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Arum wants to make boxing more visible

December 05, 2008|Bill Dwyre | Dwyre is a Times staff writer.

LAS VEGAS — Boxing has quietly undertaken a pilot program that, in the face of competition from mixed martial arts, may serve as a business model for its future.

Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said recently that a series of events working well in Mexico may be the key to his sport's future. That future is bringing boxing back onto network television rather than relying on cable and pay-per-view to grow the audience.

"I see something that gives me hope," Arum said.

On Jan. 27, 2007, for its show from the Honda Center in Anaheim -- one that featured popular Mexican fighter Jorge Arce, as well as rising American star Kelly Pavlik -- Arum and fellow Top Rank executive Fernando Beltran gave the fight broadcast signal free to Mexican Azteca television.

The ratings turned out to be surprisingly good.

"We thought boxing was pretty much dead down there, ever since Julio Cesar Chavez stopped," Arum said. "We were surprised."

That led to stop No. 2 in the experiment, a Sept. 16, 2007 show at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. That also featured Arce, as well as Mexican entertainment stars.

It was Mexican Independence Day, and the boxing was going head to head on Azteca with one of Televisa's ultra-popular Telenovelas, or soap operas.

"We didn't beat them, and we didn't expect to," Arum said. "But we got something like 40% of the audience."

That convinced Arum, and others in boxing, that there might be a future in getting back to the days of network telecasts of the likes of the Pabst Blue Ribbon fight of the week and the Gillette Friday night fights. The success in Mexico triggered regular shows on Azteca, called "Latin Fury," that have continued to bring good ratings.

"Some days, we beat soccer in Mexico," Arum said.

The economics of that, of course, are tricky. Networks long ago stopped paying rights fees for boxing shows. But networks are open to having boxing purchase that time, and Arum thinks that is do-able, by marketing the package to sponsors to cover costs.

He sees this as a way to get boxing in front of millions of additional people, those who either don't have cable or don't buy pay-per-view fights.

He used the heavyweight division, once the backbone of the sport, as his example.

"When kids are growing up now, they see basketball and football, and that's what excites them," he said. "If they saw as much boxing, more of them would try it.

"Think of LeBron James, going against those Ukrainian guys [the heavyweight champion Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali]. What a show that would be.

"That's what we have to get back to."


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