Breaking Down The Numbers

Big news.  Big, big news.  BT Sport and BoxNation have joined forces,  
meaning the Frank Warren will now be putting on 20 shows per year
on the BT Sport platform, who themselves have a reach of  1.4 million
subscribers.  The best estimates for BoxNation sit at 135,000 subscribers,
meaning their potential audience has just had a significant boost.

It's a natural fit; Frank Warren himself put it well in his column.  BT Sport
has a good product, having cornered the Champions League, alongside
Premier League rights and the Aviva rugby league as well as the UFC in
America.  In other words, your Saturday could easily be spent taking in egg chasing,
football, boxing and then topped off in the early hours by some octagon action.  
It's a total package for a sport fan.

Warren has commited a lot to this, 20 UK based shows per year for BT plus another 10 to be broadcast on BoxNation solely.  Put that in perspective, since November 2014 Warren has promoted 30 shows in total.  To put it another way, he has to double his output, starting from early 2017.  There is of course another issue, that of quality.  Without confirming it, the Warren team have hinted what many would assume, that their higher end products (arena shows etc) will end up on BT while the smaller shows will land on BoxNation.  It only makes sense, as one cannot imagine that a company built on high end products such as Champions League football will accept a show from a Bolton hotel.  

So what are the numbers?  No figures have been released for how much BT Sport are handing over for the product.  Is it incentivised or a flat fee?  No doubt it's all in the fine print but undoubtedly the figure will be high and give a significant war chest to Frank that can help him capture some of the free agents in the boxing world.  He's going to need it.  Big arena fights need big names to sell the tickets and at present it would be hard to see how the current roster does that.  Breaking it down by classed of fighters it currently looks something like this (subjective view, some could be seen as up or down but should give a ballpark view):

World level fighters:  Billy Joe Saunders, Liam Smith, Terry Flanagan

British/Commonwealth/European/International fighters:  Hughie Fury, Luke Blackledge, Tommy Langford, Liam Williams, Gary Corcoran, Ahmet Patterson, Bradley Skeete, Jack Catterall, Derry Matthew, Liam Walsh, Ryan Walsh, Zolani Tete, Paul Butler, Kevin Satchell, Jazza Dickens, Ryan Farrag, Jamie Conlan

English level fighters :  Matty Askin, Miles Shinkwin, Tom Baker, Jamie Cox, Lee Markham, Vijender Singh, Joe Selkirk, Jimmy Kelly, Tom Stalker, George Jupp, Craig Evans, Mitchell Smith, Lewis Pettitt,

Area level fighters:  Simon Barclay, Anthony Yarde, Alex Hughes, Jack Flatley, Sam McNess, Macaulay McGowan, Stephen Lewis, Josh Leather, Sanjeev Sahota, Ben Smith, Romeo Romaeo, Joe Costello, Archie Sharp, Boy Jones Jr, Lyon Woodstock, James Tennyson, Zelfa Barrett, Lucien Reid

So more concisely:
World level:  3
British/Commonwealth/European level:  17
English level:  13
Area level:  18

Obviously the picture will  look different in 12 months with a number of potential breakout starts (such as Anthony Yarde) but there is a clear issue here:  the top level isn't stacked enough.  51 fighters in total, over 60% of them are at English or Area level.  Assume each card needs to have one good headline act (e.g. a world title fight or household name) and can have five fight supporting.  Also assume that each fighter will fight, on average, three times a year.  

6 fights per card x 20 = 120 fights
51 fighters x 3 times per year = 153 bouts

OK, so some of the lower tier guys may be out more often, but then some of the upper tier fighters have hardly been active (Saunders hasn't fought in 2016, Smith twice, Flanagan will fight three times).  Quality wise though?  The standards have to pick up.  Aside from Liam Smith fighting Canelo (a fight Warren had little to do with promoting) the other world title holders have all had drab defences.  The kind of defences that BT Sport are unlikely to sign off (assuming they have someone in charge of quality control, akin to Barney Francis at Sky).

