SBJ/June 20-26, 2011/In Depth

Arena to help put Big Apple back in the mix

When Brooklyn-born boxing promoter Lou DiBella looks to put on a card in his backyard, the financials can be daunting. The overhead for a fight at Madison Square Garden is about $500,000, he said. The adjacent 5,600-seat theater, a better fit for most fights because of its lower capacity, costs at least $100,000. Most of the New York City venues that are less expensive aren’t good fits for fights.

DiBella has found a suitable home for a standing series of club fights — featuring up-and-comers and never-will-be’s with local followings — at B.B. King’s blues club in Times Square, which can seat about 1,000.

“The room is perfect and the rent is fair, so I don’t get killed,” DiBella said. “But I can’t make money there. If I lose a few thousand dollars and keep my fighters busy, develop them in my way at my pace and develop a library where I own the content, that’s OK. But I wish I had someplace to go that had 2,000 seats. It’s hard to do shows in New York.”

It has been a quiet year for boxing in New York, despite the city’s fabled history as host to big fights. The theater at MSG has been closed for renovations since last summer. The big building has been closed since the Knicks and Rangers ended their seasons.


But that quiet is about to give way to a spate of activity. When the Barclays Center opens in Brooklyn in September 2012, it will include a steady stream of fights as a result of a deal with Golden Boy Promotions, which will provide a monthly card ranging from club-level fights to premium bouts.

“I truly believe boxing is going to be one of our biggest differentiators and will help to brand our building nationally and internationally,” said Brett Yormark, president and CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the sales and marketing arm of the Barclays Center. “There has been a void in this market. We’re going to have boxing and we’re going to have it consistently.”

The plan is for two to three fights a year that will play to the full arena, with others scaled down for crowds of 3,000 to 6,000, said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy. Three to four of those likely would be HBO or Showtime level cards, with the rest on the level of ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights,” Telefutura’s “Solo Boxeo” or a regional sports network card. Golden Boy also will use the series to expose its current roster of East Coast fighters, such as Paulie Malignaggi and Danny Jacobs, and to recruit new ones.

“The Garden is always going to be the Garden and fighters are going to want to fight there,” Schaefer said. “But the building is booked 300 nights a year. They really don’t need boxing. They can get it. But they can approach a fight with a certain amount of arrogance. They’re not going to lose sleep over it. I’m not critical of that. But if you have that attitude, it’s difficult to develop a local program. And the local program is where you develop fighters and also develop fans.”

One of the chips Brooklyn likely will play, especially early on, will be a lower cost structure than that which is typical at MSG. While that remains uncertain because the arena still is negotiating its labor contracts, a source said rent for the full Barclays Center likely will be comparable to the cost of MSG’s theater.

“I love New York fights,” said Todd DuBoef, president of Top Rank. “I think it’s a great place for fights. The only issue I see is that you have an expensive town to deal in. Labor costs. Hotel costs. The energy at a Madison Square Garden fight is fantastic. The right fight makes sense there. But you have to understand what the expenses are.”
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