“Stupid”, “senseless”, “sabotage” and yet, crucially, there could be “loads of clashes next year”.
That is how British boxing’s two biggest promoters Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn have summed up Saturday’s collision of two pay-per-view shows at the same time.
Viewers can pay £19.95 on Sky Sports to see a heavyweight rematch between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora, with BT Sport charging the the same amount for Josh Warrington’s IBF featherweight title defence against Carl Frampton.
Some boxing fans have reacted angrily, while Hearn and Warren – who have never spoken to one another – have traded words in the media. BBC Sport caught up with both to ask: How did this happen? Who loses out? And why wasn’t a clash avoided?
‘Baffling and stupid or unavoidable?
Warren, 66, announced Warrington v Frampton in August, confirming the date and Manchester Arena venue in September. Six weeks later Hearn put Whyte v Chisora in London’s O2 Arena on the same night. Hearn, 39, says he was never going to run his show on 1 December and clash with Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury, while the following two weekends offered no arena availability.
Warren: “Why has this happened? It’s a question for them to answer. I find it baffling. If they had run a show on the date in question I certainly would not have put my show on at the same time. Bring the show forward or put it on in January, it’s a nonsense.
“But it’s the customers that matter. They are the ones buying these events and can’t afford Christmas week to be paying for two. There is no respect for the fans, it’s just stupid.”
Hearn: “To create the revenue needed you need either the Manchester Arena or the O2. The only date at the O2 was 22 December, so this clash is something unavoidable in terms of the venues needed for major, major fights.
“Sky Sports were happy, we didn’t feel Warrington-Frampton will impact our numbers dramatically. If it was a Tyson Fury v Deontay Wilder rematch we couldn’t have gone on the 22nd but we feel we have the better platform and the better product.”
Fighters count the cost
Fighters, promoters and broadcasters take a split of money raised through ticket sales but, crucially, the bulk of earnings come through pay-per-view sales. Whyte’s last fight in July sold an estimated 470,000 times, generating close to £9.5m to divide between parties. Hearn predicts this weekend’s clash will see him lose out on between 30,000 and 50,000 buys.
Warren: “Commercially it’s ridiculous. It’s hypothetical but if there were 500,000 customers and 250,000 buy our show and the same number buy theirs we have both potentially lost a quarter of a million buys. That impacts on a boxer’s revenue if he’s on a percentage of the pay-per-view on these shows. It’s stupid, senseless and has a dramatic effect on their earnings.
“I’ll be honest, fans who have made contact with me have been supportive. They know the situation, that to all intents and purposes, this is to sabotage the revenue that can be earned for Carl or Josh.”
Hearn: “That’s absolute rubbish. I have represented both those fighters and it’s not my business. We worry about our business. It’s not a case of sabotaging anything.
“We will do less pay-per-view buys than we would have if we found another date. You’d be an idiot to think it was ideal, it’s not, and in terms of affecting the fighters it is not ideal.
“But it’s not a tough sell for us. You won’t see me losing my rag or getting irate. If the shoe was on the other foot maybe I would do as I’d be more worried about our numbers on the fight.”
More clashes to come in ‘terrible business’?
Warren has put together 14 televised UK shows so far in 2018, seven fewer than Hearn, who runs Matchroom Sport’s boxing division. But Hearn will now promote over 55 shows globally in 2019 due to a deal with a US streaming service. So will the current growth in the sport’s popularity lead to more contentious clashes? Could the rival parties open a dialogue to avoid a repeat scenario?
Warren: “If we do, let’s say, anything between 15 and 20 UK shows a year and Matchroom do the same, there’s 52 weeks in a year, so why on earth is there a clash? There’s no reason to. This can only be planned and for sabotage.
“How to avoid it? That’s easy, it’s just common sense.”
Hearn: “Common sense would say a meeting is a great idea but it’s not really possible.
“You get your dates from the broadcaster, the Saturday nights that suit them. Then you marry it with fighters and venues. So if, for example, Kell Brook wants to fight in April and Sky give me a certain Saturday, we then go to Sheffield Arena and if it’s available, it’s getting booked. We haven’t got time to phone around and say ‘guys, what’s your plan?’
“You’ll see loads of clashes next year and it’s mainly a venue thing because it’s not easy to secure venues and tie that in with the broadcaster.
“We live in a reactive market in boxing. You have to strike, you can’t wait as someone else will book it. And these guys don’t want to do us any favours, let’s not kid ourselves here. Frank isn’t thinking ‘I wonder if Eddie will be happy with that?’
“This is the fight game in and out of the ring, it’s a terrible business.”
Could this be a good thing?
Warren is no stranger to competition in the promotion trade having tussled with the likes of Hearn’s father Barry, Don King and Mickey Duff to name but a few. With both he and Hearn backed by big broadcasters, their rivalry looks set to intensify and that, they claim, will benefit paying fans.
Hearn: “There will always be rivalry. The two businesses are very different. We are a global sports business, Frank is a British boxing promoter.
“You can’t knock the guy, he has been around forever. He’s had ups and downs and is always there, he won’t quit. He is a gallant man. These promotional rivalries are good for boxing because, if not, where is the incentive to put on the best shows and beat the opposition?
“I know Saturday’s clash will be seen as a negative, especially by their side, but it’s just a sign boxing is in a good place.”
Warren: “I’ve been at this 40-odd years and every decade I’ve had a rival.
“Rivalry is good for the fans as they get options and choices but the key is they have to be sensible choices. Putting shows against one another on the same night is not a sensible choice.
“I love boxing, I’ve been doing it for what feels like 100 years. I have a passion for it and I like the fun of it. Rivalry, it holds no worry for me at all, I thrive on competition.”