Shortly before a March 7, 2015, fight card in Las Vegas, Al Haymon did something that was totally out of character: He made a speech.
For months on end, the boxing community had buzzed with rumors: Haymon was amassing a war chest totaling hundreds of millions of dollars with the help of a venture capital fund in an effort to take over boxing … Haymon was signing hundreds of fighters to managerial and advisory contracts … Haymon was planning some sort of TV series … time-buys on multiple networks for an entity called Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) were confirmed.
March 7 marked the rollout of Haymon’s plan. NBC was televising the inaugural PBC offering, a fight card featuring Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner vs. John Molina Jr.
Haymon had poured an enormous amount of money into TV production for the event. There was a huge floor set augmented by giant video screens. Twenty-seven cameras had been set up to capture the action from every possible angle under enhanced lighting.
Three iconic sports personalities formed the core of the NBC announcing team. Al Michaels would host the telecast from a glitzy in-arena set while Marv Albert handled blow-by-blow chores and Sugar Ray Leonard served as an expert analyst. Laila Ali, B.J. Flores, Kenny Rice and Steve Smoger were also in the mix.
Academy-Award winner Hans Zimmer, who’d written the signature music for “The Contender” (as well as screen scores for “The Lion King,” “Gladiator” and “The Dark Night Trilogy”) had composed special ring-walk music for the fighters.
Al Haymon was challenging the established order of the sport.
The final production meeting for the telecast was held in a meeting room at the MGM Grand.
“Al came in,” a member of the production team recalls. “There were 15 or 20 people there. He talked to us about the importance of boxing and his desire to revive interest in the sport. He said that everyone in the room should think of themselves as part of a team. He didn’t talk for long, only a couple of minutes. But he seemed sincere, like this really mattered to him.”
The NBC telecast averaged 3.37 million viewers, including 554,000 in the 18-to-34-year-old age group and 1.38 million in the 18-to-49 demographic. It was an encouraging start for an audacious plan. Backed by an estimated half-billion dollars in venture capital, Haymon was planning to revolutionize boxing.
Boxing people were excited or terrified depending on where their interests lay. To some, Haymon was a savior who would rejuvenate the sport and bring big fights back to “free” television on a regular basis. At the other end of the spectrum, the reaction ranged from denial to panic.
Haymon was creating a sense of inevitability. PBC would dominate boxing for years.
Except it hasn’t happened. And in all likelihood, it won’t happen.
Winston Churchill once said of Russia, “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The same words could be used to describe Al Haymon. This series is an attempt to shed some light on who he is and his journey through boxing. Dozens of people who know Haymon in one way or another were interviewed in conjunction with these articles. Some were willing to talk on the understanding that they could be quoted but not for attribution. A refrain often heard from others was, “I’d like to talk with you but I don’t want to get in trouble with Al.” Haymon, as is his custom, declined to be interviewed.
Al values his privacy … He doesn’t even like it when people tell nice stories about him.
Haymon was born on April 21, 1955, grew up in Cleveland and graduated from John Adams High School in 1973. Don King graduated from the same school in 1951. King recalls that Haymon’s father was a clergyman and that the promoter made occasional financial contributions to the latter’s church programs.
Haymon’s mother was an accountant. In a rare 1994 interview with Ebony Men, Al recalled, “She was a role model for me to follow because she had built a small business, an accounting practice. It was very successful, and it was hers.”
Haymon excelled in high school and attended Harvard College, where he was on the freshman basketball and varsity rifle teams. He majored in economics and was president of North House (one of 12 undergraduate residences). He was also active in the Afro-American Cultural Center. He promoted his first concert in 1976 during his junior year at Harvard.
Recounting that experience for Ebony Men, Haymon recalled, “I saw a concert that featured Minnie Riperton and Herb Hancock in 1975 between my sophomore and junior years. It seemed like something a person like myself, who had absolutely no money at the time and a lot of ideas, could venture into. So I started calling record companies, calling buildings around town, and trying to introduce myself as a promoter so I could learn about the business and try to find out what was going to be my strategy to enter it. My original plan was to go after acts that weren’t hotly pursued by much bigger competitors. I started with jazz artists. It was difficult because I didn’t have any money. I was basically hustling, pulling money together for these events, and learning at the same time.”
Haymon graduated from Harvard College in 1977. He took a year off from school and, with the help of his mother, continued to build his concert-promotion business. Then he returned to Harvard and, in 1980, graduated from Harvard Business School with a master’s degree in business administration.
In the years that followed, Haymon created more than a dozen companies to coordinate production, advertising, marketing and virtually every other facet of live concert promotion. He made his mark with national tours for superstars like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, M.C. Hammer and Boyz II Men and co-promoted “Eddie Murphy Raw,” which was the highest-grossing comedy tour and centerpiece of the highest-grossing comedy film ever up until that time. In 1992, he told USA Today that during the previous year he’d promoted approximately 500 shows that had grossed $60 million.
Haymon is a complex man. People who’ve done business with him for years know next to nothing about his personal life (which is even more under the radar than his professional one).
“I have no idea how Al processes emotion,” one business associate says. “His tone of voice changes when he’s angry but that’s the only sign I’ve seen.”
By all accounts, Haymon is devoted to his mother, who still lives in Cleveland. He visits her often and treats her well. When one talks with people who’ve done business with him, the following portrait emerges.
“Brilliant … ambitious … driven … a good listener and observer … he soaks things up and synthesizes information well … always two or three steps ahead of everyone else.”
“Persuasive … patient … calculating … manipulative … extremely well-guarded.”
“Sophisticated … charismatic … gracious and charming when he wants to be … good at complimenting people in the little time he spends with them and making them feel good about themselves.”
Haymon is health conscious, eats a lot of chicken and vegetables, and drinks cranberry juice mixed with club soda. “He isn’t a let’s-go-out-for-dinner-together kind of guy,” says someone who has done business with him for years.
He likes classic old movies and good contemporary ones.
In 2002, he established a non-profit corporation called The Black College Scholarship Fund.
Federal election records list Haymon as having contributed money to several Democratic candidates.
He sold the bulk of his concert promotion business to SFX Entertainment in 1999. Then he cast an eye toward boxing.
Haymon’s business plan for Premier Boxing Champions is as tightly guarded as a nation’s nuclear codes. What’s known is that he now conducts his boxing business through a web of corporate entities with different assets, liabilities and functions. These entities include Haymon Boxing LLC, Haymon Sports LLC, Haymon Holdings LLC and Alan Haymon Development Inc.
He hates the unexpected, doesn’t like to delegate authority and micromanages every detail. He gets what he wants and does things the way he wants.
He has a talent for making people he does business with feel that they’re close to him at a given point in time. But except for a core group – Sylvia Browne, Brad Owens, Sam Watson and Mike Ring – they aren’t.
Browne has been with Haymon since he was in business school in the late-1970s. She’s smart, loyal and does much of his administrative work. “Al trusts Sylvia more than he trusts any other person on earth outside of his mother,” one business associate says.
Owens is Browne’s husband and handles myriad logistical chores for Haymon.
Watson interacts with Haymon’s fighters on a regular basis and does what he can as Al’s representative to keep them happy.
Ring, an attorney, functions as Haymon’s de facto chief of staff and interfaces with providers of venture capital, televison networks and other business allies.
When Haymon has a target in the crosshairs of his mind, he’s incredibly focused. He pushes relationships to the brink when negotiating and has a way of leaving people afraid that if they don’t do what he wants, they’re out. But he knows how to close a deal.
Brian Kweder ran ESPN’s boxing program as senior director of programming and acquisitions from late-2013 through January 2016. He’s now a part-time consultant for Haymon.
“Boxing has its share of swindlers, liars and thiefs, “Kweder says. “Al’s word might be hard to get out of him. But once he gives it, he lives up to it. He always kept his word with me.”
There’s a marked contrast between Haymon’s enormous influence in boxing and his studied ghostlike presence. It would be wrong to say that he stays in the background. In most instances, he’s not even in the picture.
Haymon has an aversion to being interviewed by the media and operates largely out of public view. Like a master puppeteer, he pulls strings but seldom allows himself to be seen. He never wanted to be a public figure. Decades ago, he told Ebony Men, “I’m not trying to be a star. I’m trying to be a businessman.”
Tim Struby noted in a recent profile for Playboy that Haymon “shuns publicity and attention like a vampire avoids sunlight.” Very few photographs of him are available. On those rare occasions when someone gets close enough to ask for a selfie, Haymon’s standard response is, “It’s nice to meet you but I don’t take pictures.”
I’m not trying to be a star. I’m trying to be a businessman. – Al Haymon
As for the fights themselves, Haymon rarely watches from ringside, preferring to view the action from a private box or in an office inside the arena on a TV monitor.
Leon Margules, who promotes fights for Haymon, acknowledges, “Sometimes I see Al onsite when I promote one of his shows; sometimes I don’t. I know he’s there.”
“Al values his privacy,” Margules adds. “He doesn’t even like it when people tell nice stories about him.”
