Smith and PBC come out swinging
James Oddy speaks to Tim Smith, vice president for media relations for Haymon Boxing, who has some answers for PBC's critics ...
The fine line between professional sport and show business is something which boxing has, almost since its inception, sparred with.
It’s a sport unlike any other, and many of the game's biggest promoters, managers and broadcasters have become as big stars as some fighters. Similarly, the business dealings of boxing often take centre stage over the fights.
Premier Boxing Champions (PBC), organised by Haymon boxing, are among the newest kids on the boxing block. The series' aim has been to bring elite level boxing back to the likes of NBC, FOX, ABC and NBC, networks that almost all Americans have some access to. Thus far their shows have featured such marquee names as Adonis Stevenson, Carl Frampton, Deontay Wilder and Keith Thurman.
Yet the series has been dogged by criticism by some elements within the sport, leading to speculation over the last few weeks that the organisation is set to fold.
Tim Smith, the vice president for media relations for Haymon Boxing, was in a passionate mood when he spoke to Boxing Monthly about the speculation and allegations.
“It’s just that, it’s speculation," he told me. "It’s an Olympic-sized jumping to conclusions, which was basically started by one guy, who saw that some fights for later in the year were pushed forward to next year, so leaped to the conclusion we were out of business.”
Smith believes that some reporters have allowed bias to influence their view on PBC.
“To be completely honest with you, I’m sick of the whole thing. Why anyone who covers the sport or makes their living from the sport would like to kill an initiative that is trying to expand the sport and get more people to view the sport and take part in the sport, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
"People have their agendas, and are willing to push those agendas forward. I can’t speak for speculation, or agendas or anything like that. And really it’s counter-productive to keep arguing a negative. Let the speculation continue and we’ll see where we are in November, December and 2017. Let's see where we end up. Almost from the beginning people have wanted to see us fail. I don’t grasp the amount of negativity towards this venture. I can’t make any sense of it.”
Smith questioned why some individuals have been negative about the PBC venture from the start.
“If you’re a fan of [American] football, why would you want to see a football league fold? You claim you want to see more of the sport; you want to see the athletes in the sport do well. If a new league came a long, and they were trying to establish themselves, you would think you would do everything you could to try and support it.
"I wouldn’t think you’d go out of your way to report certain things, especially things you don’t have any facts on, that that league is failing. I don’t know what kind of fan that makes you, but in my book it doesn’t make you a real fan of the sport, it makes you want to be negative about something.”
Smith was also keen to highlight why no fights are currently scheduled for the series.
“A few years ago, some of the networks, particularly FOX and ABC, decided they were going to put on college football in the fall [Autumn] in primetime. You're not putting on really horrible games, you're putting on the best at prime time to draw big numbers.
"Typically, the networks that don’t have football, they aren’t trying to counter programme. You stay away from that unless you want your show to tank. A lot of networks, they’ll just burn off shows they ran earlier in the week. Something they ran on Monday, they’ll re-run on Saturday because they know it’ll tank.
"So in October, you have college football in primetime, you have the beginning of the Major League baseball's post season; you have the beginning of the National Basketball Association training camp, and they start playing their pre-season games. And you have the NFL, which is played on Sundays. So you have an environment where all the major sports are going on."
Smith believes that PBC are in a 'dammed if they do, damned if they don’t' position with regards to scheduling fights during this time of year.
“If you have a sports television series, are you going to put that on prime on a Saturday night going up against Major League baseball playoffs, when people are more concentrated on it, or major college football which is also leading to a national championship? Are you going to put your programming up against that, knowing that, first of all, the sport you are operating in, has been shrunken to a niche sport?
"Are you going to put that up against that, and risk having a very, very bad rating? And then have people say: 'that fight got crushed in the ratings!' What’s the point of allowing your so-called stars of the sport to fight on network television in an atmosphere where nobody is going to see them, and they are going to get embarrassed by getting crushed by a dominant college football team.
"If you can give me a logical argument up against that, I’ll accept it. But I haven’t heard it yet. In effect, we are trying to expand the viewership of the sport; we are trying to get sports fans [not just boxing fans]. And the best time to get sports fans is when they are not engaged in something which is a very popular sport at the moment, and is going to draw way bigger audiences as opposed to giving them something they are not accustomed to seeing.”
Such an argument does make sense. In the UK, for example, Rugby League, when taken on by Sky Sports, moved to a summer season so as to mostly avoid the soccer/ football season.
PBC believe that what they are doing is good business sense, and that they can prove the catalyst for boxing gaining renewed popularity and favourability among a wider TV audience.
“To me it’s smart business, it’s good strategy," Smith emphasises. "We did it the opposite way last year and went up against [other sports]. If you’re a smart businessman you come up with a new strategy. And, again, I’m confused. Why are people saying that [we] are haemorrhaging money and going out of business due to making a strategic programming decision?
“Why would you want to shrink the sport? I would think that the more competition the more the sport grows and the more money people make. A good tide raises all ships, that is what I’ve been told. If it’s a more expansive sport, if viewership increases, everyone should benefit. There will be bigger stars and bigger matches; there will be more opportunities. More people will see them. I don’t get the shrinkage. It goes counter to everything that goes towards the success of a sport.”
Smith is also confused as to why the purses paid to fighters, allegedly proof of the company's financial difficulties, is an issue for anyone.
“It’s not your money!" he says. "It’s not taxpayer money. Why would you worry about what someone is getting paid? What if I came to your job and said to your boss; 'I think you are making too much money; he isn’t worth what you’re paying him.'
"How would that make you feel? You’re worth what someone is willing to pay you. We had a saying where I was raised: 'don’t count other people's money in their pocket'. Am I asking you to make a donation to pay this person? These guys need to feed their families, they have things they want to do, and this is their profession. And if this goes away, where are all these people going to go? Where are they going to fight?”
Smith, a big fan of the UK both in terms of its boxing set-up and its cultural history, believes that 2017 will be a “robust” year. I asked him about what we could expect from PBC.
“I’m not involved with the scheduling and programming of fights," he stresses. "But most of those guys have promoters, who make them fights and find them dance partners. We are a television series, Al does manage fighters, that’s part of his management company. There are promoters that we work with, and they come to us and say we want to make a fight with this guy.
"I was reading this morning that Ricky Burns is trying to make a deal to fight Adrien Broner. How did that fight get made? I don’t know. How did that come about? And GGG is negotiating to fight Danny Jacobs. How did that fight come about? I don’t know. I just know that, from my history in the sport, if both sides are willing to work together, then a fight gets made.”
More visibility and exposure for boxing and higher purses for boxers can never be seen as a bad thing and it seems that PBC are confident moving forward that they can provide that. Time will tell.