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Andy Lee vs Conor McGregor - The TV Ratings Battle Is Causing Debate

Andy Lee vs Conor McGregor - The TV Ratings Battle Is Causing Debate
By Gary Reilly Updated

On Saturday night/Sunday morning, an Irish fighter will take to the ring in New York to defend a major world title. You have to think if that man was Conor McGregor the country as a whole would have heard an awful lot more about it by now. Rightly or wrongly, it's the nature of the beast at the minute.

The man in question is of course Andy Lee and given that he competes in a different sport, there is no real need to compare him to an MMA fighter. However, it is very difficult not to draw parallels. Ever since the UFC started to really make inroads, boxing has been on its death bed according to some commentators.

With an Irishman wearing the conductor's hat on Dana White's hype-train, there's no reason as a sporting nation to lament that fact. However, although boxing has been increasingly willing to learn a thing or two from its upstart competitor, there's still some wishful denial surrounding the fact that UFC is here and here to stay.

Writing in today's Irish Times, Dave Hannigan draws some interesting parallels between the relative audiences for Andy Lee and Conor McGregor. On Saturday, Lee's WBO Middleweight title defence against Peter Quillin will take centre stage on a platform that big time boxing is really starting to exploit once again.

For quite some time, boxing's success has been measured in the money it makes from pay-per-view buys. However, given a more competitive marketplace, things have had to change. Whereas once HBO and Showtime would charge good money for middle of the road fights, the powers that be have realised that boxing needs to reach the masses once again. (Something we looked at a couple of months ago)

Step forward Andy Lee. The Limerick man will take centre stage on a free to air NBC broadcast this weekend. Hannigan goes into the details of this very well but the numbers are what we're particularly interested in. The NBC card, which also includes Danny Garcia versus Lamont Peterson, is expected to bring in over three million viewers, a massive amount.

Hannigan makes the point that "Dana White is hopeful McGregor’s insufferable schtick will sell 800,000 pay-per-views". The belief that Lee's first title defence could well draw an official audience four times the size of McGregor's upcoming bout is used as something of a stick to beat the MMA community.


However, unless we're missing something, that seems to be blatantly missing the point that Hannigan himself is trying to make. The purpose of the article is to show how non-premium broadcasting is helping boxing once again reach the masses but if you're going to say that then you have to accept that MMA has been doing that quite well for some time.

McGregor's last bout against Dennis Siver is surely the fairer comparison. Yes, it was given some massive promotion but according to MMA Fighting the Fox Sports broadcast drew in a peak of 3,162,000 viewers. Something similar to what is expected from Lee vs Quillin.

All in all, what we're trying to say is that it helps no one to try and pit Lee against McGregor. 'Victims of the unrelenting UFC hype machine' as Hannigan puts it, do tune in in massive numbers. The same way boxing fans continue to.


Mayweather vs Pacquiao is going to break all kinds of records but for run of the mill bouts, boxing is still pulling them in. HBO's last bout, Sergey Kovalev vs Jean Pascal pulled in 1.2 million viewers. As such, Hannigan is probably correct in his belief that boxing continues to be a bigger draw.

However, these unfair digs at the McGregor media machine do seem more like sour grapes than anything else. One way or another, just because the UFC's marketing is more effective, that doesn't mean it has to take away from Andy Lee's success.

See also: Is Boxing Coming Back To The Mainstream?

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