Boxing's future in China still uncertain despite Macao wins

By Mark Dreyer Source:Global Times Published: 2013-11-24 23:03:01

It turns out it's not so easy to crack the Chinese market ­after all.

Earlier this year, boxing promoter Bob Arum ­entered the Asian market with all guns blazing, with big plans to put Chinese boxing on the map - and simultaneously fill his pockets with renminbi.

The man behind China's two-time Olympic champion Zou Shi­ming's quest for a world title spread the word that 300 million people in China would watch Zou's professional ­debut against an unknown opponent, and that boxing was set to launch the pay-per-view business model in China.

Fast forward half a year, and Arum is already revising those numbers sharply lower and has conceded that the pay-for-view model does not work - at least for now.

Zou won his third straight fight on Sunday in his best performance to date, though there are still questions over the quality of his opponents. At the top of the bill, Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao bounced back from two defeats to beat American Brandon Rios convincingly on points, in a bout staged at midday on Sunday in Macao to cater to a Saturday evening audience in the US.

For all Arum's revised expectations, though, there is still plenty of money in boxing: Pacquiao received a guaranteed $18 million for his morning's work, which could rise to as much as $30 million depending on the final pay-per-view numbers. Rios walked away $4 million richer, while Zou banked $500,000 - unheard of money so early in a professional career.

It is ironic, though, that while there is plenty of revenue generated by the casinos in Macao during these fight weekends, it is still in the US where the boxing revenue originates. American pay-per-view ­customers shelled out $60 to watch the fight on HBO; not only did Chinese viewers see it for free, but Arum said he also had a tough time selling ad space on Chinese television.

Arum's boxing experiment will continue as long as Zou keeps winning. CCTV, China's national broadcaster, will continue to air his quest for a world title and the Venetian Hotel in Macao - which makes obscene amounts of money from the spectators who spend a few hours in the arena, and many more at the gambling tables - will keep bankrolling the fights.

But if Zou keeps winning, he will have to face a decent opponent sooner rather than later. At 32, he could still win a world title, but his age dictates that the timeline to global glory must be condensed, and he is still some way from being able to go a full 12 rounds in the ring, with Sunday's fight only a six-round bout.

We will know a lot more in a year's time. Zou could be world champion and Arum may have a genuine shot at getting Chinese customers to pay to watch his fights, however small the amount. But if Zou's world title bid is derailed, it will be back to the drawing board both for Chinese boxing and for Arum's master plan.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer.

Posted in: Extra Time, Boxing

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