A Pointless Endeavour? – The true cost of promoting boxing in Ireland

By the time the final bell tolls on the ‘He Who Dares’ card at the Devenish on October 25, Belfast will have witnessed its third card in less two weeks and its tenth professional fight night of 2019.

There has been small hall, Ulster Hall, and seen by all shows.  There have been two fight nights in the same weekend TWICE, a sell-out 10,000 event in the Falls Park and, most importantly, regular shows throughout the year in Belfast.

MHD Promotions, MTK/Lee Eaton, Boxing Ireland Promotions, Top Rank, and now Slater Sports Consultancy have all seen fit to run shows in the Titanic City.

It’s more than enough to suggests a very healthy professional scene plays out on the island of Ireland.

Yet the number of shows outside of Belfast this year pales in comparison at a mere two.

All this at a time when we have more pros than ever before. Clearly there is something amiss. So, Irish-Boxing.com have decided to look further and deeper into current climate where Belfast is the only city in Ireland seemingly capable of running shows.

The truth of the matter is: promoters are fleeing to Belfast because it’s more financially viable. Running a show elsewhere, they all claim, is very likely to be a loss-making exercise.

Granted, Belfast, due to boxing’s popularity there and the respect and support the sport has in the city, is always going to be an attractive option. Indeed, the aforementioned promoters would all look to run shows there even if there was an expense parity.

However, it needs to be known that the potential for more ticket sales is not the reason there are three shows in the city in one month.

We are told the reason for that disparity and the reason boxing outside of Belfast is suffering is mainly due to cost.

As a result, we decided to become temporary accountants and have a look at the key cost differences between running a show in Antrim and promoting elsewhere.

Today’s exchange rate:
€1 = £0.89
£1 = €1.12

Venue
While there appears to be contrast in venue charges, it does have to be noted that there is a major problem in the South with finding locations willing to host professional fight nights.

Ring Kings Promotions, who ran one of the most successful shows in Ireland in 2018 – indeed so professional was it, it was held up as the standard bearer in every regard bar matchmaking – revealed earlier this month their plans to return to Waterford were cancelled.

The promotional outfit did mention cost as a major factor but also revealed there were no willing venues. Boxing Ireland had similar issue in Limerick and it seems a common theme around the country. Martin Horgan did bring professional boxing back to Cork this Summer and their Neptune-hosted show ran smoothly.

However, a lack of willing venues is a major issue. Irish-Boxing.com have been informed that many venues are more than willing to run MMA cards, Karate exhibitions, and even white collar fight nights have a ‘no pro boxing’ policy.

That particular issue stems from the public image of boxing in Ireland at present and it seems ‘The Regency’ has been referred to by unwilling venues.

As a result, that leaves the National Stadium the only certainty when it comes to a professional boxing show outside the North – and whilst it’s the perfect venue, and the only one which includes an assembled ring, it’s a costly one in comparison to its Northern cousins.

national stadium

Hiring the first purpose built boxing stadium in the world costs €3,600 whereas The Devenish in Belfast is free of charge for promoters (but requires the hire and assembly of a ring).

Obviously The Devenish and the National Stadium are not wholly comparable venues, but the contrast can still be drawn as every other venue in Dublin is seemingly unwilling to host boxing.

Granted the Ulster Hall and the Europa Hotel, venues fit for similar sized cards, are known to be costly, but there is a free option for promoters. This also is not to mention other ‘small halls’ – and Irish-Boxing.com have been informed MMA and white collar events are charged, generally, around £500 for such venues.

Insurance
A topic that is being discussed at length south of the border, the cost of insurance for events in the Republic is reaching insane levels. Whether it be due to fraud and ‘claim culture’ as these companies argue, or simply through industry greed as it actually appears to be, the result is that it is far more expensive to have a pro show insured in the Republic of Ireland – and this seems to be the straw that broke an already burdened camel’s back.

Insurance as a major factor in the decision to move a southern suited show north is recent, but still significant.