Haymon’s aversion to publicity feeds into a collateral issue. He often seems scornful of and even hostile toward the media, particularly the boxing media.
Haymon has an absolute right to not give interviews. But he has gone beyond that. For example, very few members of the boxing media were invited to the January 14, 2015, press conference at NBC that launched Premier Boxing Champions.
Dan Rafael, perhaps the most widely read boxing journalist in the world, was among the uninvited. “I know Al doesn’t like me,” Rafael says. “And that’s fine. There are people I don’t like either. But I do my job as best I can and expect that basic professional courtesy will be extended to me. And I don’t get that from Al.”
Greg Bishop, now with Sports Illustrated, was on staff at The New York Times when he began researching a story on Haymon in 2011. “I tried to introduce myself to him twice,” Bishop recalls. “Each time, he said, ‘Hey, nice to see you’ and turned away to talk to someone else.”
Dozens of people whom Bishop called either declined comment or failed to return his telephone calls. An attorney for Haymon went so far as to send a cease-and-desist letter to the Times while Bishop was researching his article.
But it’s not just the media that finds Haymon elusive. He often pulls people in and pushes them away as serves his purposes.
Jim Thomas is best known in boxing circles as the attorney who guided Evander Holyfield through the most profitable years of Holyfield’s ring career.
“I had one dealing with Al,” Thomas recalls. “I called him. He answered his cell phone. I said, ‘Hi, this is Jim Thomas. I don’t know if you know who I am.” And before I could get another word out, Al said, ‘How could anyone in boxing not know who Jim Thomas is?’ He was very gracious. I told him what I was interested in. Al said, ‘Let me look at that and get back to you.’ And that was it. I never heard from him again. Al never answered his phone when I called again and none of my calls were ever returned.”
Greg Cohen was Austin Trout’s promoter when Trout brought Haymon in as an advisor.
“At the beginning, it was good,” Cohen says. “Al opened a lot of doors for us at the premium cable networks. Speaking from personal experience, he made me feel as though I was on his team. We only met in person once. That was at the W hotel in Times Square before Austin fought Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden (on December 1, 2012). But we spoke on the phone regularly. Al is accessible when he wants to be. And then it got ugly. The moment Al didn’t need me anymore, he cut me off.”
“When Al wants you to, you can talk with him,” says Gary Shaw, who, in the past, promoted some of Haymon’s fighters. “But you can’t reach Al when he doesn’t want to be reached and that’s extremely frustrating when you’re doing business together. You can’t even email Al directly. You email Sylvia Browne, who presumably gives the message to Al. But Al can always say he never got it. He makes you feel like a million dollars until he doesn’t.”
Haymon’s unavailablilty is an instrument of control. He seems to prefer control to equal partnerships.
“Even when I was the promoter of record,” Greg Cohen says, “there were times when I felt like a spectator.”
“Al is a control freak,” says another promoter who has worked extensively with Haymon. “He hates the unexpected, doesn’t like to delegate authority and micromanages every detail. He gets what he wants and does things the way he wants. More than a few times – and I’m paraphrasing now – Al has said to me, ‘Look, that’s the way it has to be.’”
Given the industries that Haymon is in (television and boxing), there’s remarkably little transparency in the way he conducts business. A source with knowledge of the relationship between Haymon and NBC says that NBC executives asked to see the PBC business plan and he declined to show it to them. One NBC executive complained, “He won’t give us simple information that two people transacting business together would normally exchange with one another.”
Promoters who have worked with Haymon – and in some instances still work with him – voice similar sentiments:
- “Al doesn’t tell you what he doesn’t want you to know. And if he doesn’t want you to know something, he’s pretty good at keeping you from finding out.”
- “In the end, it’s Al who puts the pieces together. And the way he sets things up, we don’t even know what the pieces are.”
- “Sometimes the only person who knows what Al is doing is Al. And he leaves surprisingly few fingerprints for a man of his influence and power.”
- “If Al’s plane went down tomorrow, it would be a mess beyond belief.”
Also, there’s an interesting contradiction between Haymon’s low-profile persona and another aspect of his personality.
“For a guy who obsesses about flying under the radar, Al has a huge ego,” one business associate notes. “It’s not about what other people think of him. Al couldn’t care less what the rest of the world thinks except for the handful of people he respects. It’s about what he thinks of himself.”
And a final thought to contemplate until Part II of “What we know about Al Haymon” is posted tomorrow.
Bela Szilagyi was a concert pianist who loved boxing. He and his wife amassed a video archive of fights that were televised between 1979 and 2015. To supplement their income, they sold copies of the videos to TV networks, promoters, managers and others who needed to study a particular fighter or fight.
Sylvia Browne and Brad Owens often ordered videos from the Szilagyis. Many of these videos were of prospective opponents for Haymon’s fighters. But they also ordered a highlight reel of knockouts followed by victorious fighters proclaiming “I want to thank Al Haymon.”
Hauser is a consultant with HBO Sports.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – A Hurting Sport – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism.
Al Haymon’s first view of boxing was through the eyes of his older brother.
Bobby Haymon was a journeyman welterweight who fought from 1969 to 1978 and compiled a record of 20-8-1 (8 knockouts). In the last fight of his career, he was stopped in three rounds by a young prospect named Sugar Ray Leonard. Al is said to still be resentful over the way his brother was treated by the lords of boxing.
The first fighter Haymon managed was Vernon Forrest.
It’s a long way from those early days to where Haymon is today.
The cornerstone of Haymon’s empire in boxing was a relationship that evolved with HBO and, in particular, with Kery Davis (the network’s point person on boxing from the turn of the millennium until June 2013). Through Davis, Haymon received lucrative paydays for his fighters, sometimes against overmatched opponents. And equally important, HBO allowed Haymon to control the promotional process for many of these fights.
Haymon worked with a half dozen different promoters. But despite their involvement, he often dealt directly with HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg and Davis during contract negotiations while the promoter of record was limited to doing basic nuts-and-bolts work on the fight. Because of his relationship with HBO, Haymon rarely had to give a promoter long term contractual rights to any of his fighters. The promoter had little more than a handshake and Haymon’s word that he had a future with a particular fighter. That gave Haymon enormous leverage over promoters in terms of how income generated from each fight was split. Promoters put up with this arrangement because, over the years, HBO was remarkably generous when giving out dates and paying license fees for fights involving Haymon’s fighters.
“The big money in boxing is at the top,” says promoter Gary Shaw. “I stood in line like everyone else. Al would say, ‘You’re my guy on this fighter. No, you can’t have that one; someone else is my guy with him.’ Then Al would negotiate the deal with HBO and tell the promoter what the promoter was getting paid. And we bought into it because we needed the dates. Meanwhile, I wasn’t making money. Al kept telling me, ‘Next time, next time.’ And next time never came.”
Then Haymon settled on a favored promoter – Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy. And Floyd Mayweather, who was a Haymon client, became a superstar. That took things to a new level. Haymon leveraged his Mayweather power to exact further concessions from the premium cable television networks. And he was able to sign fighters from 135 to 154 pounds by telling them, “You’re in the Floyd Mayweather sweepstakes.”
But Haymon’s success wasn’t inextricably tied to Mayweather. He was building for a future after “Money” and kept the corporate entities that he controlled largely free of obligations to Floyd. Even today, most things Mayweather are separate and apart from the PBC brand.
Al puts his fighters first … I don’t know a single fighter who’s unhappy with Al. I know I have no complaints with the way Al has treated me.
The first indication that Haymon was planning to challenge the established order in boxing came when he began signing managerial and advisory contracts with a massive number of fighters. Ironically, when Haymon first aligned with Golden Boy and the promotional company was stepping up efforts to add to its own roster of fighters, Haymon had quipped, “Sometimes Richard and Oscar get that Pac-Man mentality where they have to gobble everything up.”
Now Haymon was gobbling everything up, an estimated 200 fighters. That was far beyond anything HBO and Showtime could accommodate.
Then Haymon’s master plan began to take shape.
On January 14, 2015, NBC announced that it had entered into an agreement providing for 20 Premier Boxing Champions telecasts in 2015 (five on NBC on Saturday nights, six on NBC on Saturday afternoons and nine in prime time on NBC Sports Network). But it wasn’t a traditional licensing-fee deal. Instead, Haymon was buying the time from the network, would be responsible for most costs associated with the telecasts and would recoup his expenditures as best he could by selling advertising himself.
On Jan. 22, a similar agreement with Spike was announced; only here, Spike was to cover approximately $350,000 in expenses in conjunction with each telecast.
The announcement of time buys on CBS (February 17), Bounce TV (March 2) and ESPN (March 18) followed.
The ESPN deal was a $16 million time buy that ran over a two-year period with Haymon having an option to extend the contract for another six months for an additional $4 million. The shows were to run in prime time on ESPN with at least two Saturday afternoon shows on ABC. ESPN would foot the bill for production.
The ESPN deal was particularly significant for two reasons. First, ESPN is a pipeline to the brain of virtually every sports fan in America. And second, it meant that the long-running ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” series would end.
