I dealt with the boxing side of things relating to the announced Amir Khan vs Julio Diaz bout in an earlier post but it strikes me there are some business aspects to look at as well.
The key detail that has been released is that the bout will be held at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield. On paper there’s little surprising about that. Khan is a British fighter and his hometown of Bolton isn’t a vast distance from Sheffield. More, over recent years Sheffield has become a decent boxing city with potential future Khan opponent Kell Brook having had his recent UK bouts there.
What is perhaps surprising is that it doesn’t appear to follow the promotional strategy that Khan has held to in the last few years.
Khan, understandably, fought exclusively in the UK after turning professional with his first 23 bouts (including his loss to Prescott detailed in this post and title win over Kotelnyk) all taking place in various arenas across England. However, once he split from his original promoter Frank Warren and signed with Golden Boy Promotions in early 2010 his attention moved across the Atlantic.
Of his next seven bouts, six have taken place in the US. These were not the sort of “showcase” bouts which British boxers sometimes travel to the US for as a way to get their name into wider circulation (as say Kell Brook’s bout with Luis Galarza was), instead it was a deliberate effort to “make” Khan in the US. Golden Boy threw their entire promotional weight behind him and HBO were happy to follow; each of his bouts were shown on HBO.
I think it’s fair to say it hasn’t been a complete success.
His ratings on HBO have been moderate; generally in the 1.1-1.4 million category. These aren’t poor but neither are they something I imagine the powers that be were vastly excited by. His live gates haven’t been particularly special either; a typical Khan bout in Vegas often has just under half of the tickets given away for free. Better numbers came from his bouts in New York and Washington but in both cases that can be put down to the selling power of Malignaggi and Peterson respectively, who were boxing in their hometowns. The figures also indicate that Khan isn’t a Hatton like boxer who can bring thousands of Brits with him for his bouts. In truth it appears that promoters in the US didn’t understand the almost unique power Hatton had to bring fans with him; attempts to replicate it with Calzaghe in bouts with Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr failed badly.
Does the fact this bout is in Britiain really change anything though? After all, Khan faced off with McCloskey in Manchester afterall?
I think it does.
The McCloskey bout was explicitly sold as a sort of “treat” for Khan’s British fans (despite the fact it eventually ended up farcically being on PPV). It was a card built for Britian, featuring Khan against a popular Irish boxer (McCloskey apparently brought a few thousand fans with him). This doesn’t strike me as that. I have no doubt the undercard will be filled with British talent but the opponent? Diaz isn’t exactly a household name in the US, let alone in the UK and a doubt a single fan will be there to see him specifically. It would make more sense in many ways to hold the bout in California where Diaz could tap into the local Mexican-American population to sell tickets.
Golden Boy have a history of giving second chances to their talent but demanding performances from them. They swung their entire promotional support behind Victor Ortiz as his career started to heat up but when he lost against Maidana he was forced to build himself up on smaller shows and undercards. Following the draw with Peterson it appeared Golden Boy had virtually given up on him and that his bout with Berto would be a last throw of the dice… to the extent that Oscar de la Hoya, not one normally known for skipping a publicity opportunity, ended up in Manchester for Khan’s underwhelming bout with McCloskey as opposed to Connecticut for Ortiz’s fight of the year contender victory.
It seems to me that Golden Boy are going through the same stage with Khan. They threw their entire weight behind him and tried to make him a star in the US. From a business stand point this never quite happened and from a boxing point of view his loses to Peterson (however controversial) and Garcia ended his run of success. Khan will now have to rebuild and prove his worth to Golden Boy.
What makes it strange is how it compares to his comeback bout with Molina. This bout with Diaz holds some interest to a neutral and is on paper at least somewhat competitive. The bout with Molina was none of these things; it was a soft-touch opponent for Khan to gain some confidence back and as close to a certain win as one can get in boxing. It seems to me that having the Molina bout in the UK and the Diaz bout in the US would be more logical. It is this seemingly strange decision that makes me suspect Golden Boy are starting to lose patience with Khan and his ability to produce good financial numbers for them.
That said, there is one other possibility. Golden Boy have recently set in motion a move into the UK, notably signing ex-Olympian Anthony Ogogo, it could well be that they want Khan to spearhead that move. Despite his recent losses Khan is about as big a name left in UK boxing with Hatton and Calzaghe retiring and Haye semi-active (with all due respect to the likes of Froch, Fury and Brook). Having his name value in the UK is a way for Golden Boy to guarantee their prospects get both attention and TV time. That said, if this is the reasoning then I’d expect more to come from Golden Boy hyping it; so far they’ve been somewhat quiet.