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Are Fans Getting Sold Out of Big Fights?

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A press release was sent out last Monday trumpeting the fact that 16,000 tickets for the May 7th bout between Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley were sold in the first three hours of sale. There’s no doubt that the “Pac-Man” will always be in high demand. In 2010, over 80,000 fans showed up to watch him perform in two appearances at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Tickets would be a little tougher to come by at the MGM Grand Garden, which seats approximately 17,000.

As usual, I received reads and emails from frustrated fans on Twitter that despite their best efforts, were unable to purchase tickets at certain price ranges. That’s plausible- not that many may have ever really been available for public consumption (at least not at face value, out of the box-office) in the first place.

One anonymous source with vast knowledge of the ticket-brokering business told Maxboxing, when such robust sales are announced for a huge Vegas fight, "that means that the casinos and the brokers have verbally committed but they haven’t been sold. So what they do is, they take the tickets from the casino and they’ll put them on all their websites and they’ll mark them up and put them for sale but they’re actually not sold."


In other words, they are on consignment. And while the $150 tickets (which are the lowest priced) are no longer available through Ticketmaster or the MGM Grand box-office, they can be had on sites such as the following for a sizable increase from the face value of the ticket:

http://www.stubhub.com/boxing-tickets/pacquiao-vs-mosley-5-7-2011-1037663/

In the estimation of our source, "less than five-percent" of tickets for events of this caliber are truly released for sale to the general public, "because what happens is if you go on a Ticketmaster, as soon as the tickets go on sale and you tell them you want the best available for the highest price, they may give you the last row of the floor and then it’ll skip up to maybe the latter third of the second price level. And it’s just not the casinos; the promoters block all the tickets and hold them."

Oftentimes, the promoters are in cahoots with the brokers and many of the prime seats ringside are gobbled up by the casinos for their big players. Bob Arum has insisted on more synergy between the casinos on the strip for his events. It seems here, he has gotten it. For the casinos, this is a lucrative loss-leader.

"Absolutely, they don’t care because they want them to play $300,000 at the tables. Remember this: a casino will give you ten-percent of what you gamble back as a fight ticket. So, when somebody gambles 30-grand, they get a $3,000 ticket. What do they care? They make $27,000; they don’t give a sh*t," says the source. There have been fights where very few, if any, tickets were made available to the masses. In the most extreme case- the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad fight at the Mandalay Bay- all 12,000 tickets went to the casinos.

As for how long this practice has been going on, our source estimates, "Probably 15 years. I mean, usually it’s the casinos, the promoters and the brokers. Those are the top three that get the tickets. The general public never sees them." When asked if enough tickets were available to Joe Public, Arum answered, "Well, what am I supposed to do? I’m not in Cowboy Stadium. Cowboy Stadium had way too many seats. Here, we don’t have enough seats. But anybody who says that they can’t get tickets is lying because among those 980 tickets that are still available, there are plenty of $300 tickets."

But this current process has left many fans frustrated and disillusioned. It just seems counterproductive to further alienate what seems to be a diminishing fan base. The question is, what can be done to protect their interests? Sadly, not much, it seems.

Keith Kizer, the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, doesn’t know of any regulation that forbids the reselling of tickets or brokers getting tickets directly from the promoters.

"Not that I know of but if there were any, I wouldn’t necessarily know it," he admitted. "If it’s a general law, there’s nothing specific to our jurisdiction. I know at the county level, which is where a lot of those laws are passed, I know there are laws for example where you can’t sell a ticket for more than face value if you’re within X-amount of yards from the venue. So you can’t go there the day of the fight and try to scalp tickets for twice the face value right outside the MGM Grand Garden. But that doesn’t necessarily preclude you from putting them on eBay for twice the amount. That’s the only law I’m aware of are local ordinances."

