Saturday, August 26, 2017

Boxing's Not Dying, You're Just "Colorblind"

I, of course, am watching the big fight tonight -- Miguel Cotto vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai. Why, what are you watching?

In all seriousness, I do think Mayweather/McGregor is a sideshow. That didn't stop me from putting money on Mayweather (half on Mayweather to win straight, and half on Mayweather plus the "over" on rounds), but as a boxing match it's only competitive if Mayweather has gotten old since his last fight. And that's not that interesting to me. While Cotto/Kamegai isn't exactly a toss-up fight, it should be exciting and at least it's a match-up of boxers. Plus it won't cost me $100.

But since we have another moment where boxing is in the public eye, I wanted to flag this article in the Washington Post about the future of the sport. For a long time, the conventional wisdom has been that boxing is "dying", now restricted to an older fan base who are not interesting as advertising demographics. The real energy, the line goes, is behind MMA. And certainly, the latter sport has seen explosive growth over the past decade. But the WaPo article reveals that the CW about boxing has been largely misconceived. 18-29 year olds are the most likely to call themselves boxing fans (39%), and at similar rates to MMA (37%). Overall, boxing and MMA have roughly the same proportion of fans (25% for Americans call themselves MMA fans, 28% boxing fans).

So what's driving the narrative on boxing? While the article doesn't harp on this, the big difference is along the dimension of race. Non-whites are far more likely to consider themselves boxing fans than are whites. While just 17% of white people identify as boxing fans, for blacks that jumps to 52% and for Latinos its 61%. Amongst women, just 8% of white women are boxing fans, compared to 40% of nonwhite women (a significantly higher rate than the 25% of white men who characterize themselves as boxing fans).

To be sure, boxing was in some ways shooting itself in the foot by keeping so many of its big fights on premium cable networks or PPV, where younger fans often didn't have access to them. That consideration was a major factor in Top Rank's just-announced four year deal with ESPN, part of a larger shift in recent years of boxing over to basic cable and even network television.

But it's hard not to think that a large part of why people thought "boxing is dead" was because white people were less invested in the sport. Amongst black and Latino communities, boxing is still incredibly popular; it was just that their interest didn't "count" in assessing the vitality of the sport.

1 comment:

HD Turkin Jr said...

Racism as the explanation for everything. Incredible.

The popularity of boxing is down across the board in an era dominated, for example, by dull Russian heavyweights. It was very popular across the board in eras dominated by exciting fighters like Ali, Frazier, Leonard, Hagler, Jones, Tyson, de la Hoya, Mayweather ...

We all like exciting boxing. We all like dull fighting much less.

Race, race, race .... Good Lord.