The big payday comes with a big name working out in your gym.
NEW YORK (CNNmoney) - There are a few competing theories about what makes a good boxing gym. Some owners think dank, smelly, dungeon-like sparring rooms keep boxers tough and prepare them mentally for the ugly battles that loom. Others think fighters who work out in bright gyms with modern equipment aren't necessarily going to lose their edge.|
One thing both schools of boxing gyms have in common: poverty. Owners claim it's extremely difficult to make money running a gymnasium, whether plain or fancy, where potential prize fighters train.
"I haven't taken a nickel out of this place," said Richard Allen, who owns L.A. Boxing Club in downtown Los Angeles.
Big bucks a big gamble
It really is something of a gamble. Boxing gyms, unlike other types of gymnasiums, don't attract a wide audience and the numbers of professional and amateur boxers have been dwindling since the sport peaked in the U.S. in the 1950s.
These days, gym owners say they can't charge young fighters high membership fees because most of them aren't making any money in the sport. Even professionals, with the exception of those competing for titles, don't take home huge purses.
According to Allen most pros are paid between $100 and $125 per round to punch their way through four rounds. Female fighters on average make more, about $200 a round.
"Boxing is the bottom rung as far as pay is concerned," Allen said. "For every Tyson or de la Hoya, there are thousands of guys that make only about 100 bucks a round."
As such, Allen said he can't charge much for fighters to come to his gym, a sprawling 33,000 square foot facility with four rings, a separate room for martial arts classes, and fully equipped with bags, weights and treadmills. Oh, this is one of those gyms that falls into the clean, pristine category and he charges only $25 a month for dues.
Down the road the Broadway Gym has a slightly different look and feel. It's grittier, smaller and provides the bare minimum a boxer needs to get a real workout. Owner Bill Slayton has two rings, a pair of heavy bags and weights. If a fighter wants to work out on a speed bag, he has to bring his own and take it with him when he leaves.
Slayton charges only $15 for members to come work out at his 25-year-old gym.
A lot of boxers, even big-name pros like Bernard Hopkins, prefer working out in places like these. Hopkins, no doubt a millionaire, can work out any place he desires, but goes to Champs in North Philadelphia, noted by many to be a dive among dives.
Not an inexpensive undertaking
Getting started in the business is not as easy as going broke in it, say those who own boxing gyms. First, there's the cost of the renting or buying a space large enough to put in a ring or two. Rings cost somewhere between $3,000 and $8,000. Heavy bags are inexpensive - about $100 apiece. Treadmills, for those who want to provide some extras, usually cost upward of $1,000 and can cost as much as $6,000.
In other words, it's not an inexpensive undertaking and one that holds no guarantees of profits. What they need to succeed is a stable, and a good one. Gyms that house winning clubs attract other winning fighters and top trainers.
Most of the people who own boxing gyms come from the boxing world. It's easier for someone who has a reputation in the business to bring in good trainers and enthusiastic boxers who may eventually have a big payday.
Slayton, for example, was a top trainer in the 70s who brought Ken Norton to heavyweight fame. As Norton's trainer, he took in 10 percent of the champ's purses, which he used to buy Mattoya's Gym in Los Angeles.
Since then, Slayton said, he hasn't earned a lot on the gym. It's a place where he continues to train fighters in his ongoing search for the next big name in boxing. If he finds that person among the hundreds of young men who pass through the door, the payday will be huge.
It's a gamble, he admits. A longshot at best. But the journey is worth it, he said, because he still loves the sport after all these years.
Not everyone is a former trainer. Many other boxing gym owners are former promoters or managers who also expect to break even at best on their gymnasium business until that day they discover raw talent among the mix of kids who step into their ring.
Running a gym, being in close contact with top trainers and their protégés, increases the chance that the owner of the gym where they work out will be chosen as manager or promoter or involved in the fighter's eventual success in some way.
Yes, it is a longshot. And although many owners don't think they are going to do much better than break even on their gym, they do it because they like the sport.
Like Allen, who pumps every dime in profits into adding equipment and hiring more people, he feels good about providing a place where young men can get in shape and, just possibly, feel a little better about themselves at the end of the day.
"I'm not in this to make money," he said. "I think this is what they call giving back."