Boxing: Sport on the ropes as Sky plays monopoly
The former boxing promoter Mickey Duff, now 80, tells how many years ago, as a young small-hall hustler, he gave regular work to a journeyman fighter named Yolande Pompey, who suddenly got lucky and knocked out the over-the-hill former world middleweight champion Randolph Turpin. When Duff then offered him top billing on his next show, Pompey's manager, Jack Burns, told him: "Sorry Mickey, we're out of your league now."
Subsequently, Pompey suffered three successive defeats on bigger shows and Duff took a call from Burns. "Mickey," said the manager, "we're ready for you now." No doubt Sky's new head of sport, Barney Francis, has been finding in the last couple of weeks since the collapse of rivals Setanta that several big-name boxers hitherto unavailable to the channel are "ready for him now". Because Sky are now the only game in town and that game is monopoly.
Setanta going belly-up has put boxing on the ropes. With ITV pulling the plug at the end of the year and the BBC no longer interested after getting their fingers burnt with Audley Harrison, Sky will be the only UK TV channel showing boxing.
And among the fighters having to go almost headguard-in-hand to them is David Haye, whose prospects of challenging the Klitschko kingdom in the foreseeable future seem to have evaporated now that Setanta, with whom he had a four-fight, multi-million-pound deal, are no longer around to bankroll him. When he talks with Sky he knows it must be on their terms, not his.
The loss of Setanta, the self-styled "home of boxing", is a critical blow in the current economic climate because Sky's own budget and screen time for the sport is not unlimited.
Frank Warren, whose flagship fighter Amir Khan goes for a world title on Sky Box Office on 18 July, admits that he and other promoters face hard times ahead. "It's difficult at the moment. I wouldn't say it is a crisis but things are as tough as I can remember. We've got some good fights coming up but the world's changing. We get decent live gates but the problem is the economy is affecting TV.
"The fact that the BBC don't want to know about boxing is a disgrace, it's a public service after all. They've even ditched the amateurs. Sky is now the only show in town, they've got the whip hand. Obviously we are grateful to Sky because if it wasn't for them there wouldn't be any boxing, but they want Friday night fights and this is a problem for fans. It means you can't put on the real big shows because you need the input from American TV, who traditionally screen fights on Saturdays.
"As a sport we have to evolve and be innovative and find different ways of getting boxing on the screen." Via the internet? "Maybe. There are other methods of broadcasting. The trouble is, everything is driven by football, football, football. It's all they care about. If Wimbledon was on in May, it would fall by the wayside."
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