On Aug. 4, Fox Sports announced an agreement pursuant to which Premier Boxing Champions would be the exclusive boxing provider for Fox Sports 1. There were to be 21 Tuesday-night shows from Sept. 8 through June 28, 2016, with the shows being simulcast on Fox Deportes. On Oct. 18, 2015, Fox announced that there would be three prime time PBC telecasts on its broadcast network in 2016 (Jan. 23, March 12, and July 16).
At this point, Haymon had more networks than some promoters have fighters. And he’d established a sweetheart relationship with Showtime, which was continuing to pay substantial license fees for Haymon fights (although without PBC branding).
The time buys allowed Haymon to bypass normal media filters in delivering his boxing programming to the public. He no longer had to cajole network television executives into giving him dates. He had bought them.
Meanwhile, Haymon was also spending on other fronts.
On March 10, 2015, Warriors Boxing (a stand-in for Haymon) won a purse bid for the IBF 168-pound title fight between James DeGale and Andre Dirrell for a far-above-market bid of $3.1 million. That signaled PBC’s intention to control title bouts for its fighters whenever possible.
At the same time, Haymon reached out through an intermediary to make a two-year contract offer to Michael Buffer. The proposed deal would have been exclusive insofar as Buffer’s boxing work was concerned. The Hall of Fame ring announcer would attend approximately 24 Premier Boxing Champions shows per year, tape announcements for others and allow Haymon to use his “let’s get ready to rumble” trademark in conjunction with the promotion of PBC telecasts. In return, he would receive $1 million for the first year of the contract and $1.1 million for the second.
Then the offer was withdrawn. A source close to the situation says that the idea was nixed in deference to Showtime, which felt Buffer was too closely associated in the public mind with HBO and that the deal would marginalize Jimmy Lennon (Showtime’s own ring announcer).
If I was one of Haymon’s fighters. I’d think he’s Santa Claus. I understand why the fighters love him.
Haymon signs fighters to an “Exclusive Management Agreement” that gives him the exclusive right to render services in securing the boxer’s participation in professional boxing matches, exhibitions, entertainment performances, personal appearances, endorsements and sponsorship opportunities that arise out of the fighter’s boxing career.
In return, Haymon is required to (a) use his “best efforts” to secure remunerative boxing matches for the boxer; (b) advise and counsel the boxer in the overall development of his career; (c) secure proper training facilities and equipment for the boxer; (d) publicize and promote the talents and abilities of the boxer in the media; and (e) attempt to secure commercial endorsements, personal appearances and entertainment opportunites for the boxer.
Haymon often charges 10 or 15 percent of a fighter’s purse for his services. That’s less than the standard manager’s share. Sometimes, he’ll pay an advance (or interest-free loan) to a fighter and only cut the fighter’s purse after the purse reaches a certain level. The advance (or loan) is paid back only when the purses reach a still-higher number.
Many of Haymon’s recent contracts purport to be for a five-year term with Haymon having the option to extend the contract for two more years if the fighter competes in a WBC, WBA, IBF or WBO world championship fight. The contract further provides that the term may be “additionally” extended if the fighter becomes one of the five highest-rated contenders for a championship sanctioned by the WBC, WBA, IBF or WBO. Another clause provides for one more two-year extension if the fighter “enters into a multifight agreement with any television network.” The contract concedes that some or all of these extensions can be invalidated if they’re found to be in violation of state or federal law.
Haymon is widely regarded as “pro-fighter.” His fighters are paid well, often above market value.
“Al puts his fighters first,” says Paulie Malignaggi. “No one puts the fighters first like Al. I don’t know a single fighter who’s unhappy with Al. I know I have no complaints with the way Al has treated me.”
As earlier noted, Haymon has approximately 200 boxers under contract. Fighters can be difficult to satisfy. No matter how good a job a manager or promoter does, there are complaints. But there have been virtually no complaints regarding Haymon’s stewardship from the fighters he controls.
“Acts want to be promoted properly,” Haymon told Ebony Men in 1994. “They want to be exposed to the masses. They want professional productions and proper presentation. I always focused on making sure the artists got what they needed and that they were satisfied and sufficiently taken care of to go out and represent to other artists that I had done a good job because that’s the best reference.”
“Everything that Al promised to me, he delivered,” Floyd Mayweather said last year.
Don King and 50 Cent each took runs at separating Mayweather from Haymon and failed.
“If I was one of Haymon’s fighters,” says a rival promoter, “I’d think he’s Santa Claus. I understand why the fighters love him.”
It’s nice that a capable businessman is representing the best interests of fighters. But it would be wrong to think that Haymon is Mother Teresa. The truth is more nuanced than that.
“I hear all the time that Al is an advocate for what’s best for fighters,” Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated says. “What happened to Lamon Brewster stands in stark contrast to that.”
On April 10, 2004, Brewster knocked out Wladimir Klitschko to become WBO heavyweight champion. His manager at the time was Sam Simon. Then Haymon came calling.
“Haymon wasn’t the power in boxing then that he would become,” Simon said several years ago. “But his modus operandi was pretty much the same. He sought Lamon out and told him, ‘Hey, brother. You look like you could use some good representation from someone who cares about you.’”
Before long, Brewster had left Simon. His initial contract with Haymon called for Alan Haymon Development Inc. to receive seven percent of the first $2 million of each purse and 5 percent thereafter.
Simon was independently wealthy. He had provided Brewster with a house to live in rent-free during the time that he was Lamon’s manager. And he intended to be supportive of Brewster when the fighter’s ring career was done.
On Haymon’s watch, Brewster suffered a detached retina in his left eye in the first round of an unsuccessful April 1, 2006, title defense against Sergei Liakhovich in Cleveland. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, Brewster suffered a detached retina during the fight. But his eye had been injured before the bout. He’d undergone laser eye surgery several weeks prior to the fight and the eye had continued to trouble him.
Boxers who compete in Ohio are required to have an opthalmic examination prior to the fight. “I have the form right in front of me,” Bernie Profato (executive director of the Ohio State Athletic Commission) told this writer five days after Brewster-Liakhovich.
The form revealed that, on March 24, 2006, Brewster was given an opthalmic examination by Dr. Thomas Anthony Baudo in Vero Beach, Florida. Baudo filled out a form entitled “Opthalmological Exam for Professional Boxer.” On that form, under a heading that read “specify abnormalities,” he wrote that Brewster had undergone surgery for a retinal tear and detachment but that his eye was now “stable.” Baudo also wrote, “Mr. Brewster understands the increased risk of RD (retinal damage) when boxing.”
In accordance with Ohio law, Brewster also underwent a general pre-fight physical examination prior to receiving his license. The “Physical Examination Report” for that exam included three questions under the heading “Eye History.” It asked if the applicant (1) had ever experienced blurred vision or (2) ever had a surgical procedure on his eyes or the tissue around his eyes other than simple sutures to the skin around the eyes. And it specifically asked (3) “Has applicant ever been informed by a physician that (he) had significant eye problems such as a retinal detachment, retinal tear, or dislocated lens.”
In each instance, the answer Brewster gave on this examination form was “no.” His history of retinal surgery was covered up.
Haymon, as noted in Part I of this series, is known for micromanaging. It strains credibility to believe that he wasn’t aware of Brewster’s eye problems. Yet one year later Haymon sent Brewster to Germany for his next bout, a rematch against Wladimir Klitschko on July 7, 2007, while Lamon was still on medical suspension in the United States. Two of Brewster’s sparring partners told Keith Idec of the New Jersey Herald News that, prior to fighting Klitschko, Brewster was having difficulty seeing out of his left eye.
Brewster lost every minute of the Klitschko rematch, which was stopped after six rounds. He ended his career as a punching bag for the likes of Gbenga Okoukon and Robert Helenius. He’s now in financial difficulty and legally blind in one eye.
As Haymon’s power has grown, his adversaries have alleged with increasing frequency that his conduct violates federal and state law. The first statute cited in that regard is often the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act.
The Ali Act creates a firewall between managers and promoters. A manager is defined by the act as “a person who receives compensation for service as an agent or representative of a boxer.” A promoter is defined as “the person primarily responsible for organizing, promoting, and producing a professional boxing match.” The act makes it “unlawful for a manager (i) to have a direct or indirect financial interest in the promotion of a boxer; or (ii) to be employed or receive compensation or other benefits from a promoter, except for amounts received as consideration under the manager’s contract with the boxer.”
Haymon purports to be a manager. But he functions as the de facto promoter for virtually all of the shows on which his fighters appear. He negotiates with the television networks, selects most of the fighters who appear on the card, determines purses for the featured fighters and tells the promoter of record how much the promoter will be paid.
“I don’t know how much money was raised, I don’t know how much money was spent and I don’t care,” Leon Margules said of a recent PBC card for which he was the promoter of record. “That’s Al’s job.”
One can argue that the Ali Act was designed to protect fighters and, thus, Haymon’s blurring of the line between managing and promoting is inconsequential. Other legal issues are more problematic.
