After years as a newspaper sports reporter - including five covering the boxing beat at USA Today - Dan Rafael traded his passion for print for the Web. Since February 2005, he has been the senior boxing writer for ESPN.com.
PRWeek: How is online reporting different from traditional newspaper reporting?
Dan Rafael: On the Web site, it's a more relaxed situation: You need to write 1,000 words? Boom, you write 1,000 words. If it's only something that needs 500 words, fine, it's 500 words. There is no agonizing over what to cut. You say what you have to say, and that's that.
I also have more leeway for my opinions than I did when I worked at the newspaper.
PRWeek: Are you able to incorporate other new media initiatives in your work at ESPN.com?
Rafael: I do a weekly online chat every Friday; it's supposed to be for an hour, but we get so many hard-core boxing fans that often times I do two hours. There are times also when there'll be a fight on a Saturday night that I don't actually attend, so we have developed a little cult following in what we call "Rafael After Dark" -- sort of a take-off on "Boxing After Dark," the series on HBO. And so I'll start the chat when the main event is over -- 11:30 at night, midnight -- and believe or not, there's crazy boxing people who love to talk about the fight afterwards. I was thinking, ‘when you saw a great fight, what was the first thing you wanted to do? You wanted to call up your buddy who watched it.' So we go on the Internet and talk about it. We also have many chats with the athletes. For example, if HBO is doing a big pay-per-view fight, they'll make available Oscar De La Hoya for 20 minutes to chat, or Floyd Mayweather, or whatever the big event is. It's a great outlet for the athletes to speak directly with the fans, the same way it's a great outlet for the reporters to speak directly with the readers.
PRWeek: What's the state of boxing today among mainstream sports enthusiasts? Analysts have said the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Oscar De La Hoya fight could reinvigorate the sport.
Rafael: There is something to be said for that. [The bout] got 2.15 million subscriptions on pay-per-view, the all-time pay-per-view record for any fight, any event. It blew away the [previous mark] by over 150,000... You're talking about a fight that generated $150 million. That is extraordinary.
PRWeek: Can the momentum rub off for other fights?
Rafael: I sure hope so. I think that what it does is, it reinvigorates the media a little bit, they realize that hey, we can still get great events and we realize that boxing is still around. Sports Illustrated, for example had De La Hoya and Mayweather on the front cover -- Oscar has been around for a long time and is a big superstar of the sport, but that's the first time he's ever been on the SI cover. And I think it can reinvigorate fans. Maybe the promoters will see the amount of money that was done in this fight and say, you know what? We've got to start matching the best guys to the best guys. It probably gives a little spring in the step to HBO to start being a little more demanding when it comes to what kinds of match-ups they're going to televise ... It's a shot in the arm. I look at it like this: I'm not sure what the long-term effects are on boxing. But I know that boxing was better off on Monday morning than it was on Friday afternoon before the fight took place.
PRWeek: What made this particular fight stand out?
Rafael: You have Oscar De La Hoya, who is the most popular guy in the sport: He hadn't fought in a year. Now he's fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. who's the universally recognized number-one fighter in the world, and you have the makings of a major event. And you have a lot of great fight promotion: HBO had a reality series called De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7, which was a four-part series that was done documentary-style that chronicled them all through their press tour and their training, and HBO put it in a prime location on their schedule on Sunday nights following Entourage and the Sopranos, their two most popular shows. Plus you had this crazy soap opera about Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his father, who used to be De La Hoya's trainer, and whether or not he trained Oscar against his son ... there's just every element of chaos in this whole thing.
PRWeek: Do you think boxing has suffered from a negative image in the recent past?
Rafael: Probably... Take [a look at the events from] a few years ago: You had within the span of a couple of months De La Hoya fighting against [Felix] Trinidad - this is going back to 1999. A couple months later, you had the first fight between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.
These were two gigantic events for the sport, and both left the public and the press with a very bad taste... People started piling on boxing because they thought there was corruption involved. It had such a negative image.
PRWeek: Was there corruption involved?
Rafael: I think you have to be foolish not to realize that there are certain elements of corruption in the sport. The same way, by the way, that there are elements of corruption in college basketball recruiting, college football recruiting, steroid use in baseball: Every sport has its dark areas, and boxing is no different. But boxing is so easy to pick on, so easy that it's almost cliché. I get tired of that. OK, I understand, we've got some issues. Piling on is not fair. Let's come up with a way to solve the problem. To me, boxing is no more corrupt than [other sports]. It's just that boxing has such a negative profile at times because most of the athletes come from poor backgrounds, they're not educated, oftentimes are taken advantage of, and does not have the billion-dollar network connections the way an NCAA tournament does, or the NFL.
PRWeek: What kind of interaction do you have with PR people?
Rafael: I deal with PR folks virtually on a daily basis. The PR staffs of the different companies and the fighters, they can either make your life really easy or really difficult.
Boxing is not one of the sports - unlike say the NFL, MLB, or NBA - where you sometimes get the feeling that they don't really care about the publicity, that they would rather not have reporters in the clubhouse, or they don't care if [the media is] at the game, because they have their big fat TV contracts.
Boxing is still very much an old-fashioned type of beat where they need to get the word out because they have to sell every event. It's not like there's a set schedule, [such as] in the NFL, [where] you know in week one who you're playing in week 17. Every time a fight ends, it's on to the next event.
Name: Dan Rafael
Title: Senior boxing writer
Preferred contact method: via Paul Melvin, Paul.Melvin@espn.com
Web site: www.espn.com