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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Khan TV Debacle Bizarre At Best, Commercial Fatalism At Worst

I normally post my stuff for thescore.ie on this blog but I didn't get a chance to do so this weekend. As a lot of it is out of date now I shall leave it off here, but I'm told it's well written so head on over there to check it out, after you take a nose at this.


The twists and turns regarding the televising of Saturday's fight between Amir Khan and Paul McCloskey are likely to be more dramatic than the contest itself. And devastating as a loss this Saturday would be professionally, the events that have occurred in boardrooms over the past dew days would likely be more harmful to his career in the long run.

The fight was initially due to be televised on SKY Box Office, with fans paying around €22 for the privilege of tuning in. However, late last week the plug was pulled on the pay-per-offering after a number of blows to the undercard were deemed fatal to the chances of commercial success.

SKY then intended to show the card on a normal SKY Sports channel, showcasing Khan to a wider audience. However, the Olympic medalist baulked at this situation, as it was set to see him take a pay cut of at least £1 million. (Note - it should be pointed out that Amir Khan insists he has not been involved in any of the negotiations outlined here, which for his own sake I hope is correct. However, given that his representatives have negotiated on his behalf, and that one presumes he could have as much say in the talks as he chooses, I will continue to say the decisions outlined here are his, even if his involvement in the decision-making process is not complete.)

Further protracted negotiations continued, and fans of the sport posited theories that an 'unfortunate' injury was set to spell the end of this seemingly doomed card. It is understood that Khan's contract with SKY specifies his fights are carried on PPV, and that he shunned the chance to promote his skills to a broader audience ahead of an expected contest with Timothy Bradley. In the end, it has been decided that the card will now be broadcast on a PPV basis, albeit by Primetime and not SKY.

One need only look at the recent career of Carl Froch to see the potential problems associated with this. The Nottingham super-middleweight has gone from fighting before audiences of 6 million on ITV to barely 100,000 on the fledgling Primetime network. Lacking the commercial clout of SKY, but still maintaining the pay-per-view option, the financial aspect of Froch's deal are presumably adequate, given that his last three fights have been carried by them. However, there's no denying that the public acclaim that should have come from his performances in the Super Six contest has been notably absent.

Now, Amir Khan is not Carl Froch. His Olympic medal and subsequent showcasing on ITV means he is much more of a media darling. He is also a favourite of American network HBO, who will still screen Saturday's contest. However, if he has frustrated SKY with this weekend's shenanigans, then there is the danger that Khan will have effectively cut himself off from the paymasters of British boxing.

Insiders within the sport agree that the decision to shun SKY is not wise. Eddie Hearn of Matchroom has labelled the decision 'commercial suicide'. Few blame SKY for their decision to pull the PPV offering (it has been reported that the show had barely attracted 50 advance sales), and coming six months after the Haye-Harrison debacle, the network has to be seen to be offering value for money to it's boxing fans. It's also unlikely that the terms agreed with Primetime will see Amir receive much more than he would have received under the reduced deal with SKY so the question remains, why do this?

Perhaps Khan's people feel better-than-predicted sales are possible. A few juicy quotes and perhaps even a press conference brawl wouldn't hurt in this regard, but something will have to he done because it's almost certain that marketing for the PPV will be minimal.

Khan has lost this commercial battle in the short term, but whether this amounts to a knockout or merely a body blow in years to come remains to be seen. Personally, I feel it's unlikely that this will be a significant setback as a blockbuster summer bout will likely lead to a mutually beneficial reunion. SKY have seen Lennox Lewis and Ricky Hatton walk out on them in the past, only to return to them for the biggest nights and paydays of their respective careers. Khan's US TV support is also an asset, without which Saturday's fight in Manchester would probably have fallen by the wayside.

However, HBO's support is unlikely to weather any significant storm, such as a win for Paul McCloskey for example. That may be highly unlikely, but if Amir was to be defeated this Saturday then his fallen stock and soured relations would almost certainly make his comeback more difficult than he can imagine, and his Primetime gamble the worst decision of his career.


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