Olympic Viewing: Boxing's decline
The Who guitarist Pete Townsend, right, and singer Roger Daltrey perform during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
In an Olympics filled with television success, boxing has been a notable failure.
NBC Sports covered the last two days of the tournament with its two announcers, Bob Papa and Teddy Atlas, not even in London's ExCel Center. International boxing officials asked them to move back from their announcing positions because they were bothering judges; Papa and Atlas decided to leave instead and call the fights off video feeds elsewhere.
Not that anyone probably noticed.
The U.S. men's boxing team was already done, its first Olympics without a medal. The sport that created memorable American heroes with gold medalists Cassius Clay (before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali), Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard is now virtually invisible as an Olympic event in the U.S.
NBC Sports confines its boxing coverage to CNBC and if you don't actively seek it out, you won't see a punch thrown. The one American boxing hero of London, the country's first woman gold medalist Claressa Shields, merited only one mention on NBC at 11:30 p.m. the night she won. Her picture wasn't shown. The boxing phenomenon of Katie Taylor, a national hero in Ireland, is a complete mystery to U.S. viewers who didn't watch CNBC.
In a year where Olympics ratings were up from four years ago across the board, they were down on CNBC.
The messy tournament has featured one referee expelled, another suspended and 12 protested fights. Papa and Atlas haven't hesitated to describe the messes they see; a New York Daily News columnist said they reacted with passion and power and "deserve a gold medal."
Gold medalist Claressa Shields of the United participates in the medals ceremony after their women's final middleweight 75-kg gold medal boxing match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
The poor performance of the U.S. team no doubt stifled viewership, and its officials need to take a hard look at how they're doing things, Papa said. Even if there were strong American contenders, the sport is becoming hard to watch.
Papa partly blames decisions to require boxers to wear headgear and score bouts via a computerized count of punches thrown for the sport's downfall. He said it has turned boxing into "fencing with gloves."