As for what the NSAC could do in order to ensure that perhaps a higher percentage of tickets are made available to the masses, Kizer opines, "I can’t imagine how we can do that with our limited jurisdiction. People- just not the promoters- the public buyers sell them at a higher value, be it to a broker or to an individual. I see it more with concerts than boxing events that are on eBay or Craigslist, someone selling it for more than face value."

The commission’s ultimate job is the collect the six-percent tariff on the live gate.

The UFC has a novel and innovative approach to make sure that they protect the interests of their most loyal ticket-buying fans.

"What happens with the UFC, there is a ’Fight Club’ which you can belong to and anybody in the public can belong to it and that allows you, before tickets go on sale to the rest of the public, to buy tickets for fights at face value," explained a source at the UFC. "And for a couple fights, they have sold most of the tickets to ’Fight Club’ members."

Pricing fans out of the industry’s biggest events (or sometimes just shutting them out completely) doesn’t seem like the best business model to adhere to in the long run.

"I don’t want combat sports to ever be an elitist sport where the public doesn’t have a chance to buy tickets," said the UFC source, "so I think that’s the idea behind the ’Fight Club’ for us because it gives the public a chance to even get involved in that regard."

The cost of the ’Fight Club’ is around $70. Seems like a cheap alternative to getting scalped. 

This is one of the reasons why UFC events, for the most part, have crowds that show up much earlier to the events and have much more passion and energy inside their venues. They actually have real fans who have a vested interested in the sport. Not just a bunch of casino comps who show up ten minutes before the main event.

"I think that’s exactly right," stated our UFC source this past Wednesday afternoon before their big pay-per-view card at the Mandalay Bay featuring Anderson Silva versus Vitor Belfort. "This weekend, the first fight is at 5 o’clock; there’s 11 fights. At 5 o’clock, they’ll have between five and 6,000 people there by that time." The UFC will pull in a $3 million dollar gate for this event.

Yes, we live in a capitalist society and the laws of supply and demand will rule the day. In certain cases, if a promotion truly resonates with the public, it will price the majority of the hardcore fans out of the fight. However, if a fight has tepid interest, it can actually work to the benefit of the fan as brokers start to dump tickets.

Our ticket maven says for Pacquiao-Mosley, "They’re better off waiting for Thursday, Friday or Saturday to buy their tickets because we all know Shane Mosley doesn’t sell a ticket. If people want to go see that fight, they’re going to see Pacquiao, so there’s no real demand to drive the price up." His forecast is that "Those tickets will probably be selling for under the face value by the fight."

This is a game of prospecting in many ways.

"The only tickets that will be more than face value will be the $150s and that’s it," is his opinion.

On the other hand, the system will never change.

"It’s too lucrative between the promoter, the casino and the brokers."

SOLUTION

Jason Tang of Top Rank tweeted (@jtangTRboxing) that they are working on something similar to what the UFC employs but that the problem is that as of now, people seem to only want to buy tickets for one fighter (Pacquiao). Unfortunately that’s only a slight exaggeration. In general, the sport’s power-brokers need to do a better job of developing attractions across the board before these types of plans can even be implemented. Let’s be honest; a “Fight Club” in boxing might be as valuable as a “Blockbuster
” membership, right now.

Let’s not be naïve; this is business and if people are willing to pay for these marked-up tickets, then there must obviously be a market for them. Hey, it’s like the rising gas prices; we may not like it but I like it a lot more than walking everywhere or taking the bus to get around. And it’s not like the boxing business is alone in these practices; every other major event from the Super Bowl and the Final Four has a broker culture that exists. But the question is, while those sports have large, expansive fan bases which are growing, can the same be said of boxing?

This system is here to stay. It is what it is but would it be too much to ask that just a higher percentage of tickets (at whatever price point) be available straight out of the box-office? 

