Can Boxing Rely on Handouts?
We’ve all seen the Ohara Davies comments regarding sponsors in boxing on the back of the Mike Towell tragedy.  No right minded human could disagree with the sentiment.  To ad-lib, ‘wouldn’t it be great if sponsors ploughed more money into the sport so all of us could earn enough fighting to give us the security in our home life’.

Of course it would be.  There are only those at the pinnacle of the sport who are full-time professionals within boxing, the other 99% have to supplement their income from boxing with outside work.  So many are on building sites, working in garages, some work in schools or personal training.  The balance is hard, especially for those that have a family at home too.

But herein lies the problem:  the vast majority of boxing takes place away from the bright lights and TV cameras and within small hall environments (leisure centres being a key breeding ground).  What incentive is there for a sponsor to plough their money into an upcoming boxer who performs once every three months in front of a few thousand, the majority of whom are there for their family or friend and not to pay attention to the branding on a pair of shorts.  What is their payback?

Boxers need to be smart themselves too.  The money receive through sponsors may go towards the nice spangly shorts for their next fight or the wardrobe accessories they enter the ring with.  Why?  Why not invest it into themselves to create a bigger platform?  They could be putting that money into creating a huge banner to roll out on fight night, or to pay a website designer to make their ‘product’ of themselves a more professional outfit.  How about a highlight video with the sponsor’s logos within it? 

Of course there are some that do the above, but how many?  Not many that I have seen.  I know of many, many boxers that don’t utilise social media.  No Instagram, Facebook or Twitter profiles or if they do then they don’t use them effectively, to push the right messages.  It’s no good just using it once every three months to advertise tickets are in and ready to be sold – the general public want to know about the journey.  In an age of reality TV and instant access to heroes, we want to see the whole package, not just an advert to sell tickets every 12 weeks.
A sponsor will invest for one of two reasons:

1)  They see a talent and feel they can profit from them
2)  It’s doing a kind thing for a local person aiming to achieve a dream

There is no third option.  In option 1, clearly the aim would be to support a boxer from small hall through to the TV exposure, where their logo goes from a few hundred eyes to a few thousand.  The investment pays off.  For option 2 the local business may get their brand awareness boosted a bit locally, but it’s more to do with helping out.

Ohara Davies knows the path of Option 1 better than most.  13 fights into his career, he has progressed from York Hall through to far grander stages.  Those that got behind him at fight one will be benefitting from their investment now.  That may never have been the intention, but it’s a by-product. 

When people see Anthony Joshua launching a new sponsorship endorsement with Jaguar, or Lucozade, they’re seeing what happens when you reach the pinnacle.  Those brands are backing a public star.  99% of boxers aren’t public stars, they become public favourites for a few rounds every three months.  That balance of ticket selling/training/working is so hard.  So, so hard.  It’s why so many talented youngsters fall out of the sport.  

Ohara’s message is right, it would be great if more businesses were involved.  But until boxing is a more mainstream sport and broadcast at more levels (e.g. down to small hall shows) then boxers can’t be reliant on business to support their journey.  According to Boxrec there are currently 961 active professional boxers (male and female) in the UK.  Add to this the ever growing number of ‘unlicensed’ fighters and it is well over 1,000.  That’s a lot of people looking for the same requirement of small businesses.

There is of course another answer, one that would have to be brought into by those at the top.  Unionise.  If boxers were so touched by the issues that others in their profession have regarding the requirement to go ahead and fight in adverse conditions, they could unionise.  If everyone signed up and contributed a cut of their earnings per month to be distributed to those in need, then the problems, while not disappearing, start to be eased.  Add on the commercial earnings of those at the top and the pot gets bigger.

It’s difficult to know what the biggest names in the sport earn.  No published purses in the UK and they are very unlikely to declare their commercial agreements.  Say, conservatively, Anthony Joshua earns £10 million in 2016.  If 5% of his annual earnings were paid to a union, that’s a pot of £500,000 off the bat.  I have heard of a world gatekeeper level fighter earning around £150,000 from purses during 2016, add another £15,000 in. 

It’s impossible to estimate what the total pot would be per year, but there would be a fair bit of money available.  Of course the up and coming fighters must contribute to.  From understanding, if a fighter sells around 100 tickets for their fight at approximately £42.50 average each, they will be taking home somewhere in the region of £1,000 once all fees, trainers, promoters etc are paid.  They would have to be putting their money in too, £500 a go will help boost the fund.  The away fighter can expect a similar amount, albeit if they are foreign then they’re not paying in.

The point is, there is money in the sport.  Not much, but some.  Is it enough to top up every fighter that has to pull out of fights?  Maybe, maybe not.  But make no doubt about it, if those at the top cared enough about supporting their fellow professionals at all levels, there could be better support to possibly avoid these issues happening again.  Of course there would have to be rules and governance around how the money is distributed (e.g. what if a fighter keeps pulling out of bouts?  Would Anthony Joshua be getting the same compensation as a debutant?) but surely some motion to help is better than none at all?
The bottom line is it would need the backing from the top to the bottom of those involved and it would mean every individual making their own sacrifice for the greater good.  The sport cannot be reliant on the pockets of local businesses.  What they offer is support when they can.  It’s time the boxers started to invest in themselves too.