The pandemic has brought many challenges to boxing promoters and with fans slowly making their way back into shows, those same promoters now fans new obstacles.
The first major boxing event in the United States to allow paying fans back took place on Halloween in Texas. In front of more than 9,000 people in attendance at San Antonio’s Alamodome, Gervonta Davis knocked out Leo Santa Cruz in impressive fashion.
Less than a month later, Texas is preparing for two more major shows with fans and Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn is at the center of one of those events.
Canelo Alvarez’s next fight, against Hearn-promoted WBA super middleweight champion Callum Smith, will also take place at the Alamodome. To date, this will be Hearn’s first show he promotes that will include paying fans in attendance. It’s been a seemingly-long journey to get to a fight like this for Hearn, who will be making adjustments to the way he promotes one of the pandemic’s biggest boxing events.
“We’ve learned a lot because we’ve had to adapt and think outside the box,” Hearn told Fight Game Media. “Every time that you make a major fight, I mean Canelo vs. Callum Smith is a good example, you bring the fighters together. You do a multi-city press tour. You bring all you guys out and we get a lot of action, loads of footage. We can drive a lot of hype and obviously now, we’re more geared towards the digital side and the tech side, which is stuff like this, but also about content and working harder to engage with fans with shoulder programming and digital content as well. We got a lot of that dropping over the next couple of weeks with Canelo and Callum Smith. There is no doubt, there is no question that a lot of the key moments have been taken away from the promotion of the show, like the press conference, the weigh-ins where you can have live crowds in, open workouts. Every Canelo Alvarez fight has a traditional sort of welcoming ceremony and arrival. Those kinds of events are big spectacles to really drive interest in the event.”
Hearn is no stranger to thinking outside of the box when it comes to promoting boxing shows during the pandemic. After all, he’s done shows in the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma, inside TV Azteca’s studios in Mexico and even in his own backyard (literally) in the United Kingdom.
There’s certainly a lot to take in when it comes to promoting events behind closed doors. From the fight atmosphere being compared to a sparring session to the lack of a crowd and all the COVID-19 protocols, Hearn and the rest of the sport are still figuring out what is the next step. Naturally, fans will make their way back to shows, but it doesn’t mean that the risk of COVID-19 is any less present than what it was in the summer.
In fact, there have been spikes in positive COVID-19 cases across the United States throughout November and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, cases are expected to remain high. Texas is one of the states where COVID-19 cases are exceedingly high. Texas is one of a few states in the U.S. with more than a million positive COVID-19 cases. With Canelo vs. Smith taking place in the lone star state, just weeks after Errol Spence Jr. and Danny Garcia step foot in the ring in another major fight in Texas, it’s a matter of how to bring fans back into events while minimizing the risk of exposure.
“We’ve been learning a lot. The main challenge now is when we’re dealing with venues or in America’s case, states, that will allow fans back in. It’s not just, ‘Yeah they allowed fans, just throw them into the arena.’ There’s a method to it. There’s a safety element to it. It has to be policed by our security team to make sure that there is social distancing. Obviously with the Alamodome, you’re going to have around 11,000-12,000 people in a huge arena. But it’s our job to make sure that we enforce the plan that it’s safe to fans. We do know that it is dangerous right now to contract this disease and we have to make sure we do everything we can. It’s not just a case of bringing people back. It’s a case of bringing them back safely and that’s what we’re working hard to do with the states and commissions as well,” Hearn said.
We’ve learned a huge amount and it’s been really interesting, painful at times. But I think it’s going to put us in a good position when we have normality back and we can use the information that we’ve learned during this and the ways that we’ve changed promoting and combine that with the return of live crowds. I think when we come through this, we will be in a much stronger position.
Another blow to the sport of boxing thanks to the pandemic is the effect it has on smaller promotions. Although entities such as Top Rank, Matchroom Boxing, PBC and more have been able to stage dozens of events, smaller companies don’t have that same luxury. Smaller promotions have been unable to stage events without fans. With no revenue generated from ticket sales, it becomes increasingly difficult to survive in this current climate.
It’s a catch-22 for many in the sport. Do you bring back fans in order to have some type of revenue, but further increase COVID-19 exposure or do you wait out the pandemic and not do any shows whatsoever, stagnating the promotional company?
“It is important to start making those moves to bring back fans because I think that there is sustainability for everyone in the sport without fans, especially for the smaller hall shows, what you guys call the club fighting scene. It really is driven by ticket sales and fighters selling their 200, 300 tickets to pay for their purses and enable them to get on. Right now, that scene over here and especially with you guys [in the United States] isn’t thriving. It’s very costly for promoters to continue running those shows,” Hearn said.
The sport of boxing is completely different to how it was a year ago. Adjusting to the pandemic is a daily challenge the world deals with, but like many, Hearn believes the lessons learned during the pandemic will make for a better 2021. The lack of the usual festivities that come with promoting big fights will be an adjustment promoters have to make, but will be something that forces changes, potentially great changes to how the sport is promoted today.
“We’ve learned a huge amount and it’s been really interesting, painful at times. But I think it’s going to put us in a good position when we have normality back and we can use the information that we’ve learned during this and the ways that we’ve changed promoting and combine that with the return of live crowds. I think when we come through this, we will be in a much stronger position,” Hearn said.
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