3 world level fighters, each fighting three times a year?  There's a gap there for headline slots.  Sure, some shows may be lower level, but BT are surely going to want the first year to be as impressive as possible.  The fact there is a 4 month run up before this deal goes live tells you they are giving Warren time to get his ducks in a row, line up some headline grabbing events.  

So what is the answer, how can they build a product that will make viewers stay on BT Sport and not reach for the remote?  Well, there are a number of free transfers currently floating around the boxing market, household names to boxing fans and many casual observers.  Amir  Khan has his Haymon connection, but would likely welcome some UK fights at some point.  Carl Frampton, another with links to Haymon who would bring viewers in the UK.  Lee Selby, currently with Hearn and Haymon but the ground is frosty in the UK and a move could be beneficial.  James DeGale, one fight left on his Hearn contract and the links to Haymon, another who would bring established viewers.  Tyson Fury, he was due to launch the BoxNation PPV channel so there are relationships already there.  David  Haye who, if the stories are true, has already made a deal with Frank and Co.  Will we see any of those fighters signed solely to Matchroom make the leap across?  Probably not for the first 12 months, but you can imagine there are some that will take a watching brief.

There is talk of a linkup between MGM and Frank Warren.  MGM have been putting on shows in Scotland, Manchester, Birmingham and are looking at launching a London branch.  Their names include the likes of Martin Murray and David Price; not the most spectacular, but again ones that Sky have given exposure to already and can bring an audience on name value alone.  There is the potential for small hall promoters to jump on board, but in reality that doesn't help the situation.  More fighters at a developmental level are not the solution to filling upper cards.  

There is the potential to fast track some talents.  The likes of Bradley Skeete, Liam Williams, Anthony Yarde, Hughie Fury, Jack Catterall.  They could all find themselves being beneficiaries of the deal, the boss man needing to release the bottleneck and make some stars.  Warren has a track record of moving fighters through the levels; perhaps over the last 10 years he has struggled to establish those fighters at the world level, no household names.  Well now is that opportunity to do it.

BoxNation has run its course.  The value in the product has diminished as A) their own talent pool has become thinner and B)  streaming has become a more prevalent way of watching sports.  Expect to see the platform phased out over the next 12-18 months.  If we as boxing fans are lucky then some of the Magazine style shows may be picked up by BT Sports, along with some of the video library that BoxNation have access to.  Cheap programming for BT afterall.  

Of course there is the potential that this whole situation hits an iceberg.  Warren has, of late, seen many of his bigger events cancelled or postponed.  When you run your own channel and call the shots then the choice is yours, but when you have a paymaster who is expecting high volume outputs then the show must go on.  The product itself needs a polish, there is no doubt.  Too often a Warren show resembles boxing in the 1970's - times have changed.  Of course to the purist the two in the ring are the selling point, but Eddie Hearn has changed the landscape.  Boxing at the top end is a night out nowadays, a boys night on the piss and the ladies getting glammed up.  The Warren product doesn't fit that model but you suspect that BT will have a helping hand in producing something that the Sky viewer will be familiar with, Sweet Caroline et al.

The bottom line from all of this is that we as boxing fans should be backing it and hoping it works.  Eddie Hearn has done a good job building his empire on Sky Sports, but even the biggest advocate must see that his laurels must be worn out from being rested upon.  If Warren gets the financial backing to start bringing the superstars to his venues as well as signing the big UK names then the level of competition could spur Hearn on, make him up his own product.  

Time will tell.  There are a lot of unknowns in this scenario.  The financial investment, the length of the deal, the future of BoxNation, the potential for new recruits.  What we do know is that the Warren product needs both beefing up and polishing up.  But Warren is a survivor; he may be long in the tooth but we are seeing more of his sons take the airtime and have presented themselves well.  They could be the evolution that the family name requires.  Success will be created through a mixture of the old, existing product and a new, fresh impetus.  Whether they can get the balance right, the numbers right and the product right remains to be seen but in the meantime, boxing fans should unite in wishing them well.