Fights in Front of Fans Test Boxing’s Business in the Pandemic Era

“My brother is the one holding the mitts, but it’s still my dad right there,” Santa Cruz said. “Family always wants the best for you.”

Still, Davis is the fight’s A-side: a fast, elusive power puncher with his own compelling back story. His coach, Calvin Ford, started coaching at a boxing gym in Baltimore after serving a 10-year prison sentence. Davis started training with Ford as a grade-schooler, but the boxer’s circle now includes celebrities like Drake and mentors like Floyd Mayweather.

Normally those story lines, and two aggressive fighters, might combine to support ticket and pay-per-view sales. And Davis’s promoters point to his string of sold-out fights in cities like Baltimore and Carson, Calif., as evidence that they needed to open Saturday’s event to paid spectators.

The difference now is that those fights took place before the pandemic disrupted live sports, and forced limited crowds in the rare instances when they were allowed. San Antonio is in Bexar County, which has averaged 201 new coronavirus cases per day over the past two weeks, about 10 cases per 100,000 residents, but the promoters got approval for thousands of fans anyway.

Davis last fought in December, earning a 12th round technical knockout against Yuriorkis Gamboa, a veteran fighter from Cuba.Since then, live events and industries that require physical gathering, like bars and movie theaters, have struggled amid government restrictions, and the economy has had difficulty rebounding.

And the boxing pay-per-view market was already under pressure. February’s heavyweight rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder attracted a reported 850,000 pay-per-view buys, plus 300,000 more online sales. Those figures more than doubled the reported number of buys for their first fight, but still fell short of the 2 million buys the fight’s co-promoter, Bob Arum, had predicted.

Espinoza acknowledged the pandemic had altered the household budgets of boxing fans. And, he said, restrictions on public gatherings have meant that the usually thriving market for theaters and sports bars has “all but disappeared.” Even a lack of large social gatherings is expected to hurt sales.

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