Haymon seems to be engaging in some of the same questionable practices as other managers and promoters.
For example; Keith Thurman’s purse as reported to the Florida State Athletic Commission in conjunction with his July 11, 2015, PBC fight against Luis Collazo was $1.5 million. But Thurman told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com that Haymon gave him a check for an additional $1.2 million.
The purses filed with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board for the Aug. 15, 2015, PBC fight between Antonio Tarver and Steve Cunningham were listed as $250,000 for each fighter. But Tarver is said to have received a total of $500,000. And a source close to Cunningham says that the fighter was paid an additional $100,000 as an advance.
It’s a constant battle to hold onto your fighters. … All I can tell my guys is, ‘Stay with me. If you do your job in the ring, I’ll get you on HBO. HBO isn’t going to disappear and Haymon might.’
Haymon isn’t the first person in boxing to be mentioned in conjunction with differing sets of contracts and inaccurate filings with state athletic commissions. But if an inaccurate filing occurs, the tax consequences can be significant. And it might affect payments to third parties based on contract percentage splits.
The antitrust issues that surround Premier Boxing Champions are more consequential.
Talking about the American economy in 1960, John F. Kennedy declared, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” But the PBC tide is threatening to sink many of them.
Haymon’s time buys have changed boxing’s economic model and made it increasingly difficult for mid-level promoters to survive. They can develop a prospect to the point where he’s 12-0, and then there’s virtually nowhere they can go to get him on television. Even larger promoters like Main Events lack the resources to buy time on attractive platforms. In the United States, only HBO and Showtime are paying significant license fees for fights. And Showtime does business primarily with Haymon.
In sum, Haymon is changing the structure of the marketplace in a way that’s threatening to drive out competing promoters.
He has also been poaching fighters. Cameron Dunkin manages Terence Crawford. He has lost several fighters to Haymon, including Leo Santa Cruz and Mikey Garcia.
“It’s a constant battle to hold onto your fighters,” Dunkin says. “Haymon has his guys whispering in their ear, ‘Danny Garcia is making more money than you are because he’s with Al and you’re better than Danny Garcia. Al is flying his fighters around in a private jet.’ All I can tell my guys is, ‘Stay with me. If you do your job in the ring, I’ll get you on HBO. HBO isn’t going to disappear and Haymon might.’”
“Haymon is screwing up the marketplace,” Pat English (the attorney for Main Events) says. “That’s for sure.”
On July 1, 2015, Top Rank (Bob Arum’s promotional company) filed suit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Haymon, three companies controlled by Haymon, Waddell & Reed (which has supplied the venture capital for Haymon), and one of Waddel & Reed’s affiliated companies. The suit alleged violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Clayton Antitrust Act, Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act and various California state statutes.
An Oct. 16, 2015, court order dropped the Waddell & Reed defendants from the lawsuit and dismissed many of the claims against the Haymon defendants with leave to amend. On Jan. 6, 2015, the court ruled that Top Rank’s amended complaint was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss and ordered that the litigation proceed to the discovery stage.
On May 5, 2015, Golden Boy and Bernard Hopkins filed a separate lawsuit, also in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, against Haymon, various companies that Haymon controls, Waddell & Reed and Ryan Caldwell (a former Waddell & Reed fund manager). In late-June 2015, Golden Boy dropped Waddell & Reed as a defendant in its lawsuit.
Counsel for Top Rank and Golden Boy have been coordinating their efforts.
Top Rank has served discovery demands on the Haymon defendants and close to a dozen other individuals and corporate entities including Waddell & Reed, Ryan Caldwell, Richard Schaefer and several local promoters that Haymon has been using to promote PBC events. Similar requests for discovery from the television networks that Haymon has been doing business with are expected shortly. To date, Top Rank’s discovery demands (and those of Golden Boy) have been met by a laundry list of objections with the apparent aim of delaying, if not outright obstructing, discovery.
A source close to Haymon says, “So far, Al is resisting discovery. But if discovery really goes forward, he’s going to go after every piece of paper that involves Top Rank’s relationship with Manny Pacquiao. Al takes pride in the fact that his representation of Mayweather is the antithesis of the way Arum has dealt with Pacquiao. And yes, I know that Arum is Pacquiao’s promoter, not his manager, so he has a different fiduciary duty. But that doesn’t relieve him of the obligation to give Pacquiao an honest accounting. And by the way, why should Michael Koncz (Pacquiao’s business advisor) get a free pass?”
This could get ugly.
Meanwhile, the reaction of many in boxing to the ghostlike presence of Al Haymon brings to mind words written by Hughes Mearns more than a century ago:
Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away
The consensus is that Al Haymon is pro-fighter. Whether he’s pro-investor is a separate issue.
Haymon has gotten to where he is in boxing by making alliances with bankers. His first banker was HBO Sports. Showtime filled the void when that relationship ended. Now he has found venture capitalists who are willing to underwrite his plans on an extravagant scale.
Haymon believed that, unlike most sports, boxing can be transformed by a drop in the ocean of water that flows through the venture capital market every day. His plan is based on the premise that there’s a hidden audience for boxing that will watch fights on “free” television in numbers large enough to generate profitable ad sales. In furtherance of this idea, he pursued venture capital from myriad sources and got it from an asset management company called Waddell & Reed.
Bill King of Sports Business Journal began the process of publicly fleshing out the financial muscle behind Haymon’s plans with an analysis of Premier Boxing Champions that was posted on April 20, 2015.
“The struggle began with finding out who to contact in the first place,” King recalls. “You can’t just call Al. I went to the first PBC press conference in New York (on Jan. 14, 2015) which was for a show on NBC. There was a guy from Chicago who was listed as a PR contact so I emailed him. And Ryan Caldwell (of Waddell & Reed) was at the press conference so I started doing research on him.
“My pitch to them,” King explains, “was if PBC is going to be on network TV, we’re a vehicle for you to improve your credibility with network executives and advertisers. And we have a reputation for splitting things down the middle rather than taking sides. Finally, I was told, ‘Come to the first PBC event (in Las Vegas on March 7, 2015) and someone will talk with you.’ My request was to talk with Al but they said that was unlikely. And Al wouldn’t talk with me. All I got from him was a hello and a handshake to acknowledge that he knew who I was.
“I had to do a lot of digging to get the financials,” King continues. “There’s a lot more available now than there was then. Ryan Caldwell agreed to discuss the venture with me but declined to reveal financials.”
King based some of his research on quarterly filings with the Securities Exchange Commission made by an entity called the Ivy Asset Strategy Fund, which Caldwell co-managed for Waddell & Reed. The Ivy Asset Strategy Fund included among its holdings an investment designated as “Media Group Holdings LLC, Series H,” which King confirmed was with Haymon.
Come on, four hundred million dollars? You can’t spend that kind of money, not even in boxing.
“Ivy Asset Strategy’s holdings list,” King wrote in Sports Business Journal, “included a $371.3 million investment in the company. A second Waddell fund, WRA Asset Strategy, listed an investment of $42.2 million. A third fund, Ivy Funds VIP Asset Strategy, showed holdings of $18.5 million. Together they invested $432 million. It is likely other funds run by Waddell also have invested, a source familiar with fund management said, although their positions likely would be smaller.”
King also revealed, “While Caldwell would not discuss funding specifically, he said that Waddell & Reed invested considerably more than Haymon requested in the initial business plan to build a brand and an audience, a proof-of-concept phase that would then enable him to cash in on the rights fees that continue to trend upward across sports.”
“Al said, ‘I think I can pull this off for X,’” Caldwell told King. “And I turned around and said, ‘Absolutely not. It’s X-plus or we don’t do it.’ You have to be capitalized for three to five years to do this, to weather the storm. Because in some regards you’re going to be the irrational player for a while. You’re turning the model completely upside down.”
As noted in Part II of this series, Haymon is paying unusually large purses to fighters. That in and of itself is not a problem. HBO paid above-market license fees to promoters for years to lure fights away from ABC, CBS and NBC. George Steinbrenner paid above-market salaries to free agents to reestablish the New York Yankees dynasty. You spend money to make money.
That said, a conflict of interest seems to be built into Haymon’s methodology. He has a fiduciary duty to the fighters he manages to get them the most money possible. But he also has a fiduciary duty to his investors to cap expenses and maximize their return on investment. After all, this isn’t business as usual but it is business. The idea is to make money for the investors. And right now, Premier Boxing Champions appears to be hemorrhaging money, not making it.
Haymon assumed that income from Premier Boxing Champions telecasts would come initially from multiple sources, including advertising, ticket sales, sponsorships and license fees for foreign rights. His managerial fee is also believed to be part of the revenue stream for investors.
More importantly, Haymon predicted that, after the time buys end, television networks will pay significant license fees for PBC fights. At the moment, that prospect looks bleak.
