RICHARD HINDS July 12, 2012
Anthony Mundine's impending bout with Bronco McKart could make or break his career revival. Photo: Simon Alekna
How can 'The Man' help himself and his sport? By Richard Hinds.
ANTHONY Mundine might be Australia's most divisive sportsman. The strutting, faux-Ali chest-beating. The foot-in-mouth comments after September 11, 2001. The presumptuous label, ''The Man''.
But since leaving a successful rugby league career for boxing 12 years ago, you can't question his (and his handlers') business acumen.
Mundine has made a fortune putting his controversial career behind a pay wall. At a time when boxing was struggling for live crowds, he used Foxtel's pay-per-view Main Event channel to make far more cash from his 47 fights than he would have as an NRL star.
On Sunday, Mundine's career will take a significant step when he fights in Las Vegas against 41-year-old journeyman Bronco McKart - the first step, Mundine claims, on the road to a fight against American superstar Floyd Mayweather. It is, to his critics, an overdue return to the international stage - Mundine's 2001 defeat by Sven Ottke in Germany is his only fight outside Australasia.
Despite his victories over another Australian champion, Danny Green, Mundine has often been accused of hand-picking easy opponents in order to win and/or retain a series of ''world titles'' - a somewhat dubious description, given there are now so many acronyms of the various sanctioning bodies (BIFF, WBA, WBC, WBO) and nearly every big fight seems to crown a new world champ. However, one thing Mundine has proved is that viewers are willing to pay a premium, on top of regular Foxtel subscriptions, to see one-off events. Mundine's fight with Green was the biggest pay-per-view event in Main Event's history. More recently, he drew more than 20,000 subscribers for his two fights against another former NRL player, Garth Wood.
However, in both an athletic and a commercial sense, Mundine's fight in Vegas is significant. At 37, Mundine needs belated success on the international stage to silence those who compare his career unfavourably with other great Australian warriors such as Jeff Fenech, Lionel Rose and Johnny Famechon. At the same time, his subscription audience has steadily declined in the past two years, down to an average of about 7000.
In an awkward Sunday-morning timeslot, Main Event expects up to 10,000 viewers to pay $49.95 for this fight. As ever, the proceeds are split between the fighter and Main Event on a formula weighted in favour of big attractions, such as Mundine.
Another possible reason for the decline in Mundine's subscriptions is the growing interest in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the controversial mixed martial arts circus that is banned in Victoria because of the cage set-up around the ring. UFC has become hugely popular with a post-Rocky generation, raised in an era when boxing's self-defeating politics and lack of charismatic and universally recognised champions have diminished the sport's appeal.
A Main Event spokesman says the channel's reputation had been built around Mundine's success. However in the past two years, UFC has averaged between 8000 and 10,000 subscriptions. Meanwhile, the hottest Australian boxing prospect, Daniel Geale, is yet to make a significant impact on pay-per-view despite a strong reputation, and the veteran Green's sales have also slipped.
Still, regardless of the manner of the fight, Main Event's subscription model has proved that viewers remain willing to pay extra to watch people hurt each other.
''WWE wrestling has also plateaued, although the annual WrestleMania still does well,'' the spokesman says.
On the other hand, many soccer fans were disappointed to find they would again have to pay extra ($16.99 a month - less for long-term access) to watch the Euro 2012 championship on Setanta Sports, which is not part of the Foxtel sports package. Thus, with only two quarter-finals, one semi-final and the final available free-to-air on SBS, the championships did not gain media traction, nor generate the usual water-cooler talk, until the final week.
Meanwhile, Mundine hopes to regenerate both his career and his TV sales with a convincing victory on Sunday morning. Some still wonder whether he can work the ring. No one doubts he can work a pay wall.