The cost of insuring a show in Ireland a few years ago is said to have been between €200 and €400, which rose to over €3,000 last year. The rate of increase has continued dramatically since. Some insurance companies express no interest and when promoters have been quoted prices they have been as high as €7,000 mark.

In Belfast, the process sees promoters obtain insurance for the year as a whole rather than for an individual show – and the cost is rather shocking. 12 months of cover, for however many shows, comes in at around £200, sensationally lower and an understandable factor in promoters bringing their rings up the M1.

Governing Bodies
While boxing is an all-island sport, the pro side of the game is governed by two separate bodies. The 26 counties in the south are under the guardianship of the Boxing Union of Ireland [BUI] while the six northern counties are licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control [BBBoC].

These bodies are closely aligned in many respects – for example, BUI fighters can box for the BBBoC Celtic title – but there are differences in terms of costing.

The reason for that disparity isn’t clear and we acknowledge that the volume of shows across BBBofC territory dwarfs the amount of shows in Ireland – and as a result that gives the British Board more freedom and leeway when it comes to charges as economies of scale take effect.

However, in terms of promoters and their decision to favour a Belfast show, which is what this article is about, the cost differences certainly make the north and the BBBofC look more attractive when it comes to trying to make a profit.

ref

The following figures were not given to us by either board, who both declined to comment and in that regard we are open to correction. However, the same names and numbers have been given to us by those who have run shows in both territories, as well as figures who have just run shows either of the areas.

Board Tax
Both the BUI and the BBBofC demand a similar refundable bond [€10,000/£10,000] and the only difference between the pair is the BUI return the cash after a month, while the BBBofC retain for the year.

Similarly both governing bodies charge a board tax. The BUI charge a flat €5,000, while the BBBofC takes a more proportional approach based on a show’s takings.

The breakdown is as follows: Takings – Tax
£7,500 or less – £200
£7,501-£10,000 – £250
£10,001-£12,500 – £300
£12,501-£15,000 – £350
£15,001-£20,000 – £400.

There is a percentage system after £20,000, but the shows we are discussing here are nowhere near that profitable.

Officials and Other Fees
In terms of officials, there is also a difference in cost.

The BUI charge €350 per referee, with two needed on each promotion and, on some occasions, three are required.  The charge for the Timekeeper is the same at €350 for a full show.

If a show requires judges, €200 per judge is due – with three judges needed for an Irish title fight and three for a BUI Celtic title fight unless both parties agree to referee scoring.

In terms of the BBBofC, the cost of the first referee is £150 while a charge of £125 exists for a second ref. Irish-boxing.com are unaware of what is charged if a third referee is needed. With regard to judges, the cost is £150 per judge, with judges required for BBBofC Celtic and British title fights while Northern Irish Area title fights are referee-scored.

Finally, the Timekeeper charge is £125 per five bouts – meaning the majority of promotions pay double, or triple, this.

The BBBoC, unlike the BUI, also impose a fee for foreign boxers of £100 per fighter. However, there is an agreement in place between the two bodies on this island that excludes BUI-licensed fighters from this criteria.

Conclusion
There is a major difference in cost between promoting a show in Dublin and a show in Belfast.

It is hard to give precise figures but, comparing a ‘regular’ ‘small hall’ show, it can be thrice as expensive to promote boxing in the south of Ireland.

Excluding bonds, for a card at the National Stadium, promoters need to fork out close to €20,000 to even open the doors – and this is before the thousands of euros spent on flights, accommodation, transport, food, and purses, for ‘away’ fighters. Overall, it is a huge financial risk and one which requires ‘house costs’ for boxers, significant sponsorship, and good attendance to offset.

By comparison, a similar show in Belfast at ‘The Devenish’, may not even hit £5,000 in terms of venue, insurance, and governing body fees – certainly a less daunting figure.

Indeed, even if such a show was to be switched to a more expensive venue like the Ulster Hall, it would still not reach the cost of a card in Dublin.

Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: [email protected]