On May 11, 1977, 48 million viewers watched Ken Norton defeat Duane Bobick in a fight televised by NBC. Four months later, Muhammad Ali triumped over Earnie Shavers in a bout seen by almost 100 million people. Those days are long gone. But even in today’s fractured digital environment, PBC’s ratings have been a disappointment.
PBC’s March 7, 2015, debut telecast on NBC headlined by Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero averaged 3.37 million viewers. That’s a good number but it soon tapered off. When Deontay Wilder fought Johnann Duhaupas on NBC in prime time on Sept. 26, there were 2.18 million viewers. Sports Media Watch noted that this was the smallest audience for a prime-time boxing or MMA event on network television since 2008, a period that included 25 telecasts.
Carlos Acevedo of TheCruelestSport.com further analyzed the numbers and suggested, “Compare that to “American Ninja Warrior,” which aired on NBC two weeks earlier and drew over six million viewers.”
Ratings for Premier Boxing Champions telecasts on CBS, ESPN, Spike, Bounce and Fox have also disappointed. CBS has yet to match the 1.6 million average viewership that Adonis Stevenson vs. Sakio Bika engendered in its initial PBC telecast on April 4, 2015.
When Keith Thurman returned to the airwaves against Luis Collazo on July 11, 2015, to inaugurate PBC boxing on ESPN, the telecast averaged 799,000 viewers.
Spike’s first PBC telecast (Andre Berto vs Josesito Lopez on March 13, 2015) was also its highest-rated, drawing an average of 869,000 viewers. The eight PBC telecasts on Spike since then have fallen short of that mark, hitting bottom with Andrzej Fonfara vs. Nathan Cleverly (315,000 viewers) on Oct. 16. The Los Angeles Times reported that Spike’s PBC numbers were below the numbers for the same Friday-evening slot in 2014, when the network televised “Bellator” mixed martial arts and reruns of “Cops.”
The ratings for PBC telecasts on FoxSports1 have been mediocre, cratering with a Feb. 2, 2016, telecast that averaged 76,000 viewers.
Broadcast television networks and most cable channels are in the business of selling advertising. They contract for time buys when their marketing department says it can’t sell enough ads to make particular programming profitable. In a sense, the time buys are a substitute for bulk ad sales.
As noted by Bill King, the most logical way for Haymon to sell ad time across so many networks is to have one group coordinate the selling. That way, there aren’t six different networks competing against each other to sell the same product.
In that regard, King reported, “To approach the broader sports sponsorship community, PBC hired SJX Partners to create integrated packages that include spots during fights, branding on the ring, digital assets, tickets and hospitality; a package rare in boxing because it has been off advertiser-supported TV for so long. PBC also brought in Bruce Binkow, former chief operating officer of Golden Boy Promotions, to advise it on operational matters and maintain relationships with brands already in the sport.”
But it has been a hard sell.
Sports seasons have expanded and are continuing to expand. The Super Bowl is now played in February. The World Series routinely extends into November. If the 2016 NBA Finals go the distance, the final game will be contested on June 19. And the TV calendar is filled with other high-profile events in sports like tennis and golf. That means there’s no time when boxing is alone on the stage. And advertisers have limited budgets.
It’s easy for TV networks to sell advertising for NFL programming. Ditto for other major sports and events like the Masters and Wimbledon. Advertising for boxing is a hard sell. Ratings are low. Many advertisers don’t want their product associated with the less savory aspects of the sport. And there’s another problem: In most sports, advertisers don’t have to worry about 2-minute knockouts. In boxing, at any moment – BOOM – the fight might end. This contingency makes boxing compelling programming for premium cable networks that are built on subscriptions but it’s a problem for networks that rely on advertising.
Many advertisers don’t want their product associated with the less savory aspects of the sport. And there’s another problem … In boxing, at any moment – BOOM – the fight might end.
Haymon now has the burden of selling advertising for programming that advertisers have resisted for decades. On Feb. 3, 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Television advertising tracking firm Kantar Media said (PBC) collected $12.5 million in total ad revenue from 27 fight telecasts from March through September (2015), an average of $462,963 per show”
That’s a low number.
Moreover, every successful sport sells tickets for its live events and makes good money from those sales. For PBC, on-site ticket sales seem to be an afterthought. PBC sometimes even loses money on the venue once the cost of opening the arena is set against ticket receipts.
“’PBC’ could stand for ‘Premier Boxing Comps,’” Steve Kim of Undisputed Champion Network wrote last year in commenting on Haymon’s practice of giving away tickets to paper the house and employing seat-filling services.
To that, promoter Gary Shaw adds, “They’ve given away so many free tickets to paper the house that it’s become increasingly hard for the rest of us to sell tickets because people are waiting for freebies.”
Meanwhile, the value of Waddell & Reed’s investment in Haymon’s boxing entities is shrinking.
Filings with the Securities Exchange Commission suggest that a total of $528,481,000 was made available to Haymon. As of Dec. 31, 2015, that investment was valued at $82,354,000 – a drop of 84 percent in investment value.
Richard Schaefer understands venture capital and boxing. Also, in the past, the former Swiss banker and one-time CEO of Golden Boy Enterprises worked closely with Haymon.
“I see the numbers,” Schaefer acknowledges. “People say, ‘Al has spent three hundred million dollars. Al has spent four hundred million dollars.’ But those numbers don’t mean the money has been spent. Those numbers are valuations of the assets. Assets can be valued in different ways. Assets can be written down for tax purposes. The value of a (non-monetary) asset like good will can change over time. Come on, four hundred million dollars? You can’t spend that kind of money, not even in boxing.”
In other words, the initial $528 million number could have included non-monetary assets such as fighter contracts and the value of the PBC brand. And the $82 million figure could reflect a downward evaluation of these non-monetary assets in addition to a lessening of cash on hand.
That said, the $82 million valuation as of Dec. 31 is presumed to be less than what Haymon has spent so far. There has been a significant cash burn. A war chest that was intended to underwrite PBC’s operation for three or four years has dramatically diminished. And there are no offsetting revenue streams in sight.
Meanwhile, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, Waddell & Reed has “hit a rough patch.” Investors have withdrawn billions of dollars from its funds and Waddell & Reed stock has dropped from a 12-month high of $51.23 to $25.79 a share as of March 17, 2016.
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum calls Premier Boxing Champions “boxing’s version of a Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme” and has bemoaned the “fact” that “widows and orphans are losing their life savings in this horrible, horrible scheme.”
That characterization seems a bit extreme. Moreover, it’s likely that Haymon’s business plan warned investors that the venture was highly speculative and that they could lose all of their investment.
Still, if hundreds of millions of dollars disappear, not all of the investors will go quietly. An investors suit against Waddell & Reed and the Haymon entities at some point in the future is possible.
It’s not publicly known how Haymon is compensated by the companies under his control, nor is it clear whether any of the money being spent by the companies goes out to third parties and then comes back to him. Neither Haymon nor any of the companies under his control have stated publicly how he is compensated for his work.
The role of Ryan Caldwell, who left Waddell & Reed last year to join Haymon as chief operating officer of PBC and then departed from PBC soon after to form his own asset management company, is also subject to conjecture.
On Feb. 5, 2016, a New York lawyer named Jake Zamansky sent out a press release announcing that his law firm was “investigating the departure of Mr. Caldwell (from Waddell & Reed) and whether the Funds breached duties owed to shareholders.”
Zamansky sounds like a lawyer looking for a plaintiff for a possible class action lawsuit.
It’s not uncommon for an innovative entrepreneur to believe that the prevailing logic in an industry is wrong and should be challenged. Sometimes the entrepreneur is right in that thinking, is wildly successful under a new set of rules and makes hundreds of millions of dollars. And sometimes the entrepreneur fails.
Meanwhile, it’s worth considering the thoughts of one promoter who has been watching Haymon for years:
“I’m not an investment analyst but I know how to count. And so far, the numbers don’t add up. Forget about making a profit. I don’t think Haymon’s investors will get their money back. Everyone agrees that Al isn’t stupid. He’s very smart, a lot smarter than I am. So why is this happening? Follow the money.”
On May 20, 2015, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus, CBS Sports President Sean McManus, Fox Sports President Eric Shank and ESPN President John Skipper discussed the future of broadcast sports in a forum moderated by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. During the Q&A portion of the program, Richard Sandomir of the New York Times asked, “For those of you who do and those of you who don’t associate with Al Haymon on the PBC, how do you think that strategy is going to play out in terms of building interest for boxing?”
Skipper’s answer was direct and to the point: “Last time I checked my XY-axis quadrant, it’s not in the right quadrant.”
Sports entities are valued as businesses in significant measure based on their television contracts. Right now, PBC’s television contracts are showing a lot of red ink. Al Haymon is demonstrating that it’s easier to spend money than it is to make it.
As noted earlier, Premier Boxing Champions was built on the premise that there’s a much broader audience for boxing than the people who watch it on HBO and Showtime. But so far, PBC has failed to find it. Whatever Haymon’s master plan was, it’s not working. As Bart Barry of 15rounds.com recently wrote, “Suddenly boxing is ubiquitous on free television, the last era’s Promised Land. And nobody cares.”
