Boxing is not an easy business, I can tell you that, and I’m referring now not to boxing as a sport but to boxing as a business strictly speaking, that is, the putting on of fights with the idea of making money.
I have learned this little by little as I have endeavored to understand the fight game, and I’m prompted to comment on it just now as one of the two principal fight-promotion companies in the Capital Region, Pugnacious Promotions, has canceled its annual Saratoga card and put its activities on hold.
“We’re still in business,” one of the principals, Lisa Elovich, told me, “but we’re taking a step back to give more attention to our families,” referring not only to herself but to her business partner, Paul Brown.
What happened, they said, is that a promoter in New York City who they believed would deliver television coverage for the Saratoga program did not come through, and without television there just wasn’t enough money to make it worthwhile.
Television — like Fox Sports, or HBO, or ESPN — will pay $25,000 or more for the rights to a fight, and that money makes possible a higher level of competition than you can otherwise get.
“If we got national television we would have gone forward with the Saratoga show,” Elovich said, “but to do the same show over and over doesn’t make sense.”
The same show over and over means, basically, Mike Faragon, a talented lightweight from Guilderland, going against a carefully chosen opponent who can be counted on to make a decent showing without any great danger of winning.
Faragon has been a staple of Pugnacious Promotions but now, after running his record to 16-0, clearly needs to move up. But moving up means money, not just for him but for a serious opponent. You don’t get a serious fighter to go against a 16-0 prospect for a couple thousand dollars.
And where is the money to come from? Because, let’s face it, boxing is not the hugely popular entertainment that it was in the days of Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney or even in the days of Mike Tyson. With the exception of the rare pay-per-view star like Manny Pacquiao, it’s a marginal entertainment.
If you get 1,500 fans out for a fight card in Albany, paying $40 to $75 each, you’re doing good.
At a card put on by Ares Promotions at the Crowne Plaza in Albany last Friday night, there were probably 800 in attendance, and always a good number at any fight are “comps,” people who get free tickets because they are themselves boxers, trainers, managers or just friends — or media hangers-on like me.
Adam Neary, who founded Ares last year, admits that he has lost money on every fight so far, though he says he remains hopeful. “Every show gets closer to the number we need it to be,” he said.
Exactly how much it costs to put on a card, I don’t know, and the exact amounts that fighters get paid are confidential, but ballpark figures are possibly $10,000 for an 8-round main event fighter like Faragon down to $1,000 or even $800 for a four-round preliminary fighter, plus expenses, which can be significant when an opponent is brought in from out of town, in which case the promoter must pay transportation, hotel and meals, not just for the fighter but also for his trainer and manager.
Then you have to rent an arena, like the City Center in Saratoga Springs or the Convention Center at Empire State Plaza, you have to put up a ring ($6,000), you have to pay judges and referees, you have to pay doctors for the required physicals and drug tests, you have to buy a couple thousand dollars’ worth of insurance, you have to advertise, you’ve got to have all the amenities to make a show run smoothly. And let me add as an aside that both Pugnacious and Ares do a terrific job of making shows run smoothly, which was not always the case in the past with other promoters. I’ve seen a ring collapse in the middle of a fight; I’ve seen 45-minute delays between fights; I’ve seen a fighter climb out of the ring and refuse to fight. But not with either Ares or Pugnacious.
Of course things go wrong — you learn that just by hanging around — and a promoter has to be able to adjust. This past Friday two fights were scrubbed when opponents called from Ohio and said they weren’t coming after all. Something about car trouble. After you’ve already sold tickets.
At a previous event Mike Faragon’s opponent showed up six pounds over the weight limit.
A good promoter is a stage manager, a wedding director, a businessman and above all a boxing fan himself, or herself. Someone who likes the game, knows the fighters, and wants to help them.
“I’d never recommend it to anyone just to make money,” said Elovich, who makes a living as a state lawyer. “It should be a passionate hobby.”
She got into it by boxing for exercise at Sweeney’s Boxing in Delmar. Paul Brown, her partner, was a trainer there. Adam Neary, a financial planner in real life, got into it by boxing for exercise at Schott’s Gym in Albany, as a way of relieving stress when the stock market was tanking.
One of the things about boxing in its decline is that the supply of boxers is greater than the demand. Boxers are always looking for fights. I don’t mean picking fights, like a bully. I mean looking for fights as one looks for work, to make money.
They call people like Diana Rodriguez in Poughkeepsie, whose day job is as a prison guard at Bedford Hills but whose passion is boxing. They ask her to find them work, and she does, connecting with people like Adam Neary and Lisa Elovich.
She knows fighters’ market value — “$200 is the going rate for a pro debut or for a guy with a few fights,” she told me, referring to the price per round contracted for.
That’s what a fighter gets paid for, and he gets paid whether he wins or loses. Prize fighting in the literal sense, is long gone.
Rodriguez started out just helping boxers find work and soon started making a little money at it, collecting fees from promoters.
Managers and trainers get their money from the fighters, so the purses, whether $800 or $10,000, don’t all go to the fighters. A fighter might get 60 percent, a trainer told me, though the managers and trainers sometimes extend themselves to the point of paying promoters to put their fighters on a card in anticipation of future earnings.
Around here a fighter is doing good if he gets three or four fights a year, so they all have other jobs to pay the rent.
It’s a hard game, outside the ring as well as in, and the money in it is very modest.
I’ll have more to say about it as time goes on.