As we enter the 2020s, it’s hard to deny that interest in professional boxing has declined sharply in the United States. While the sport has enjoyed something of a resurgence in parts of Europe, it appears to be long past its heyday in American sports. Think of the last time a big heavyweight bout seized popular attention akin to “major” sports, and you’ll likely come up empty. Look back on the most inspirational boxers in history, and you’ll find they’re all associated with decades and eras past.
There are plenty of theories as to why boxing has declined the way it has in the U.S. Some argue that America simply has less of an edge in the sport. Others suggest there’s a link to growing criticism of the NFL, and that modern American fans are simply less interested in sports that can be perceived as dangerous. Then again, there’s also the popular argument that newer alternatives like the UFC have stolen boxing’s audience (though there’s little compelling evidence of this). One possibility we don’t hear as much about though, but which may be the most interesting of all, is that the subdued betting culture in the U.S. these last few decades has helped to quell interest in the sport.
It was the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that banned states from allowing and regulating sports betting services, essentially taking away a popular side activity for boxing fans. The Act was essentially undone via a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, but one can make the argument that one of its lasting impacts was to help ease boxing away from mainstream sports and into more of a niche classification. Once upon a time the sport earned regular coverage, and one reason so many people followed it so closely was that they could bet on the outcomes – or at least gauge the fights by way of betting odds that were commonly and openly discussed. Over the years, that same interest continued to exist, but it was largely bottled up in a few specific areas (most notably Las Vegas) where sports betting remained legal.
Given the undoing of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, however, the betting scene is rapidly shifting once more in the U.S. The Supreme Court’s decision indirectly launched a movement of betting legislation across the country. Sports betting sites have now been legalized in a handful of states, and their regulation is under consideration in many more. Not only does this mean that millions more Americans have already regained access to legal sports betting (or in the cases of younger sports fans, been introduced to it for the first time). It has also brought about newer, more sophisticated, and more varied betting options than Americans could access previously – including virtually unlimited listings for professional boxing matches across various platforms.
Along with this rebirth of legal sports betting in the U.S., we’ve seen a quick transition among sports media companies toward covering gambling as a sort of adjacent interest. Entities as mainstream as ESPN now devote regular, direct attention to gambling odds, betting advice and the like, which essentially serves as simultaneous advertisement and education for the rising betting industry. In other words, the average American sports fan isn’t just potentially gaining the ability to bet – he or she is also being taught how and where to do it strategically.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that these fans will flock to boxing. As noted above, there are reasons beyond betting that may speak to why the sport has declined among U.S. viewers. If we accept that a lack of access to the once-thriving boxing betting markets is at least part of the problem though, these changes could certainly be helpful. In time, the chance to analyze professional fights according to the odds and the experts’ opinions, as well as the ability to gain more personal attachment to matches by way of legal wagering could inspire a reasonable number of fans to give the sport a fresh chance.