SWING AND A MISS FROM CHANNEL 9
By TOM WATT on Aug 17 2015
Friday night saw live Boxing return to free-to-air TV here in Australia for another edition of the NRL ‘Footy Show Fight Night’ with the likes of Lucas Browne and Will Tomlinson headlining the show.
It is hard to argue against the sport gaining a wider audience on one of the dominant terrestrial channels at a time where it so desperately needs to grow it’s fan-base but despite all the positives, Friday night’s show still managed to highlight some of the key issues facing Boxing in Australia at the moment.
The double edged sword begins with the broadcast itself – for so long Australian fans have been simply unable to watch Boxing at home without looking at illegal online streaming services or simply just getting updates on Twitter so having the Main card on live TV and the undercard on Channel 9’s ‘JumpIn’ streaming service was a big move forwards, particularly given the quality of online stream that the well-funded channel offered. However, the quality of the stream far outweighed the quality of the broadcast for several reasons.
It was Boxing presented by a Rugby League panel
I don’t know who is in charge of decisions like this at Channel 9, but deciding to call this the ‘NRL Footy Show Fight Night’ was the first in a long line of comical errors made by the experienced channel – we get it, you own the rights for broadcasting the NRL, you have a very popular and successful show in the ‘The Footy Show' and yes, the NRL is incredibly popular in Australia. But it has nothing to do with Boxing, nothing whatsoever.
In fact, this was the first time a Channel 9 show hasn’t featured a fight card jam-packed with current or former NRL players – and that was a very good thing. So instead of watching a string of 4-round fights with guys stepping in the ring for the first time and as a result, the crowd at the Melbourne Pavilion were treated to a pretty exciting night of Boxing, with the under-card providing the majority of the excitement.
However, despite the well-matched undercard featuring wins for Trent Broadhurst and Richard Smith, the online stream was undermined by having to listen to the commentary team fumble through calling a sport they clearly have a limited understanding of. Thankfully though, former World Champions Billy Dib and Anthony Mundine were on hand to offer some relief for the televised portion of the show that may have saved even more online backlash.
The overall quality of the broadcast was poor
I’ve already made mention of the fact that the online stream loaded very well and was a good quality stream, unfortunately though this is where my praise for the quality of broadcast ends. Continuing on from my previous point, having a night of Boxing presented by the team that offers a light-hearted round-up of Rugby League every week, is not really a show of commitment to the sport and seems like no more than a cheap attempt at bringing in fans through association to the NRL.
Secondly, and perhaps more glaringly, was the fact that the online broadcast cut out in between not only fights, but between every round, displaying a ‘live stream will resume soon’ page with no indication of when the next fight or round would start – meaning that between the final fight on the undercard and the first fight on the main card, online viewers were treated to the blank page for over twenty minutes. Now I understand that boxing schedules can be hard to estimate given the uncertain nature of the length of a fight, but the majority of fights went the distance on Friday night, meaning even less time to fill so I can only imagine how painful it would have been had there been some early knockouts in some of the earlier fights.
The whole feel of the online stream was that it had been cobbled together at the last minute with no real emphasis on quality, I understand that this foray into Boxing is a relatively new venture for Channel 9 and there always likely to be inherent teething problems but to just neglect the fact that viewers will see a blank screen for at least an hour of the evening’s broadcast is just insanity – It’s not that I’m expecting hours of programming or in-depth Boxing analysis, but for a channel whose programming schedule is chocked full of shows like 'The Block' that are basically 90% filler and post-production, it wouldn’t of taken much effort for the production team to put together something for the viewers to watch in between fights – they hadn’t even bothered to put any adverts in!
The fights on the main card weren’t the best of the night
Now this can’t be put too squarely at the feet of Chanel 9, promoter Brian Armatruda or even Jeff Fenech who helped put this show together, but it has to be noted that the fights on the televised card didn’t do too much to endear new fans to the sport. First up was Jai Opetaia, the highly touted former Light Heavyweight Junior World Champion and Australia’s youngest Olympic Boxer was out for his second professional outing and faced Rob Manual, a 39 year old who had lost all 3 of his previous fights – Opetaia won as he was expected to do with a first round knockout but the lack of quality in his opponent was there for all to see and I can’t see any other Light Heavyweights around the World being too worried just yet.
The main card also saw Heavyweight monster, Lucas Browne take on late replacement, Julius Long in a keep-warm bout as he waits on his WBA Title shot with Ruslan Chagaev. At 7ft Long was always going to be a difficult test but a hand injury in the first round hampered Browne’s game-plans and saw hopes of an early KO diminish although he was able to apply the finishing touch with a fantastic left hook in the 9th round to take his record to 23-0.
The Main event saw Aussie export, ‘Wild’ Will Tomlinson return to fight in Australia following a string of fights under Golden Boy in the US, his loss to Francisco Vargas set him back in the rankings and a hard-fought, controversial win over Filipino, Adones Aguelo has helped lift him back into the top 10 although criticism of the decision has been rife.
The fact that these fights didn’t deliver wasn’t the fault of anyone however, it was just a shame that warrior efforts from Smith and Broadhurst weren’t seen by a wider audience.
Can this be fixed?
Boxing is on the up both domestically in Australia and a global scale, Channel 9’s involvement can certainly help to drive that growth and play a central role in Boxing in Australia, but only if they commit to covering Boxing. When I say commit to covering Boxing, I mean to do away with this absurd notion that badging it up as the ‘NRL Footy Show Fight Night’ offers any kind of credibility and start out fresh with a team dedicated to covering the sweet science, below I have listed a few key areas that need to be addressed:
All in all, Boxing getting the kind of exposure that free-to-air TV offers is fantastic and is a huge step in the right direction for Australian Boxing. However these strides forward risk being voided if the right attention isn’t paid to the quality of the output - pointing a camera at a Boxing ring isn’t covering the sport and there are still big steps that need to be taken if Boxing on free to air TV is really going to take off.
We have seen the success of the Premier Boxing Champions series in America on free-to-air where the shows have dominated the 18-35 demographic since their inaugural show and this has been down to a combination of exciting fights, excellent promotion/marketing and a high-quality broadcast output with expert commentary and punditry that is exciting for a Boxing fan to watch. - Channel 9, that’s what you’re aiming for.
1. FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR.
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(Left) Trent Broadhurst was involved in one of the best fights of the evening with tough veteran Affif Belghecham