Why is PBC foundering?
For starters, as elaborated upon in Part I of this series, Haymon has created an environment in which there are few checks and balances on his power. That means, when he makes a mistake, it often goes uncorrected.
Seth Abraham, the architect of HBO Sports, put together a leadership team that included Ross Greenburg, Lou DiBella and Mark Taffet. There were occasions when Abraham thought one thing and they thought another.
“When that happened,” Abraham recalled several years ago, “I’d go into Bryant Park, sit down with a cup of cappucino, and ask myself, ‘Why do these very intelligent people have a view that’s different than mine?’ And often – not always, but often – I’d come around to their view.”
“Just because you’re the head of a department doesn’t mean that you have a monopoly on brains,” Abraham continued. “Sometimes you have a monopoly on shortsightedness and stupidity. Leadership is about consensus. If you’re the boss, everybody knows that you’re in charge and that you have the final vote. But you don’t effectively manage an organization by fiat or by ignoring the opinions of the people you’ve chosen to work with you.”
The scheduling of PBC’s fights has also been a problem. There’s no continuity. The date, time, and network for telecasts are often a mystery until late in the process. “Even boxing people don’t know when or where Al’s guys are fighting,” says promoter Gary Shaw.
Haymon’s attitude toward the media has further damaged his cause. He has an absolute right to not talk with the media. But his dismissive stance has been counterproductive.
“Most people in sports who don’t communicate with the press have someone who does it for them,” ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael observes. “Al doesn’t. You can’t get basic facts from PBC, like what weight a fight will be at or how many rounds it will be until they get around to sending it out in some kind of press release. And forget about their communicating with you when you have questions about the larger picture.”
Richard Schaefer, who has been one of Haymon’s staunchest allies over the years, is in accord.
“I would have dealt more openly with the media,” Schaefer says. “A lot of people choose not to talk to the press. Kirk Kerkorian didn’t talk to the press. Jerry Perenchio doesn’t talk to the press. But they have someone who does it for them. If you don’t want to talk to the media and the rest of the outside world, that’s fine. But then you should have someone you trust do it for you.”
Then Schaefer points to another problem.
“I have great respect for Al,” the former Golden Boy Promotions CEO says. “He’s a friend of mine and I admire the way he cares about his fighters. But someone who can put together big TV deals is not necessarily a promoter. I would have promoted much more on site than Al has. He hasn’t done a lot of that and I think that’s one reason there hasn’t been more of a buzz for his fights.”
Al’s biggest problem isn’t that he’s acting like a promoter. … He’s making the fights that he wants to make rather than the fights that people want to see.
During the past year, Haymon has worked with a handful of promoters, Lou DiBella, Leon Margules, Yvon Michel, Tom Brown, Mike Battah and Marshall Kauffman among them.
“Because of the promotional situation,” Schaefer says, “there hasn’t been much continuity and it becomes harder to build the fighters. When Danny Garcia fights at Barclays Center, the promoter is Lou DiBella. Then he fights at Staples Center and the promoter is Tom Brown. Neither promoter feels that he has a long term interest in Danny. And who should the media call when they want to talk about Danny’s next fight? Lou DiBella? Tom Brown? It’s a problem.”
And there’s another problem.
“When you’re working with Al to promote a fight,” says a promoter who has worked with him, “he micromanages so much that you can’t do your job. And the secrecy kills you. You’re watching things unfold and you don’t know how they’re unfolding.”
Despite all the money that Haymon has spent on the production of PBC telecasts, that area too has been wanting. There have been some positive innovations. Haymon eliminated the mob that pours into the ring before and after fights. There are no people inside the ropes shouting, “You da man.” No sanctioning body officials draping T-shirts and phony belts over the combatants. No promoters, managers, commissioners or mistresses jockeying for position in front of the camera.
But many of the gimmicks that PBC experimented with to jazz up its telecasts have fallen flat. The “ref-cam” didn’t show viewers “what the referee sees” because it followed the referee’s forehead, not his eyes. The 36-still-camera-over-the-ring video rig that was supposed to give viewers a moving panoramic view of the action produced visuals that had the feel of a not-very-good video game from the 1980s.
Also, the announcing has been uneven with no continuity from show to show. And for the most part, as noted by Bart Barry, “PBC broadcasting crews have the journalistic integrity of Billy Mays pitching GatorBlade bug bazookas at 3 AM. Their commentary works more like a celebrity endorsement of a product than a description of what happens in the boxing ring. None of them offers commentary to invite even the softest inference of disloyalty to Al Haymon.”
In some respects, the May 2, 2015, megafight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao also undermined Premier Boxing Champions. There was no PBC branding during fight week. And PBC didn’t have a direct financial interest in the bout. But Haymon was counting on the fight to give his vision a boost. It was an important piece of the puzzle that he was putting together.
On the plus side, some powerful people and institutions made a lot of money off Mayweather-Pacquiao and feel beholden to Haymon. Also, Haymon had thousands of tickets and rooms at the MGM Grand that he could give to PBC investors, sponsors, television executives and fighters. And most important, Haymon could tell investors, “This fight is grossing a half billion dollars. We might be losing millions of dollars now. But stay the course and there will be paydays like this for us in the future.”
But there was a downside for Haymon in the way that Mayweather-Pacquiao unfolded. The fight soured a lot of people on boxing. Viewers felt suckered after buying the pay-per-view telecast and many people became aware for the first time that boxing’s poster boy had multiple criminal convictions on his record for physically abusing women. That made it more difficult for Haymon to attract advertisers for Premier Boxing Champions and, in some ways, left boxing less well off than before.
Haymon’s plans also hit a snag when he lost the ability to work with Schaefer and Golden Boy as the primary promotional vehicle for his fighters. Haymon appears to have coordinated with Schaefer in an effort to buy out Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy’s other major shareholders (AEG and the Brener family). But that plan fell apart when De La Hoya refused to sell. After buy-out negotiations failed, Schaefer resigned from Golden Boy. Then, on June 16, 2014, Golden Boy instituted an arbitration proceeding against him, claiming $50 million in damages. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount and, per terms of the settlement, Schaefer was precluded from working with Haymon on boxing matters for an undisclosed period of time.
In 2015, Bruce Binkow, Raul Jaimes, Nicole Sparks, Armando Gaytan and Araceli Villegas (each of whom had worked previously with Schaefer at Golden Boy) formed a company called Integrated Sports Marketing LLC to coordinate sponsorships, foreign sales, on-site set-ups and drug testing for Haymon. None of them has Schaefer’s overall business expertise.
In the end though, the primary reason that Premier Boxing Champions has fallen short of expectations is the quality of the fights that Haymon has given the public.
The PBC telecasts have had every ingredient imaginable. … The only ingredient they haven’t thrown in is good fights.
One of the benefits that fight fans expected as PBC took shape was that Haymon’s control over an extensive fighter roster would guarantee good fights. The PBC website promises “today’s best and brightest stars in their toughest, most anticipated bouts.”
Brian Kweder, who ran ESPN’s boxing program as it transitioned to PBC, says, “Ending ‘Friday Night Fights’ was bittersweet. We’d had a long run and a loyal fan base. But ESPN is a top sports site and it didn’t compute that we had what was essentially minor league boxing.”
But to date, too many PBC fights have been minor league. Bart Barry puts the matter in perspective when he says, “The PBC telecasts have had every ingredient imaginable. Special ring-walk music, rotating cameras, monster display boards. It’s like they’re making a cake. Flour, sugar, butter, chocolate. Wait! Here’s a chili pepper. Let’s throw that in too. The only ingredient they haven’t thrown in is good fights.”
Looking at year one, the Premier Boxing Champions website lists 55 televised fight cards that were contested between March 7, 2015, and March 5, 2016. Virtually none of these were “must see viewing” or “water-cooler fights.” Some weren’t even credible match-ups.
Haymon has a well-deserved reputation for putting his favored fighters in soft. To be entertaining over the long run, boxing needs competitive fights. In that regard, one promoter associated with PBC notes, “Al’s biggest problem isn’t that he’s acting like a promoter. It’s that he’s not acting enough like a promoter. He has all the control and he’s protecting too many of his guys by putting them in easy. He’s making the fights that he wants to make rather than the fights that people want to see.”
Overall, Haymon’s PBC match-ups have been disappointing on paper and, where it counts most, in the ring.
Matchmaking isn’t rocket science. Fans were looking forward to Leo Santa Cruz vs. Abner Mares. It was the kind of fight that viewers once saw regularly on ‘Boxing After Dark’ when Lou DiBella was HBO’s boxing guru. And there have been other anticipated PBC match-ups. Danny Garcia vs. Lamont Peterson, Amir Khan vs. Chris Algeri and Adrien Broner vs. Shawn Porter come to mind. Sometimes an underdog surprises, as Krzysztof Glowacki did against Marco Huck.
But Haymon has diluted his own product. In Greg Bishop’s words, “He’s saturating the market with borderline unwatchable fights.”
