Updated: March 19, 2021 10:31:25 am
2008 London Olympics bronze medallist and professional boxer Vijender Singh is set to return to the ring for his 13th bout. Holding a 12-0 record, the WBO Asia-Pacific Super Middleweight champion will take on Russian pro Artysh Lopsan in an eight-round bout in Goa, on a casino ship, at 8 pm Friday. The fight will not be telecast on any television channel and will instead be cast on BookMyShow for a pay-per-view cost of Rs 99. Vijender Singh’s promoter confirmed that there will be a delayed broadcast of the three-hour event on Sony a week later.
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What is the pay-per-view model?
This will be the first time in India a major sport event is opting for the globally popular pay-per-view model. Usually, a consumer pays the network to watch events that the network holds the rights for. Most professional sports or events in India involve stakeholders — like BCCI, in the case of cricket — selling rights to networks/broadcasters. The onus to promote, market and sell advertisement slots is on the network. From a fan’s point of view, pay-per-view means paying for just that one event and not for all the shows on the channel. This practice is very popular around the world, especially for combat sports like boxing and mixed martial arts.
How popular are pay-per-view sports events in India?
It’s an unchartered territory. During lockdown with movie halls shut, BookMyShow started to stream movies and other entertainment content on a pay-per-view model. While they have a catalogue of movies and content to choose from, a live boxing event will be their first foray into sports.
Why is Vijender Singh’s fight on pay-per-view?
The lockdown’s impact on live sports is well-documented. Vijender, who is also signed to Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing, was unable to find a fight in the United States, United Kingdom or Dubai. Even in India most sports events were being held without spectators behind closed doors. In the ongoing India-England cricket series, the BCCI had to roll back their decision to allow fans inside the stadium after a surge in COVID-19 cases in Ahmedabad.
A “pay-per-view online event” is a perfect pandemic-time business model for live sports. Looking ahead, his promoters IOS Sports and Entertainment have plans to slot his fight outside India this year. Following a 15-month layoff (pandemic-related), the boxer donned his gloves again in January to start preparing for the fight in March. The Indian boxer is expected to bag a fight outside the country around June-July.
What numbers are expected for the pay-per-view fight?
Vijender’s Indian fights are being promoted by IOS. CEO Neerav Tomar said there was an element of unpredictability because nothing like this has been done before in India. “The fight business is completely dependent on the stardom of the fighter. We are fortunate to have a big star in Vijender. We have a Mary Kom, we have a Sushil Kumar, but Vijender is the only pro fighter who is a big name. It all starts from how many consumers a fighter can draw. Then you convert that into sponsors, gate revenue and television revenue,” Tomar said.
Tomar also said that the pay-per-view numbers will be revealed after the fight. “We are expecting people to purchase the pay-per-view on the 19th itself. The Indian consumer market is very time-to-the-event oriented. They never buy an event or a ticket in advance like the European or American market. As for the price it’s not a big amount, but a respectable amount. There are 8 crore people in the country who are on Bookmyshow so it’s accessible to everyone.”
What are the chances of success for the pay-per-view model in India?
Not everyone shares the same optimism as Tomar. Percept’s Shailendra Singh, Vijender’s manager for his previous professional fights believes that forcing an Indian audience to buy into the concept of a pay-per-view is one that will not work.
“The entertainment sector survives on freebies. When I did my first Fight Night and second Fight Night with Vijender in Pune and Delhi, most of the guests were stars and the model was based on sponsorships. It’s a mindset issue. The Indian audience is very weird. They could replace a boxing match with a cricket match and a cricket match with a Salman Khan movie at 9pm – there is no loyalty and they treat sport as entertainment,” Shailendra said.
Citing the example of telecom companies trying to get into the business of live content in India, he added, “I would rather do a deal for this particular bout with Airtel or Jio and say that everyone on Airtel or Jio can watch this match for free and take my pay-per-view revenue from Airtel and Jio because they are looking for content. Why would I individually and conceptually put pressure on an audience to understand the idea of pay-per-views and risk it?”
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