Sunday, 8 June 2014

The brilliance of BoxNation

When I was a kid life was simple. There were three TV channels (which turned into four in November 1982), and boxing was a staple of the television schedules - whether it be heavyweight title fights on a Saturday morning, big domestic events on a Saturday night or specials in midweek such as, well, Midweek Sports Special or Sportsnight.

1989 was the year that my childhood seemed to lose its innocence forever; I turned 13, got spots, wasn't allowed by the British censors to watch the 15-certificate Bond film Licence To Kill at the cinema and wasn't allowed to watch Bruno-Tyson 1 live because of the way that rampant commercialism had infected the previously cosy BBC-ITV televisual monopoly of bygone days. Rupert Murdoch's SKY TV network launched, and sports coverage would never be the same again. Bruno v Tyson 1 was the first major boxing event to feature on the fledgling channel and so began the slow, but inexorable decline of boxing on British terrestrial TV.

Yes, the likes of Benn, Eubank and Watson, as well as Hamed, Khan, Froch, Haye and many others, would feature at various times on terrestrial TV over the following 20 years, but satellite TV (along with several other factors) eventually helped suck the life out of boxing as a mainstream sport. Yes, pugilism still has the capacity to create major events and talking points, but the sport's ability to connect on a truly mass scale has gone forever - the fact is my mum could tell you who Frank Bruno is, but she wouldn't have a clue who Carl Froch or George Groves are.

That's the sad reality, and unless the controllers of sport on BBC, ITV or Channel 4 have a dramatic change of heart, and rethink (what seems to me) to be their inbuilt elitist distaste for combat sports, things will never change.

It's taken me a long time to get over the damage that Rupert Murdoch and other power crazed capitalists of his ilk have wrought on the simple pleasures of televised sport that I enjoyed in my childhood. Apart from a short-lived stint as an NTL customer while living in shared university accommodation, I've never been able to bring myself to invest in a SKY dish, or a cable TV cable, or a Virgin digi-box, or whatever they're called. When I consider that, on average, I get five items of junk mail a week through my letter box trying to entice me to do so, I consider that a triumph for the individual over the forces of societal pressure and advertising.

As well as my inherent dislike of the forces of rampant capitalism (yes, I'm aware that using a google blog shows that my principles are somewhat haphazardly enforced), the main factor that continues to put me off getting SKY, or some other package of that sort, is the sheer inconvenience and waste of paying a substantial monthly fee for access to a range of channels, when all I'm really interested in watching is the boxing, and maybe the cricket. Oh yes, and there's also the fact that I still harbour a huge distaste for Rupert Murdoch and would utterly resent the percentage of any SKY subscription fee I paid that would end up in his oily pockets. (Such is my dislike that my friends claim that when I once saw Murdoch's daughter at a media event we'd somehow blagged tickets to, I yelled something to her about her father that was highly derogatory. I was too drunk to later remember whether I really did this or not).

Which is where BoxNation comes in. Before BoxNation, if I wanted to watch a big fight from the USA (or even UK) I'd either have to find a pub that was screening it (increasingly difficult on a Saturday night as boxing's mainstream status has eroded - see paragraph 3) or track down a friend willing or tolerant enough to have their sleep or social life disturbed by allowing me into their home in the late, or insanely late, hours of a Saturday night. Occasionally, I'd be so desperate I'd borrow a friend's spare key and sit in their house watching boxing without them even being there. The even more desperate third alternative was to scour youtube the morning after a fight and hope that someone had uploaded whatever contest I wanted to see in a form that was at least half-watchable. (That hardly ever worked by the way. And wasted a lot of time).

For me, the simple genius of BoxNation is the online subscription it offers. £12 a month. Let me say that again - £12 a month, or around 40 pence a day. For that tiny sum I've recently seen, in the space of a few weeks, a full Mayweather PPV card, Cotto v Martinez, Stiverne v Arreola, Marquez v Alvarado and many more contests besides, as well as hours of old fight footage and Steve Bunce's always entertaining weekly show. BoxNation's studio set-up might be budget basement stuff, but that doesn't matter, in fact the pared-down approach is a welcome antidote to SKY's tiresome hyperbole and ridiculously flashy The Day Today / Brasseye style graphics. If you squint slightly when Jim Rosenthal is on screen you might even be fooled into thinking you're back watching ITV circa 1991. Most satisfying of all though, is that when I pay for BoxNation online, I don't have to pay for anything extra, or any other channels, apart from the one channel I actually want to watch. In its conception and execution it's quite simply brilliant value.

Why any UK boxing fans, expect those on the breadline, would not subscribe to BoxNation is behind me. How many subscribers it currently has, across all its platforms, I don't know, but if it was to ever fold it would be catastrophic for British boxing.

Anyway, all of this occurred to me last night as my alarm rang at 4.20am to wake me up in time for the Cotto v Martinez fight. Rather than stay up all night at a SKY-owning friend's house drinking beer, and gradually going mad from the interminable waiting and sleep deprivation, I was able to crawl from my bed to my floor, switch on my laptop, pop my headphones in, watch the fight, tweet about it and be back in bed and soundly asleep by 5.30am.

That, for me, is the brilliance of BoxNation.

That, and the fact, of course, that not one penny of that £12 goes to Rupert Murdoch.**

Author's note / full disclosure: BoxNation did not solicit me to write this article, and I don't know anyone who works for them. If they now want to give me a free subscription though, I'd be happy to accept. **Particularly because maybe some of that £12 does end up in Murdoch's pocket after all...

Luke G. Williams
Follow @boxianajournal

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