Hall of Fame matchmaker Teddy Brenner once proclaimed, “Fights make fights.”
But on PBC, each fight seems like a one-off. There’s no continuity from show to show and no natural progression toward fights of greater importance. Viewers are consigned to watching what seems like the endless first round of what could have been an exciting tournament.
In sum, for all the money that Haymon has spent, he has delivered an ordinary product. And with multiple fight cards on television week after week, boxing fans have become more discriminating about what they watch. PBC fighters have had a lot of air time over the past year. By and large, they’ve failed to impress.
Years ago, I received an email from a reader. I’ll paraphrase what he wrote:
“I work in a marketing department. And one of the things I’ve learned is that you can package things and market them as good quality whether they are or not. You can sell perfume that smells bad. You can sell clothes that are ugly. The one thing you cannot sell is bad sports programming. Sports fans know whether they’re being entertained or not.”
Premier Boxing Champions isn’t entertaining the public. Certainly not the general public. Too many of its telecasts are like concert warm-up acts. If Al Haymon had promoted concerts that were of the same quality as his fights, he never would have become a giant in the music business.
Richard Schaefer once observed, “In boxing, money alone doesn’t bring success.”
Al Haymon is still boxing’s most influential power broker. But he’s learning that trying to control and restructure the sweet science is like nation building in Iraq. Early victories are no guarantee of long term progress.
Haymon had the means to shape the presentation of Premier Boxing Champions any way he wanted to in building a brand. But PBC has failed to make new fans or energize old ones. It lacks an identity in the public mind.
The initial curiosity of boxing fans with regard to PBC has turned to indifference. “I’m on social media every day,” ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael says. “And let me tell you, there’s no buzz now for PBC. There was at the start but it’s gone.”
As previously noted, Haymon has approximately 200 fighters under contract. But very few of them are A-list guys. Not a single fighter on ESPN’s Top-10 pound-for-pound list is a PBC fighter. Outside of Deontay Wilder, it’s hard to think of a PBC fighter who has a greater following or is more marketable now than he was a year ago. That might change with Errol Spence Jr. But the rest of Haymon’s “stars” are trading on the interest that was engendered in them when they fought on HBO or Showtime.
Haymon’s grand plan is turning out to be not so grand. There are times when PBC evokes the image of a giant elephant lumbering downhill toward a pit of quicksand.
“We know it can’t go on like this,” says a rival promoter. “Al is skating on thin ice and some of us wouldn’t mind if it breaks.”
“It’s an uphill battle for Al now,” Schaefer acknowledges. “A lot of things will have to change for PBC to work. But you learn from your mistakes. You keep doing what worked and cut back on what didn’t work. I believe in Al and I believe that PBC can still be successful.”
But what’s the fallback plan? And what is Haymon’s current mindset? Crisis? Confidence?
Rafael says that Haymon’s contract with NBC and his contract with ESPN called for him to pay each network in advance on a yearly basis ($20 million per year for NBC and $8 million per year for ESPN) but, when Haymon closed a deal with Fox Sports 1 in mid-2015, it called for monthly payments and he declined to give them a letter of credit for the full amount.
The first few months of 2016 were slower than expected. The “monthly” PBC shows on Spike turned out to be not monthly.
We know it can’t go on like this. Al is skating on thin ice and some of us wouldn’t mind if it breaks.
On March 1, 2016, Rafael reported, “ESPN’s first Premier Boxing Champions card of 2016 was initially scheduled for January. Then the card was delayed until April 2, when it was to be televised in the afternoon on ABC with a second card scheduled for April 30 in prime time on ESPN. Two more shows were scheduled for ESPN in May. PBC, however, has pushed back the start until June. In all, there are seven PBC (shows) on ESPN to end the first season even though the series was announced last year as a monthly series (12 shows a year for two years). The last PBC on ESPN card was on Nov. 25.”
And there was no public explanation for the change in plans, which might lead one to believe that PBC is tightening the purse strings because it has been losing an alarming amount of money.
PBC is also cutting back on TV production expenses. The staging has become less elaborate. Fewer people are traveling to the shows. Less money is being spent on on-air talent than at the start.
And Haymon has started sending PBC fighters outside of the PBC universe. Dominic Wade and Amir Khan (both under contract to Haymon) have been offered up as presumptive sacrificial lambs for Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez on April 23 (HBO World Championship Boxing) and May 7 (HBO-Pay-Per-View) respectively. Should Wade or Khan win, it would be good for them and good for Haymon. But the move takes the burden of paying for their fights off of Haymon’s shoulders.
Haymon’s interaction with the world sanctioning organizations is also of interest. At one point, he was said to be considering walking away from the sanctioning bodies and crowning his own PBC champions. But he has made his accommodations with them.
Recent maneuvering in the heavyweight division has been intriguing in that regard. At present, Tyson Fury is widely seen as having the most credible claim to the heavyweight throne by virtue of his Nov. 28, 2015, victory over Wladimir Klitschko. Haymon “advises” WBC beltholder Deontay Wilder and IBF beltholder Charles Martin.
Multiple sources say that Haymon tried to make a title unification bout between Wilder and Martin but the WBC refused to release Wilder from his obligation to fight mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin. Then, in a further effort to protect Wilder, an overture was made to Team Povetkin to see if the Russian would fight Martin instead but the Povetkin camp said no.
Wilder vs. Povetkin then went to a purse bid that was won by Russian promoter Andrey Ryabinsky. The bout is tentatively scheduled for May 21 in Moscow. At the same time, Haymon stepped out of the PBC bubble again to match Charles Martin against Anthony Joshua in London on April 9. The fight offers life-changing money for Martin. It also offers Haymon the opportunity to trade up for a continuing interest in Joshua and cultivate a relationship with Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn.
But at the end of the day, Haymon doesn’t want to be dependent on networks and promoters that he doesn’t control. So what might he do within his own universe?
The people who want Al to fail aren’t rooting for boxing.
Let’s start with the understanding that Haymon can’t change what he ate for dinner last night, let alone undo the past year. But he can change direction in the future.
Premier Boxing Champions needs more continuity in scheduling than it has had during the past year. Right now, many prospective viewers don’t know when or where to find PBC fights.
There should be more emphasis on ESPN, which is a portal to mainstream sports fans in a way that the other PBC networks aren’t.
Schaefer’s absence from the mix has been curious. It was widely expected that he would join forces with Haymon when the contractual limitations imposed by his settlement with Golden Boy expired last summer. That hasn’t happened, perhaps because Schaefer’s involvement with PBC at the present time is considered too risky in light of the ongoing lawsuits against Haymon.
Schaefer recently told this writer, “There are a number of things, including some real estate deals, that I’m working on now. But I’d be interested in coming back into boxing someday. I’m observing what’s going on to see if, when and how I want to come back; not to come back for a year or two, but to build something for the long term.”
Schaefer also made the point, “Al is the captain of the ship. But for a ship this big, you have to delegate responsibility for the ship to be run right.”
But most important, Haymon has to give the public better fights. In some respects, he has been remarkably tone-deaf. And nowhere has that been more evident than in the fights he has made.
The ratings show that sports fans haven’t bought into Premier Boxing Champions as a brand. Whether or not they watch a given PBC telecast depends on who’s fighting.
“Boxing After Dark,” in its early years, had the buzz and brand that PBC should be trying to duplicate. Before HBO started using “BAD” as a favor bank for promoters and as a vehicle to “build” fighters through one-sided match-ups, it featured the most competitive, risky, entertaining fights that the network could buy.
“You can’t reinvent boxing,” promoter Gary Shaw says. “Boxing is two guys in the ring putting on what you hope is a great fight. Everything else, all the bells and whistles, is secondary to that.”
Schaefer concurs, acknowledging, “One thing Oscar always said that I agree with is the best should fight the best. If I were Al, I would make fewer fights. The schedule is too cluttered now. And I would try to make bigger fights with the best fighting the best.”
It’s not rocket science. Schedule a fight that shapes up as an entertaining match-up and more people will watch.
The indications are that Haymon still has tens of millions of dollars in his war chest. He should use that money to make the best, most exciting fights he can make. If a fighter goes in tough and loses, PBC can bring him back any way it wants.
Two upcoming PBC telecasts offer a contrast in programming philosophy.
Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter is scheduled for June 25 on CBS and is paired with Abner Mares vs. Jesus Cuellar. That shapes up as an entertaining card. At the other end of the spectrum, an April 29 telecast on Spike features Anthony Dirrell vs. Caleb Truax and Andre Dirrell vs. Blake Caparello in what are expected to be unattractive lopsided fights.
There have been – and continue to be – too many “nobody cares” PBC fights.
And wouldn’t Thurman-Porter be even more exciting if viewers knew that the winner was slated to fight the winner of an equally high-profile match-up? Tournaments and playoffs work in every other sport. Why can’t PBC match winners against winners and its best against its best?
