prose ahead of the fight and no reflection on it afterwards. Although his sentences were always a little over-convoluted for my personal taste, I'm very sad to see a writer who was so absorbed by pugilism in the past (and who is an International Boxing Hall of Fame member to boot) demonstrate such a fleeting interest in boxing and boxers of the present day.

Much as it pains me to say it, the newspaper that routinely offers the most comprehensive coverage of boxing in Britain, albeit nowhere near as well-written as that in the broadsheets, is The Daily Mail. When they're not railing against gypsies or the EU or publishing photos of Z-list celebrities in their bikinis, they actually provide, online at any rate, pretty detailed pugilistic coverage, both in terms of text and photographs. Hell, their obsession with the Wladimir Klitschko-Hayden Panettiere romance even enables them to combine pugilism with bikini shots.

Truth be told, perhaps this post has taken aim at the wrong targets; national newspapers' coverage of boxing is far superior to the attention given to the sport by terrestrial television in the form of the BBC and ITV news and sports departments. However, I can't help but feel that a sport that can sell out a 'domestic' event at Wembley stadium with such ease, deserves a better slice of the media pie.

All of which brings me, finally and somewhat circuitously, to Floyd Mayweather and that Forbes magazine rich-list, which was revealed this week and showed that, of all the sports stars in all the countries in all the world, the most economically successful in 2013 was a boxerWhat's more, a boxer who earned every penny of his $105 million through athletic endeavour and a staggering $0 from commercial endorsements. By way of comparison, of the $80 million earned by footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, $28 million was from endorsements; while $53 million of basketball star LeBron James' $72.3 million pay packet came from off-court deals, as opposed to wages and winnings.

For me, these figures illustrate the bottom line about the relationship between boxing and the mainstream media in both the UK and US; the stark contrast between Mayweather's immense ring earnings and non-existent 'outside interests' revenue shows us that boxing is still a hugely popular sport, capable of inspiring widespread fan interest and sizeable revenues. However, regardless of its popularity, the full gamut of the mainstream media, from newspapers to NASDAQ listed corporations and companies, consistently under-estimate and under-rate boxing's popularity and capacity to engage the imagination of ordinary people and sports fans.

Once again, there are probably some graphs somewhere which seek to disprove what I've said, but I won't be swayed from the firmness of my opinion: boxing is a sport with massive potential and a loyal and large fan base, which needs to be given a far fairer share of media coverage and attention.

Now tell me, as Dennis Hopper says in True Romance, am I lyin'?

Thoughts/ comments? Email me at
Indicate if you don't want your comments published in future blogs.

Luke G. Williams


No comments:

Post a Comment