Sat, Apr 27, 12:41pm by Kevin Pitstock
One trend in the sports world could affect Australian punters’ travel plans in the next few years. The future of live professional boxing may be the gambling destination of Macau, if news about the increased gambling activities over the weekend of a recent fight promotion are correct.
China once banned professional prize fights because they were considered “too Western”. Now the Venetian Casino in Macau is hosting fights and 200-300 Chinese viewers are watching the pro debuts of fighters on pay-per-view television.
That’s what happened when Zou Shiming made his professional boxing debut recently. The Chinese boxer won two Olympic gold medals during his amateur career. Now a national hero in China, his fellow citizens are willing to pay $3 to $5 to see him fight on television. Meanwhile, thousands of people packed into the casino showroom to see his pro debut live. All this happened in a simple test case.
Bob Arum, owner of the famed American fight promotion, Top Rank Boxing, is on board with the idea the sport’s future is in China. With the world heavyweight titles held by a pair of Russian brothers and MMA taking a larger part of the fight audience in the USA each year, the sport of boxing is at its lowest point in a hundred years. Arum says the sports is healthy elsewhere, mentioning the growing Hispanic demographic and citing big promotions in Germany, England, and Canada. But after promoting his first fight in Macau, Bob Arum says it’s the Chinese gambling capital which supersedes them all.
Due to the needs of making special arrangements for production trucks and crewmen, Top Rank spent twice as much for the production as they would have in Las Vegas. Still, Macau’s casinos saw a 30% to 40% uptick in casino revenues over the weekend. Macau already makes several times the money per year as Las Vegas–some estimate up to 6x the amount of Las Vegas in a year.
The huge upswing in revenues on a fight weekend makes promoting fights in the city worth the expense. Arum claimed the live audience didn’t know what to think at first, but by the third fight, was just as enthusiastic as a fight audience in Atlantic City of Las Vegas.
What’s more, the audience of 200 million to 300 million viewers for the Zou Shiming fight is orders of magnitude beyond anything possible in the United States. Of course, promoters can charge American fight viewers 12 times what they would charge the Chinese viewership, but even 1,000,000 to 3,000,000 pay-per-view purchases is considered huge in the states. Boxing isn’t the only sport taking notice. The UFC put on a fight card in Macau last year and also claimed it a big success.
Australian fight fans might be able to bet on world class boxing and MMA cards in nearby Macau in the coming years. Prize fighting is about following the money trail. When Mohammed Ali was at the top of his game in the 1970’s, world championship matches were placed in Zaire and the Philippines, because the local governments promised Don King and his fighters’ huge purses. That’s how “The Rumble in the Jungle” and “The Thrilla in Manilla” came to pass.
The financial equation now suggests world class fights will go on in China, so it might not be long before Australian fight fans or gambling tourists can start planning foreign trips to the future capital of prize fighting.
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