For part one, please click here
Last week’s Turley on Tuesday looked at the process of turning professional from the point of view of two young boxers, both of whom shared unhappy experiences. In common with so many hopeful pros, a sense of disillusionment was expressed. Having entered the game expecting to find a sport that rewards talent and hard work, they instead find one run as some kind of popularity contest, in which ticket-sales are the all-consuming focus. Young fighters are personally expected to sell tickets to whoever they can, detracting from time that could be spent on fight preparation, impacting negatively on their confidence. While those who sell well get ‘looked after’ and given opportunities, those who don’t, no matter how good they may be, are ignored and often forgotten.
Managers and promoters get some bad press because of this, caricatured as sharks squeezing money from youngsters’ broken dreams – but is it fair to label them all this way? This week, two men from that side of the game will try to provide answers. Jon Pegg is a trainer / manager / matchmaker from Birmingham, running the thriving Eastside gym, while Kevin Campion is head of boxing at Goodwin promotions.
So to start with the obvious, how does it work from your side, if you’re dealing with a lad who wants to turn over?
KC – As you know, small hall boxing is financed by ticket sales, which is the biggest bugbear from all sides, believe me. In an ideal world, the promoter would sell the tickets and would have perhaps a TV contract to pay some money into the pot. Unfortunately, for most small hall shows it doesn’t work that way. For us at Goodwin, that is what we’re striving to get and I know other small hall promoters are too, but it’s not easy. Our long term plan is to end up in a situation where we don’t have to have ticket deals but that’s not how it is at the moment.
Obviously if you’ve got the average lad who is not known to the public, you put up some posters and things and leave it there, virtually no-one will buy tickets, so it does fall onto the boxer themselves to shift enough so the show doesn’t lose money. It’s unfortunate, but there’s no other way. So a kid turning over would have to operate on a ticket deal basis. We lay that on the table right from the beginning, so they’re well aware from the start.
JP – Well obviously it’s all on ticket sales. With a lad in his first couple of fights, if the boy has done his thing and there’s not enough money in the pot, I’ll lose my percentage first. They’re the one getting punched in the face, after all. But obviously if they do badly with the tickets, in the end it will affect their wage. That’s just the way it is. Basically a lad who’s ahead of the game with tickets might be able to box on every show, while one who’s only breaking even might box 1 out of every 3.
So what information would you give to a debuting fighter?
KC – there are no secrets from our side. We explain exactly how it works and how many tickets they will need to sell. Sometimes we advise boys not to turn pro, because we can see that it’s unlikely to work for them. You have to remember that every pro show, you’re paying for paramedics and ambulances, the board officials, security hire, you’re paying for the boxer in the other corner, there are so many overheads and they have to be paid for somehow. Depending on the size of the show, these costs can vary and that would affect the number of tickets we would need the fighter to sell, but whatever that number was, we would be upfront about it.
JP – I would sit down with him and explain all the realities of it. I’d tell him about boxing away and how tough it is, how much harder it is to get wins, but that if he does that, he’s on a guaranteed wage with no ticket sales. If that doesn’t appeal and he’s fixed on the idea of boxing at home, then I’d introduce him on one of the local shows, maybe with Tommy Owens, who I work with a lot. On those sort of shows, myself and Tommy don’t make any money, we just do it to push the lads forwards, so I would explain that, but also explain that we can’t afford to lose money either.
In the first instance, they need to sell 40 tickets to cover their opponent’s wage. If they sell another 20, maybe we go half each on those. I’ve had boxers I’ve worked with who I’ve made nothing from for their first 8 fights. Some of these kinds of kids you end up paying them £300 after all the expenses have come out, but if you’re open with them and they understand how it all works, they can accept that. People know we’re fair and that’s why we get so many lads that stay with us from start to finish.
Is there any other way that could be tried?
KC – You can try to sell direct to the public from the promoter, which we do, but it’s difficult. Even now, after years of work, what we sell direct to the public is only a small fraction of what’s needed. The only other way to do it is to have a backer, who puts lots of money in as an investment, but that’s not sustainable. Sooner or later the backer will want a return and if they pull out and withdraw their money then the whole thing falls apart. The real golden ticket is a TV contract and that’s what every promoter looks for. Unfortunately, even there, some of the smaller channels only pay production costs and don’t put into the pot, which can then make it even harder for the lads on ticket deals as all their mates can stay at home and watch the fights for free on TV. TV contracts only work if they’re from the larger companies and obviously at the moment, it’s really Matchroom and Frank Warren who can operate like that.
JP – it’s very hard to make your way in the game without ticket sales. Sam (Eggington, former British and Commonwealth champ) couldn’t sell at first, he only did about 15 tickets per fight, so he boxed a few in the away corner. He boxed away from home, against an unbeaten 27-year-old on his debut, when he was just 18. To be fair he hammered the kid, but I was still surprised when the ref gave him the decision, because those four rounders tend to go to the home fighter. But with Sam, whatever we threw at him, away corner, short notice, whatever, he kept winning and ended up signing with Matchroom. But Sam is a pretty unique case, its not a model everyone could follow. After he got robbed in prizefighter (against Johnny Coyle, 2014), Barry Hearn took a shine to him and they started offering us home corner fights. So Sam ended up building a career like that, without tickets first. It was a mixture of raw talent and luck, I suppose.
Any final comments?
KC – I think the problem comes from misunderstanding and a lot of people on the outside assume boxing is run in the same way as football or tennis or whatever, but that’s not the case. To be fair it’s probably true that it’s a bit easier to get a pro boxing licence than it is to be professional footballer, but boxing is unique in that it’s a sport financed by the athlete in the first instance. That’s the way it is unfortunately and it’s the only way in the modern world, to sell a small hall show. We hate ticket deals as much as anyone else, but they are a necessary evil. It’s sad that all promoters get lumped together as the bad guys – you never read stories in the media about promoters that lost £10,000 on a show, but that kind of thing happens all the time!
JP – If I relied on boxing to feed my family, my kids would have grown up eating baked beans every night. I’m in it because I love it. I started off working with Richie Woodhall as a house second and everything grew from there. I’ve never done it with money in mind and the lads that work with me know that. That’s why we’ve got such a thriving gym.
My book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ was longlisted for William Hill Sports book of the year and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.
Please listen to this excellent and very topical podcast about the darker side of boxing, featuring interviews with Ryan Rhodes, Paul ‘silky’ Jones, Glyn Rhodes MBE and Jerome Wilson.