FAN REACTION

I got various emails in regard to the bout last week in Pontiac, Michigan between Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander but this one seemed to state the consensus opinion: 
 
Hey Steve

This past Saturday, at a sportsbar in Philly there were 2 tvs on showing fights. One was Bradley-Alexander, the other was Showtime’s MMA card. The bar turned up the volume for the MMA. People were getting into it. The Bradley-Alexander fight? Nobody watched it or even seemed to notice it! I’m happy that you’re giving it to Gary Shaw and the other "promoters." What he did (didn’t do) with the Bradley-Alexander fight was terrible. I have a ton of friends who are big-time sports fans but know very little about boxing. They represent a demographic that seems to be ever dwindling from the sweet science (18-35yr olds.) They know about MMA though. Because the UFC and the other promotions market/promote their product--the fighter. I still love boxing, but as a lifelong fan of the sport I’m finding myself more and more turned off by the bad, short-term decisions. Thanks, Luca


TICKED OFF

Then you have this email from a disgruntled fan, who was less than pleased with his experience in Las Vegas:
 
I just wanted to chime in and say, me and my buddy got very burned going to Vegas.   We spent 600 dollars a piece for the Toney Vs Holyfield Fight. This was suppose to be ringside seats for us. We knew we didn’t have front row, but we thought we’d be sitting pretty close.   Well, our seats were way in the back of all the ringside seating...to the side and back of the press row.   Not to mention there was a pillar
to my right that only gave me a partial view!   OH!--and all the corporate f**ks who got free tickets...well, what do they care about undercards...and what do they care about really seeing the fight?   NOTHING!  Most never showed for the undercard and most showed up late for the main even;  Many had the audascity to stand in front of us  with their beers (as our seats were next to the row and next to the pillar) because you can’t go ringside until the end of the round.

In my opinion, 80 percent of these people had no respect for the price of a ticket, let alone boxing.
It was all a novelty to them.    And we almost got into a fist fight, not cause we were soured by our spot, but because they kept standing in front of us, here and there... "hey man!" "I see you didn’t pay for your seats but these seats cost us 600 a piece, so we’d appreciate you not standing in front of us".   No response...puzzled looks, we paid for "these seats?", then they’d go mosing back up ringside?    I knew an artist that became fairly successful. He stated he had many friends over the years ask for his artwork, or could you paint me that? He told me that he never gives away a painting or his work.  "People don’t appreciate it  when they get it for free.  They put it in  the corner, in the closet, never get it framed.
But when I charge them, make them pay like any other customer...well, they treat it like gold."
 
Don’t think I’ll be going to any more big fights in Vegas.   And I’ve been to several, not anymore.
I’ll stick with the club or up and comers...alot more fun and cost effective.
 
Cheers to you Steve Kim!   Peace out!  Anthony
 
FINAL FLURRIES

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. might be mediocre as a prizefighter but he is a bona fide draw and it was proven once again by his robust ratings on Fox Deportes for his bout against Billy Lyell. It was one of their top five-rated programs ever and was number one in that time slot for all Spanish cable networks. That’s why Arum wants to have him on CBS...Kathy Duva confirmed on Friday afternoon that Tomasz Adamek will face Kevin McBride on April 23rd at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey...I want to see Desmond Howard and Phil Simms on a pay-per-view undercard in the upcoming months...I think Lateef Kayode was given a dose of reality in terms of where he really stands in the cruiserweight division...Chris Chatman and Charles Hatley put on an entertaining- if sloppy- scrap on “Friday Night
Fights.” I thought the draw was justified but Hatley was shown to be not as good as his record indicated, which really was not the biggest surprise in the world...I finally had dim sum on Saturday; I have to say, I liked it...I’m coming to grips that there is only one more episode of “Friday Night Lights” left...Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk were no-brainers to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame but I’m really glad Shannon Sharpe will be getting his yellow jacket. For a decade-plus, he was a premiere player and contributed to highly successful squads. He was also a colorful and fun character...I guess it’s safe to say that Anderson Silva was kicking like Bruce Lee...I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.


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