Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Boxing in 2005 Equals Poker in 2004?

The big poker craze has lasted for awhile and thinking about that has made me start to wonder whether boxing might be the next pursuit that suddenly becomes hot again.

I have not tracked the poker craze too closely, but I believe you could begin telling the story back when the movie Rounders came out. I do not think it made much money in the initial box office, but positive word of mouth certainly fueled an impressive new life for the film on DVD and video. It was a well-made movie that glamorized poker, dropping bits and pieces of history along the way. If this movie didn't help the craze develop, the movie is at least a symptom of the rise of the craze. Then of course the World Series of Poker and other shows started to jazz up their coverage, allowing people at home to see the hands develop and know the odds of a given person winning in real time. The ratings began to explode for these shows, private games started to increase in number and more and more people got addicted to the game online. If you want to see how far the hobby has come, just watch a recent "Cheap Seats" show where they lampoon a 90s WSOP game when they still were paying out the winner his weight in silver. Now, watch "Tilt" on ESPN. Do this, and you'll see what I mean.

There are a couple of signs indicating to me that boxing will resurge in popularity. All of a sudden boxing movies and biopics are in vogue again. First there was Million Dollar Baby which probably doesn’t really glorify the sport, but it at least brings more attention to it. After MDB, there has been a popular and well-done documentary on Jack Johnson by Ken Burns, and this year Russell Crowe will be starring in a new boxing movie called “Cinderella Man.” Besides these movies, HBO started bringing some new life into the subject by making some entertaining, tightly packaged retrospectives on historic boxing fights in the show “Legendary Nights.” Before all of this happened, women have already begun getting involved in the sport through actual competitive boxing and aerobic boxing exercise. Although it is more difficult to participate in boxing as a general individual than it is with poker, getting interested in the sport is a natural off-shoot of the increase interest in poker and gambling in general. There’s a reason why major prizefighting always ends up in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

The real test as to whether I am right or not will be the public perception of Mark Burnett’s new show “the Contender.” Considering how unpopular Oscar de La Hoya’s derivative product was on Fox, many believe the odds appear stacked against the new show. I disagree as I think that the better set-up (actual competitions) and the story-telling arcs in the Contender will make it a smashing success much like Burnett’s other shows. Whether or not you think they are quality programming, both of his previous shows have significantly changed network television.

As a spectator sport, boxing has become less and less popular in the past few decades. Focusing entirely on the short-term with pay-per-view has lost them the ability to attract future fans. The sport has gone from rivaling the major team sports in interest to being a completely niche sport ignored by all but the most passionate fans. Will these new shows and movies herald prize-fighting’s return to the limelight? I don’t know, but I think it’s dubious until the sport moves away from the pay-per-view business model. Instead, I I believe boxing’ new resurgence will lead a new popularity in boxing as a recreational activity. When I say this, I don’t mean the kind of beat the other person until he falls to ground kind of boxing, I mean the padded helmet have fun with your buddy kind of boxing.

I often incorrectly predict these sorts of trends and perhaps others have already noticed this, so I am not being original. Oh well, for the time being, I am putting a little bit of money where my mouth is with a small purchase of Everlast stock. Time will tell if I am right.

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