Steve Kilgallon: Why the government should pay for Joseph Parker fight

Joseph Parker's fight deserves government support.
PHOTOSPORT.NZ

Joseph Parker's fight deserves government support.

OPINION: When the Government suggest they may not fund a potential world heavyweight boxing title fight in Auckland between Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz because it might (shock) make a profit, what they're really saying is they would rather back losers.

So far the Government has said Parker-Ruiz may not be worth funding because a) promoters Duco will spin a profit and b) it could happen without their support.

If they stick with that line, that would mean they only want to back events that wouldn't happen without their support – so aren't viable – and even with their support, wouldn't make any money.

That would at least explain why they would want to fund an obscure golf tournament – the New Zealand Open – on a private course in Queenstown, but not a world heavyweight title fight, because it's hard to find an alternative, more sensible argument.

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If it's intimated that the Government would only fund Parker-Ruiz if they were guaranteed a cash dividend, then consistently applying such a caveat would have to mean a rewrite of the sports event funding rules, and letting everyone know that the only people worthy of applying are the All Blacks.

Most sporting events other than a rugby union test match aren't capable of making a direct cash return on government investment. Instead, their impact is measured in nebulous terms – worldwide exposure, visitor impact surveys and so forth.

For example: the NZ Golf Open, played at the Hills each year, has copped over $3.5m in funding over the past six years despite reports showing it has nowhere near met its modest promised returns (and certainly never batted up a dollar for the taxpayer).

For that $3.5m, a few high-net worth individuals have come down to hit golf balls on the taxpayer's dime, and the Open has screened on Japanese TV.

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It's an event that is inconsequential on a world stage and draws a B or C-list cast of golfers and certainly neither a huge on-ground or television audience. The Government didn't demand cash from the golfers. 

But actually, if they do pony up some cash to Parker's backers, Duco Events, then they could ask for some clear deliverables in return. 

For example, they can demand tourist advertisements be inserted during the broadcast (easy enough as Duco own the broadcast rights); they can demand Duco meet visitor targets and hit a number of overseas broadcast markets, they can expect tax and GST on any profits.

Given the golf attracted few visitors, few TV markets and made no money, any such demand on that event would not have worked.

Consider that the last New Zealand heavyweight world title contest - David Tua vs Lennox Lewis - remains in the top five viewing events of all-time in New Zealand, it's hard to say there wouldn't be a public appetite for this fight.

The Government are also guilty of hypocrisy when you compare their sports funding model to their funding of business and technology.

Remove the fact that Duco are promoting boxing, and they are essentially businessmen, out to make a dollar like any other.

Well, when it comes to those sectors, the government are all about backing winners. 

Their ideal model is investing seed funding into a small tech start-up, watching them blossom, and make their founders rich and wealthy.

But even then, they don't expect to be rewarded with a dividend or a package of suddenly-valuable shares.

The privately-held biofuel firm Lanzatech, for example, have received over $14m of government funding grants, are now chiefly based offshore, are still grappling with their innovative technology and even if they begin to make money, will be making it for venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and others, not New Zealand Inc.

In 2005, a genuine business success story, Navman, were handed $1m in research and development funding for a new project.

When Navman's shareholders and senior management became multi-millionaires when it sold offshore in 2005, the government didn't bag a dividend. If you asked, they would point to things like Navman employing thousands of Kiwis, enhancing our reputation in the worldwide tech industry and so forth.

Well, Parker's backers Duco employ a few people and they've made a bit of a name for New Zealand boxing offshore too.

I'll declare my hand here. I was this organisation's boxing writer for several years, love the sport, would love to see a world title fight here and rather like the guys behind Duco, David Higgins and Dean Lonergan.

I certainly wouldn't feel upset if they made a few dollars from the fight: they've invested millions in Parker to get him to this stage, and it's not hard to watch his previous fights, look at who is there and the costs involved and realised they've not had much of a return yet.

Similarly, when Higgins and his former business partner John McRae promoted their first big fight, the Shane Cameron v Tua 'Fight of the Century' in 2008, both would have lost the lot if it flopped; it didn't and they made six-figure sums. 

These guys are the sort of modern day buccaneers you would think a right-wing capitalist government would be swarming all over. 

So again, if they turn the Duco boys down and see this sporting event go offshore, they need to come up with a better argument than wanting to back losers.

Maybe the real reason is they don't much like an uncouth blue-collar sport like boxing.

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