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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Commercial suicide for Amir Khan ?

Is Amir Khan a Box Office fighter or not ? Does he still needing building with a British fanbase ? Does his future lie in America after this contest in Manchester against unbeaten European light-welterweight champion Paul McCloskey ?
It has been an intriguing week in the professional career of Khan, as his team, wounded perhaps by Sky’s decision to downgrade with the Irishman, sought deals with television companies elsewhere in the UK. There is no doubt that Khan is a great athlete, with a champion’s heart, and the desire to climb to boxing’s slippery summit. He is also personable, and has grown in stature both as a spokesperson and a role model. But how wide is his reach ? How he is managed in the next 12 months will be interesting.

In terms of regular programming, with the BBC and ITV now out of boxing, Sky has a monopoly. They have relationships with the principal promoters in the UK, including Ricky Hatton, who is co-promoting this event.  Khan is handled in the US by promoters Golden Boy. It is a complicated conundrum. In my view, there was still work to be done with Khan by promoter Frank Warren after he had been in the stable since his Athens Games silver medal.  
How Khan is handled from here may decide how we see his future develop. Primetime will provide a litmus test as to where he stands with the British public…Should Khan defeat McCloskey on Saturday night, does his impending unification fight with another light-welterweight world champion, Timothy Bradley, merit pay per view status ? Perhaps in the US it does. Arguably, in the UK, Bradley does not mean a great deal for British sports fans.
The decision by Khan’s management team to switch Saturday night’s fourth world title defence from Sky Sports to the relative obscurity of pay-per-view channel Primetime was labelled yesterday  as “commercial suicide” by Eddie Hearn, the promoter of Khan’s opponent McCloskey.
That will be confirmed in the long-term, although Khan’s team insisted yesterday that they are expecting 15,000 fans in the MEN Arena come Saturday night.
“This whole thing has been a shambles from start to finish,” Hearn, of Matchroom Sports, told me yesterday. “It is commercial suicide. Sky are the most important television station in the UK when it comes to boxing, and in my opinion this has killed Khan’s credibility here.”
“There are only very few pay per view fights out there in boxing at the moment. David Haye against the Klitschko brothers, Manny Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather. In my opinion, there should only be around two pay per view events a year anyway.”
Khan himself admitted that he had “stayed away” from the legal wranglings between lawyers over the last five days after it had emerged that there was discontent among Sky executives with both the paltry pay-per-view pre-sales for the event in Manchester on Saturday night, and the standard of the undercard.
Several changes had been made in the supporting fights in recent weeks.   
It is believed that Khan’s purse would have been reduced by around £1million – an 80 per cent cut – in the switch from Box office to a regular Sky Sports channel.  
“I feel sorry for Amir Khan,” added Hearn. “It was obviously bad news that he had to take a cut in moving from Sky Box Office to Sky Sports 3. He would probably have got 80 to 100,000 pay per view buys on Sky Box Office, but he would probably have had 700,000 viewers watching on Sky Sports 3. This was the chance to build him again with a much bigger UK audience. I doubt whether he will even get 5,000 buys on Primetime, which has no marketing budget at all for the event.”
Khan’s defence of the World Boxing Association light-welterweight title against unbeaten Irishman McCloskey will also be shown on HBO in the USA, with whom the British fighter has a relationship. According to Hearn, without the involvement of HBO, the event may have been shelved altogether.
“A big sum has been cut, but I’m still young, and my job is to get in the ring and fight,” revealed Khan yesterday. “I want to build my career up in the US, as well as in England. I wanted to give my loyal fans a chance to see me fight in England. I knew we’d get to the bottom of [the tv issue] and get it all sorted. I left it to my team and they did a good job.”
Asif Vali, Khan’s adviser, said yesterday that Khan Promotions were not looking beyond this event.  He added: “As far as the future goes with Sky, I have no answers. We are happy with Primetime. If he [Hearn] said it [about commercial suicide] that is down to him, but we are happy with Primetime for this fight.” It is understood the deal with Primetime, which will cost British viewers £14.95, is a one-off agreement, but it remains to be seen if Khan’s long-term relationship with Sky has been irreparably damaged.


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