Also, it’s worth noting that Thurman vs. Porter will be labeled “Showtime Boxing on CBS.” The Showtime commentating team will call the action and Jimmy Lennon will be the ring announcer. That’s because the Showtime brand is expected to attract more advertisers and viewers than the PBC brand. That exemplifies the failure of the PBC brand to date.
Meanwhile, all of the issues discussed above should be viewed within the framework of an overriding question: Is Al Haymon good for boxing?
Boxing is a sport ruled by predators who follow no rules except those that are in their own self-interest. At their worst, they’re like pirates on an ocean where fate is determined by the survival of the fittest. The powers that be in the sport created the conditions that made Haymon’s rise possible. In many instances, their incompetence has been breathtaking and their greed shortsighted.
When Premier Boxing Champions was launched, boxing fans gave Haymon the benefit of the doubt and wanted to believe in him. He positioned himself as a reformer who was going to make the sweet science more popular and more equitable. He was looking at problems that other people only complained about and trying to solve them. He challenged the status quo and the sense of entitlement that too many promoters, sanctioning body officials, network executives and others have.
“The people who want Al to fail,” says Lou DiBella, “aren’t rooting for boxing.”
But to date, Haymon has done nothing to improve the entertainment value of the sport. And his time-buy model (which he says is transitional) is not self-sustaining.
When one looks at Haymon’s history in boxing, he left HBO worse off than when he found it. He left Golden Boy worse off than when he found it. Promoters like Lou DiBella are less powerful now than when they began doing business with him.
Haymon is in the spotlight now whether he likes it or not. He’s said to be looking at an initial term of three to four years before evaluating the overall success of his effort. He might not get that far. And even if PBC survives, it’s unlikely to achieve the UFC-type domination that Haymon once envisioned.
Fox wanted to say, “We have all the UFC that’s on free television.” No one will pay hundreds of millions of dollars to say, “We have all the PBC that’s on free television.”
Mike Borao (the manager of record for Charles Martin) likens evaluating Premier Boxing Champions to critiquing a painting by Picasso: “You evaluate it when the work is done; not halfway through its creation.”
Schaefer also cautions that time is necessary, saying, “When you start a new business like this with plans that are as ambitious as Al has, you need time to succeed. If someone had judged Golden Boy after one year, we weren’t nearly as good as we became later on.”
But a television executive who has been involved with sports for decades says. “If a transition to advertiser-supported networks paying large license fees was Al’s plan, then Al was delusional. Those networks aren’t interested in building boxing. If lightning strikes, fine. But right now, they’re selling a time-buy; that’s all. The only reason they’re carrying Al’s boxing programming is that he’s paying them to do it.”
If the advertiser-supported networks that Haymon is doing business with now decide to license fights in the future, Haymon is likely to hear, “We’re not paying you what you were paying us.” And even then, there’s no guarantee that they’ll buy fights from Haymon as opposed to another promoter.
If Premier Boxing Champions fails to live up to expectations, Haymon will still have the wherewithal to be a force in boxing. But he doesn’t just want a place at the table. He already has that. He wants to dominate. Maybe he’ll pull a rabbit out of a hat. But right now, it looks as though he was wiser in raising money than he has been in spending it. And if Haymon’s fallback plan is some sort of subscription channel or pay-per-view model, that won’t be good for fans.
You can’t reinvent boxing. Boxing is two guys in the ring putting on what you hope is a great fight. Everything else, all the bells and whistles, is secondary to that.
There may come a time when the money gets tight. If that day comes, will PBC be like musical chairs with some fighters being thrown out of the game? Or will the band stop playing altogether?
If Haymon’s grand plan falls apart, how will the pieces realign?
One or more of the companies that comprise Haymon’s corporate organizational chart could survive in some form if he wants them too. Also, there are rumors that Richard Schaefer will return to boxing as early as next month in a leadership role with Mayweather Promotions. That would open the door for some interesting synergy between Schaefer and Haymon, particularly if Mayweather fights again.
HBO and Showtime could continue doing what they already do. ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” was a small but respected brand and could be revived. Other cable networks might be drawn to the sweet science on a small scale, as they have been in the past. The broadcast networks might utilize inexpensive boxing telecasts as cost-efficient counter-programming against major events on other networks.
Also, let’s not forget: The broadcast networks got out of boxing a long time ago. If PBC fails, Haymon isn’t chasing them out of something that they were in before he came on the scene.
So let’s close for now with a final thought on Al Haymon.
“Al is smart, very smart,” says someone who has done business with him for years. “But the rest of us aren’t all stupid. And I’ll tell you something else. Maybe Al isn’t as smart as people think he is. And when it comes to boxing, maybe Al doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows.”
Who we are when we’re young shapes who we are as we grow older.
Dr. Enrico Melson graduated from the University of California at Irvine with a medical degree in 1982. Since then, he has served in a variety of positions, drawing in particular on his expertise in holistic medicine and other indigenous healing practices.
Dr. Melson was a young man with a dream when he began his journey from the mean streets of Los Angeles to a different world. In September 1973, he arrived at Harvard, where he was assigned to room with another freshman who had a background similar to his own: Alan Haymon.
Dr. Melson’s memories of Al Haymon follow:
“Let me start with how I met Alan. It was freshman week and we were assigned to be roommates in Comstock dormitory, room 310, in Radcliffe Yard. It was an experiment in coed education with young men and women living in the same dorm. Being the guy that I was – a burgeoning ladies man coming out of the Los Angeles ghetto – that was fine with me. Alan and I had that in common to start with. He came out of Cleveland. I came out of Watts and Compton, so we could relate on that level.
“I met Alan as we were moving in. He and his family were bringing in his belongings. I had a cousin who was also attending Harvard as a freshman and my cousin and I thought maybe we could get Alan to switch. Alan was cool with the idea if he could get a single room instead of a double. As luck would have it, there was an available single room about the size of a lady’s closet down the hall.
“I helped Alan carry his belongings down the hall and it was an experience. He looked like Superfly with a big Afro. And he had platform shoes of all types. Green glitter platform shoes, silver platform shoes, boxes and boxes of platform shoes. And I found out later that he had a blue Cadillac de Ville with an off-white top that he’d drive around looking for a parking space. It was always a challenge to find parking in Cambridge. But there must have been some money in the family if he had a car of his own. I know, when I got my first financial aid check, I sent it home to my family. And I stayed in the dorms over Christmas my freshman year to save the money it would have cost to fly back to California.
“I met Alan’s family the day we moved in. They seemed like a strong, upright, cohesive family unit. His parents were proud of him but they were proud of his brother and sister too. I remember, his brother was a professional boxer. His sister was kind of quiet but that could have been the circumstances. So Alan had something that I’d never had; an intact family that brought him to Harvard, figuratively and literally. My father didn’t get to Harvard until I graduated four years later. And my mother couldn’t make it to my graduation because she was in an intensive care unit with a gunshot wound.
“Alan had gifts as an athlete. He liked to party. He was a good dancer. He was brilliant.
“The fight against apartheid in South Africa and the struggle to free Nelson Mandela were issues at the time. Alan wasn’t a political activist but he was clear in his support. He was at Harvard to learn how to do business and I was there to save the world. But we got along.
“There was a lot of polarization at Harvard in those days, black vs. white. There were young black men who were predicted by the conventionalists as being unlikely to make it through Harvard because they refused to assimilate. Alan was one of those who refused to assimilate. So was I. The issue wasn’t whether we were smart enough to make it. It was whether we would fold ourselves into the assimilation pool. We could hold onto our blackness or we could swing over to the establishment side. A lot of the black students wanted to join the elite. They wanted to become the next generation of bankers and politicians and rulers of the system. And believe me, when you’re coming from the underclass and an oppressed minority, survival in that cultural environment is an issue, not just in the classroom but emotionally too.
“Alan wanted to succeed in the business world and keep his identity. He was a brother who stood in both worlds and never sold out. He had a strong personality that enabled him to survive at Harvard and stay true to himself. He chose not to abandon his cultural identity. He never sacrificed his core. He was at Harvard but he had his own style and lifestyle. ‘Look at me. This is who I am. The streets of Cleveland are in me.’ He was bold. He had a strong will. Like the rest of us, he was wrestling with the issue of who he was and what kind of person he wanted to be. But he was never arrogant or unkind.
“Even then, he was driven. In our junior year, I started to hear the term “an Alan Haymon production” on the radio. I thought that was pretty cool. By Alan’s senior year, he was mentoring some of the younger students like George Jackson (who later produced “New Jack City”). I remember George telling me during my last year at Harvard that his role model was Alan Haymon.
“None of it came easily. About 15 years ago, I heard from a classmate that Alan was going through some hard times emotionally and battling depression. That comes sometimes with the pressures of fame and success on the level that Alan has had. From what I was told, it was a dark time and he had to rebuild emotionally. But he seems to have done that successfully and it’s to his credit that he did.
“So that’s what I remember about Alan. He had a sense of destiny about what he wanted to do and he did it. It’s remarkable to actualize that kind of ambition. I respect and admire who he is and everything that he has accomplished.”