I was talking to my father a few months ago when I posed this question. Are we watching the death of boxing as a popular sport and if so, why? I suggested that boxing started to decline when public broadcast turned to pay-per-view and private broadcasting, such as closed-circuit television. Back when I was a kid, all of the major fights were on national television. I can still remember Howard Cosell calling the Ali, Frazier, Norton, and Foreman fights. Back then, everyone knew who the heavyweight champion of the world was – and there was only one at the time, not five. But, money gets the best of everyone sooner or later. Promoters decided that they could use boxing’s popularity to leverage revenues by charging people to watch it. In the short term, this worked great. Over the years, however, I think people slowly lost interest because of this. The promoters started setting a bar that you had to hurdle to see the fight. Eventually, you have to decide whether you’re willing to shell out $50 to watch a fight on TV. If you know the fighters, you might decide to invite some friends over and split the cost and it turns into a small party, like Sunday afternoon football.
However, these things can spiral. Some people won’t go over the hurdle. They start to lose touch with the fighters. Popularity declines a bit. Coverage in the newspaper gets smaller. Coverage on TV used to be in the mainstream stations even for the weigh-ins. Now, if there’s coverage, it’s on ESPN. That may be the best place to report on it, but it’s yet a smaller number of viewers than your local ABC news sports report.
With every hurdle and every dilution comes a smaller market share. Combine this with other interests, like mixed martial arts and the UFC, and you’ve got a recipe for decline. Once you start to coast and don’t invest in your product, you can bet that someone else will come along and take the interest away.