Technical Knockouts: Three Reasons Why Boxing Has Waned in Popularity

Dan PieroniCorrespondent IJuly 23, 2009

ENCINO, CA - JULY 07:  Boxing promoter Don King departs the Jackson family compound for the memorial service for pop singer Michael Jackson  on July 7, 2009 in Encino, California. Jackson, 50, the iconic pop star, died at UCLA Medical Center after going into cardiac arrest at his rented home on June 25 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, boxing was one of the most popular spectator sports in all of the country.

In the early days of television, boxing was as popular an attraction as pro football and American Idol are today. People would tune with anticipation to see the big names of the day such as Rocky Marciano and Willie Pep.

Old Yankee Stadium was once a popular venue for fights, with everyone from Joe Louis to Muhammad Ali fighting there between 1923 and 1976.

In the 1980s, major boxing fights were still heavily attended but had shifted to pay cable outlets. Therefore, consumers were forced to buy HBO or Showtime as part of their cable plans. However, boxing still remained a presence on free broadcast television through shows like ABC's Wide World of Sports & USA's Tuesday Night Fights.

However, in 1994, a fight took place that I believe signaled the beginning of the end of boxing as a highly popular display of athleticism in mainstream society. 

On Nov. 5, 1994, heavyweight champion Michael Moorer fought a bloated, senile, and uncoordinated George Foreman for the championship in Las Vegas.

As expected, Moorer outfoxed Foreman for the first nine rounds, although he failed to put Foreman away with a knockout blow. Then, all of a sudden, Foreman landed a devastating right hook to Moorer's chin.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

The impossible had happened, boxing's worst nightmare was realized, as it now had a 45-year-old, heavyweight champion who was past his prime and out of shape.

Two years later, an agitated and barbaric Mike Tyson bit off part of Holyfield's left ear in frustration.

It was the beginning of the end of boxing as a mainstream sport.

Now, boxing barely survives as a niche sport that is lucky to get a mention in the back page of the sports section or magazine.

What follows are three reasons as to why I believe boxing as lost it's cache as a popular spectator sport in our sports lexicon, and what I believe can be done to fix it.

After all, as long as the sport's main premise is two men using gloves to beat the crap out of each other, anything is possible.

Reason One: Lack of any network coverage.

As  I mentioned, boxing was a staple of network television in the early days of the medium. However, since the dawn of pay cable, greedy promoters like Don King and Bob Arum have taken their business there, and refused to do business with the networks because they know enough suckers will pay the $49.95 for a big fight and line their pockets with a lot of green.

Why have the networks pay you to televise a fight for free when you can make more money charging the average Joe $50 for the right to even see the fight?

Under this shrewd gameplan, only a select few can watch the fights because many that want to simply view it cannot afford to fork over the high price.

Moreover, boxing's lack of coverage on free television hurt's it's popularity because few people know or care who the big name fighters are in all the weight classes because there is no free showcase on network television for their talent.

In order for boxing to regain its popularity, there should be at the very least a weekly afternoon or evening boxing series on network television.

I would even go so far as to suggest that it may be a good idea for a title fight to be broadcast on one of the major networks to rejuvenate interest in the sport. That way, many people will know who the marquee talents are instead of a select few.

Reason 2: Lack of marketing

I'd bet that right now, outside of maybe Manny Pacquiao, even the most diehard sports fan couldn't name a popular fighter in boxing today.

This is probably because boxing is perfectly happy as a niche sports, as long as it turns a profit and puts butts in the seats.

In the old days, the sport did a great job in marketing the brand. Many people may not have known about Ali the boxer, but they knew about Ali the person due to his relationship with Howard Cosell.

Likewise, a lot of people remember Ray Leonard as a commercial pitchman for 7Up, and Mike Tyson lent his name to an iconic video game.

These days, boxing has not marketed itself well, you don't see many fighters in commercials, and The Contender is not exactly a blueprint for superstardom within the industry.

On the flipside, boxing major competitors in the UFC and the WWE have done a brilliant job in marketing with weekly television programs on basic cable networks and merchandising that has brought in millions of dollars.

In essence, they have promoted their brands well, therefore fans tend to gravitate towards their product and leave boxing in the cold.

Reason 3: Greed

Only in America can a guy like Don King promote the heck out of a fight, earn millions of dollars, and still refuse to get himself a halfway decent haircut.

Kidding aside, King is however, a greedy, manipulative, con artist of a man who is at the forefront of the cash windfall that boxing generates.

If other words, you can thank him for wasting $50 on a fight that last two rounds.

King doesn't care about you the average fan, he cares about his money, and other promoters have followed in his footsteps.

Thus, the average fan can't enjoy a major championship fight because the prices both at the arenas and through cable are too steep, and there not coming down until even the corporate muckety mucks stop paying for their ringside seats.

As long as this continues, the high prices will be justified.

So let's review, how can boxing reclaim its bygone as a major spectator sport?

Quite simply, do a better job of catering to the average Joe by understanding that they're not made of money and thus need a more cost effective approach of accepting boxing as a major sports entity.

Until then, boxing can enjoy its niche audience of Hollywood stars and soulless corporate executives.

If I were Don King, I'd try to do the right thing and welcome the average fan with open arms.

Related

    Ryder ready and willing to face Canelo in September

    Boxing logo
    Boxing

    Ryder ready and willing to face Canelo in September

    Scott Christ
    via Bad Left Hook

    Boxing TV schedule for July 7-10

    Boxing logo
    Boxing

    Boxing TV schedule for July 7-10

    Scott Christ
    via Bad Left Hook

    Saunders explains why he opted out of Canelo sweepstakes

    Boxing logo
    Boxing

    Saunders explains why he opted out of Canelo sweepstakes

    Wil Esco
    via Bad Left Hook

    ESPN Boxing Results: Jose Pedraza Batters Mikkel LesPierre

    Boxing logo
    Boxing

    ESPN Boxing Results: Jose Pedraza Batters Mikkel LesPierre

    BoxingInsider.com
    via BoxingInsider.com