In his media review George Gigney looks back on an eventful year for boxing broadcasting and wonders what’s in store for the next 12 months
2021 was a significant year for broadcasters in the UK and perhaps the biggest development we saw was Matchroom Boxing’s shift to streaming service DAZN after more than a decade with Sky Sports.
The move was not wholly surprising; Eddie Hearn already had strong ties with DAZN and Matchroom’s contract with Sky was coming to an end. This new deal with DAZN was for Matchroom’s UK shows, but did not include Anthony Joshua fights.
The heavyweight star had his own deal with Sky, which ended with his loss to Oleksandr Usyk in September (more on that later).
So, with the landscape changed, many paid close attention to how Sky would fare without Matchroom and whether DAZN could provide sufficient quality this early in their journey. It turns out they’ve both been doing pretty well.
Sky Sports teamed up with BOXXER and Top Rank and have since aired some excellent shows. Their on-screen talent remains top notch and while a few of their shows were scuppered through injuries and withdrawals, it’s been a solid year for the broadcaster.
DAZN scooped up some impressive talent for their commentary and punditry teams, with a few surprising selections that have turned out well. Laura Woods and Maya Jama are excellent presenters, despite a lack of experience in boxing.
Mike Costello has been predictably brilliant on commentary, with the likes of Andy Lee and Darren Barker providing plenty of added value to the broadcasts.
BT Sport have also had a great year, airing two of 2021’s biggest fights on pay-per-view. The Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder trilogy fight and Canelo Álvarez’ super-middleweight clash with Caleb Plant were both shown on BT Sport Box Office.
Richie Woodhall remains one of the best colour commentators in the game and BT Sport have put him to good use throughout the year. They’ve also added Carl Frampton to their ranks, who has proven to be a gifted analyst and interviewer.
We’ve also seen the rise of smaller online platforms such as FITE TV and Fightzone. The former has picked up many international shows for UK fans, the biggest of which was Josh Taylor’s world super-lightweight title meeting with José Ramírez.
It remains a travesty that no major UK broadcaster picked that fight up, as it came before Sky Sports signed their broadcast partnership with Top Rank, who staged the fight.
Fightzone, an online subscription service, has provided a platform for smaller shows in the UK to be watched live. This has been a welcome development and one that hopefully continues.
YouTube channels like IFL and Boxing Social have also streamed live coverage of various small hall shows. The financial implications of these streams and broadcasts remain unknown for now, but more boxers being given more exposure can only be a good thing.
On the radio airwaves, talkSPORT and BBC Five Live have consistently put out high-quality shows and live coverage of major events. From insightful interviews to top-level commentary, it remains a form of consuming boxing content that provides plenty of value.
There have been blunders from time-to-time – such as the recent controversy on BT Sport in the Hamzah Sheeraz – Bradley Skeete fight, or DAZN’s Chris Mannix describing Ryan García as “the most important fighter of this century” – but overall the quality and variety of broadcasts this year has been stellar.
AS we look ahead over the next 12 months, there is one question that appears to stand out above all others when it comes to the media and broadcasts: what will be the state of PPV in boxing?
Sky Sports and BT Sport remain the leading providers of PPV fights in the UK and both had huge fights in 2021. However, with the departure of Matchroom, Sky now have noticeably fewer fighters and fights to put on PPV.
The focus for the broadcaster will be to persuade Joshua to remain with them. He is now, technically, a free agent in that sense and where he plies his trade is up to him. If he sticks with Sky, the broadcaster will have a bonafide superstar they can continue to bank on for PPV returns.
Then there is DAZN. Despite initially positioning itself as the death knell of PPV boxing, it’s looking increasingly likely that the streaming giant will soon introduce its own PPV platform.
On more than one occasion, Hearn has spoken about DAZN needing to stage fights on PPV, while there was also a customer survey sent out to some users specifically asking about the prospect of PPV fights on DAZN.
Canelo, who teamed up with DAZN and then split with them to become a free agent, worked with the streamer for a few fights before then heading back to PPV (in both the US and UK) for his fight with Plant.
Clearly, the revenue generated by PPV is still almost impossible to match. However, we are still seeing it being deployed for fights that clearly do not warrant it. At the beginning of 2021, Claressa Shields’ fight with Marie-Ève Dicaire was a PPV show in the US, and just a few days ago fringe heavyweight contenders Luis Ortiz and Charles Martin topped another one in America.
So, expect the PPV debate to rage on. Aside from that, in the UK at least, there is now an extraordinary amount of competition amongst broadcasters. The downside of this is that fans have to pay more in order to catch all of the action, however the competitiveness of the market will surely lead to an ever-improving product.
Hopefully, we can continue to see more of the best fights made; Usyk looks set to rematch Joshua, with the winner surely then going on to face Fury. Canelo had an extremely good 2021 and is showing no signs of slowing down.
While some will point to YouTubers knocking out former MMA fighters in a boxing ring as a sign of the sport’s declining value, I would highlight the standout broadcasts and shows we saw throughout 2021, and the potential for even more this year.