DVD pirates filling their shelves -- and customer orders
Looking for an Oscar De La Hoya fight? Want to relive the "Rumble in the Jungle"? Chances are, you can find it online. Pirates have created their own illegal niche on the Internet by selling classic fights. But with no legal market for boxing DVDs, are the pirates doing a disservice to the sport, or are they keeping the sport alive?
Originally Published: May 13, 2008By Don Steinberg | Special to ESPN.com
Getty ImagesMuhammad Ali never could have guessed all his fights would one day be just a click away.My latest shipment of contraband goods arrived today: a set of about 30 Shane Mosley fights and 20 Zab Judah fights, on 21 DVDs in plain white sleeves, most of them duplicated from HBO telecasts -- without permission from HBO, of course. I'm not proud that I solicit products from the digital underground to perform my job. I stopped downloading music illicitly years ago and began paying for it on iTunes and Amazon. Every week I ignore the guy I see selling bootleg DVDs of new movies. But if you really need videos of Shane Mosley's greatest hits, what's a guy to do? There's no legal way to do it. At least a dozen Web sites offer thousands of classic fights -- just Google "boxing DVDs" to find them. Although the guys behind these sites hawk pirated content from some of the planet's biggest media companies -- Time Warner (HBO), Viacom (Showtime) and Disney (ESPN) -- this black market is a little different from the music-stealing scene that grew around Napster.
The boxing DVD underground exists, in large part, because there is no legal market for boxing DVDs. You can't walk into Target and buy a box set of the Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward trilogy. You can't put Oscar De La Hoya versus Felix Trinidad in your NetFlix queue. You may be able to buy a licensed DVD of a Super Bowl game or any UFC title fight, but you can't legally get a DVD of the "Rumble in the Jungle" or the "Thrilla in Manila." My latest supplier -- I promised not to use his name, so let's call him Video Mack -- supports his collecting habit by offering copies of fights via those little Google text ads. Video Mack has about 5,000 fights in his library. "I sell or trade about 10 career sets a month, so I would say I distribute about 120 career sets a year around 6,000 fights," he calculates. "It's not like I'm cheating [the networks]. I still purchase every single pay-per-view that HBO or Showtime offers. I would gladly buy fights from HBO or Showtime if they sold them on DVD. The quality would be slightly better than what I get from my DVD recorder." Most underground DVD dealers consider themselves collectors first. They seek hard-to-find videos, trading via online bulletin boards such as boxingforum.com. They create artful DVD menus on their discs (though sometimes they copy other bootleggers' menus to complete career sets). Why the rightful owners of boxing's video history are leaving the market to pirates is a good question. Promoters like Don King, Top Rank, Main Events and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy are sitting on valuable libraries. The potential lucre of boxing video was made clear in 1998, when ESPN bought the 16,000-film boxing library of the late Bill Cayton for a reported $100 million. Bob Arum, whose Top Rank library includes Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler fights, made a deal with TV network Versus in 2006 to air classics from his vault. But the economics of TV don't work for DVDs.
AP Photo/Mitsunori ChigitaYou can't find the "Thrilla in Manila" in stores, but you can find it through online vendors.
Even though there is a market, it's not big enough. Legitimate businessmen have to release a video the old-fashioned way, with professional packaging and duplication and marketing. If it costs you $50,000 to release a DVD, and you're only going to sell 1,000 units, do the math. It doesn't work.
-- Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports, on why selling fights on DVDs doesn't make business sense
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