The Bubble

Although you may have missed it, there was a boxing match on Tuesday, June 9, at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Although Vegas is generally thought of in the context of gambling and of performing artists who have passed their prime and are looking for a place where they can considerably cash in without having to do too much in the way of heavy lifting (i.e., odds are that if they are performing at Caesar’s or The Bellagio or wherever, they are comped a room such that they don’t need to worry about doing too much in the way of traveling, outside of an elevator ride), the Strip is all about boxing (which goes along with the whole gaming experience but which doesn’t go to the point of tired acts because old boxers aren’t in the game).

While I’ve never been to a bout live, I’ve seen some televised events and the thing that always puzzled me is why the people who are dressed to the proverbial nines have seats closest to the ring, given that the boxers tend to throw off as much perspiration as they do punches, so even in a world that doesn’t have a pandemic, that effluvium doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that one would like to be doused with: Wouldn’t they be better off, say, in row 10?

Tuesday’s card was organized by a company named Top Rank that has been in existence since 1966 and has been behind 9,000 fights and 1,500 cards. Bob Arum, Top Rank founder, was early in the closed-circuit and pay-per-view models for fights. Presently it has a contract with ESPN to provide free boxing (well, at least free for those who have ESPN as part of their cable package, presumably).

In its self-definition, the company states flat-out: “Las Vegas-based Top Rank stands as the country’s premiere boxing promotions company for one reason: We take care of our fighters and our fans.”

And that “take care of” is more essential now than ever before.

To pull off the event, there was a comprehensive COVID-19 protocol for all those invited. According to ESPN, “Once fighters land in Vegas, teams are transported in a sanitized vehicle to take a PCR test, the results of which will take six hours. If a fighter or anyone on their team tests positive either at this test or at the test following the weigh-in, he or she is immediately quarantined, and the fight is off.”

If they are OK, “They’ll be taken up a back elevator to a designated floor in the hotel for Top Rank. No access will be granted by elevators for other hotel guests, and all movement to and from the floor will come from a back-of-house elevator.”

Then there is regular testing and isolation from the outside world.

The bouts took place with without fans. The people calling the fights were not in the immediate space of the ring. The fighters were, in effect, in a “bubble.”

A bigger bubble is planned to be inflated next month at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando: this for some 1,500 people associated with the National Basketball League.

The tentative schedule is for the players, coaches, etc. to arrive July 7 and then playoffs starting on August 17. Families and others will be permitted to arrive on August 30. The NBA Finals is expected on September 30.

During this time there will be, not surprisingly, comprehensive testing of everyone.

There will be no fans in attendance.

One consequence of this is that the phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” may end up having a whole new, somewhat dystopian, edge to it.

The point of all this is to consider the future of concerts. Coachella and Lollapalooza, both outside events, unlike boxing or pro ball, have been cancelled.

Of course, also unlike either of those two events, there isn’t necessarily a cowhide to the jaw wallop or an intentional foul that leads to an orbital fracture.

But concerts—outside or inside—like sporting events include crowds of people who are, ideally, exhilarated by what they see, which manifests itself in shouts and cheers and unpredictable physical movements. All the sorts of things that can cause intentional (or otherwise) contact with other people, which means that they are all the sorts of things that are not ideal right now.

Any given team in the NBA is worth about $1.5-billion. The whole league is valued at about $70-billion. Top Rank is privately held so its valuation isn’t public, though those who look at such things note that the UFC sold for $4-billion in 2016, so odds are there are ten digits associated with Top Rank, as well.

One can imagine that the league would have the resources to create quite a good, robust bubble, as would Top Rank.

But what of concert promoters? And would it even matter.

Whether it is boxing or basketball, there is tremendous familiarity among audiences to watch on TVs and there has been back when the screens were black and white and there were rabbit-ear antennas on the top of the box. Both have always had advertising layered into the broadcasts.

Would this work for concerts? Probably not.

Did you ever notice that when there are charitable musical performances on television there tends to be a multitude of performers? Part of this goes to the point of attracting as many viewers as possible, so having various acts does that better than a few. But one could also make the argument that when people are watching TV they tend to have short attention spans such that an hour of non-stop playing isn’t something people would sit through–although during a live performance they’d wish that it would go on as long as one of those Grateful Dead shows of yore.

Even were [fill in your favorite band here] to go into a bubble for a number of days and then play live with a multiplicity of cameras pointed at it and extraordinary audio equipment picking up every audible nuance, would there be an economic argument that could support such an undertaking. . .or would most people simply find an earlier performance on YouTube?

Is there something that is so visceral about live musical performances that makes it essentially impossible for it to be experienced thoroughly without physical presence?

I’m afraid there is.

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Editor’s note: Perhaps the Flaming Lips have solved this problem…

Video: The Flaming Lips – “Race For The Prize” (live on Stephen Colbert)

Via The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

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