Divorcement, divestiture and dissolution, known to lawyers as the three D's, may be the fate of the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president).
Because Federal Judge Sylvester J. Ryan found it guilty of conspiracy to monopolize championship boxing and of carrying out the conspiracy, the IBC now faces the special nightmare of the antitrust offender. Within the next month lawyers for the Government and for the IBC will draw up proposed decrees to put the decision into effect. These will be presented to Judge Ryan, who will prepare his own decree. His decree will redefine, it is expected, the financial and promotional face of boxing in the United States. What usually happens in such cases is that the Government proposes a decree demanding "drastic" relief. The defense usually suggests a much milder course.
The final decree may order the IBC to divorce the business of promoting fights from the business of operating such arenas as Madison Square Garden, Chicago Stadium and the Detroit Olympia. The defendants may have to divest themselves of one or more of these arenas or of their stock in one or more of the IBC affiliates. They may, indeed, have to dissolve the IBC.
The IBC's exclusive contracts with such boxing champions as Lightweight Joe Brown, Middleweight Gene Fullmer and Welterweight Carmen Basilio may be declared illegal.
The IBC is now likely to lose its tight control of boxing, which allowed it to guarantee 104 fights annually for sponsors of its twice-weekly television shows. These fights had to include a certain number of the vastly profitable championship bouts.
What happens to the IBC will depend on how big a part the court will let it play in boxing. Jim Norris may well feel that the game isn't worth the candle any more. Without a czardom to insure his profits, the most powerful impresario in the history of boxing may decide to throw in the towel. On such considerations will depend whether the defendants will appeal Judge Ryan's eventual decree. Such an appeal must be to the Supreme Court of the United States, not to the Court of Appeals. In every civil action under the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts in which the United States is the plaintiff, an appeal from the final judgment must be only to the Supreme Court, which has lately rejected the corporate insolence that pretends professional sport is not a business subject to the antitrust laws.
Judge Ryan needed 59 printed pages to cover the matter but it was, for all that, a concise statement. IBC's activities were never simple, except in intent, and Judge Ryan's opinion made them crystal clear.
The judge found:
"As a result of the control exercised by the defendants over their own arenas and the exclusive leases of other arenas and stadia, all other promoters have been excluded from promoting championship boxing contests in said arenas and stadia during the period June 1949 through May 15, 1953 [roughly the period covered in the complaint]....
"The intent of the defendants and the necessary result of their activities...was to combine in order to obtain control of, and exclude others from, the promotion of championship boxing contests in the United States."
It was, the judge said, a conspiracy in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, participated in by the IBC, Madison Square Garden (of which Norris is also president), Norris and Arthur M. Wirtz, his principal associate.
The conspiracy began in 1948, when Joe Louis was planning retirement as heavyweight champion. The late Harry Mendel, an oldtime press agent, had the original idea and complained until his death that he had never been adequately rewarded for it. He and Truman K. Gibson Jr., who was Joe's adviser and is now secretary of the IBC, approached Norris and Wirtz with a scheme whereby Louis would use his prestige to sign the four leading heavyweight contenders to exclusive contracts for an elimination series to pick the next champion. Norris and Wirtz would stay temporarily in the background. Louis would resign as heavyweight champion and then assign the exclusive contracts to Norris and Wirtz. For this service to sport Joe was given $150,000 outright, a salary of $15,000 a year and stock in the Norris-Wirtz corporation, which came to be known as the IBC.
With the heavyweight championship exclusively in its possession, the IBC was able to make it a self-perpetuating ownership simply by insisting that challengers agree to defend exclusively for IBC if they won the championship. The prestige of the heavyweight championship enabled IBC to win similar exclusive contracts in most of the other divisions. Rival promoters who threatened even weakly to compete with the IBC were bought out, at first, but in time the IBC was powerful enough to crush competition at no cost. In time lesser promoters quit the field in droves.
"Of the 44 professional championship contests presented in the United States between June 16, 1949, the date of the first championship contest promoted by defendants, and May 15, 1953, the defendants promoted, or controlled the promotion of 36, or approximately 81% of them," Judge Ryan found. With growing power they controlled 93% of the championship bouts presented between January 1951 and May 15, 1953. They controlled television, radio and movie rights, too. They owned or controlled the arenas where championship fights could best be presented, with exclusive leases on Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds for outdoor shows. And, though Judge Ryan did not mention it, they set up "co-promoters" in cities they did not otherwise control.
The fact is that they just about controlled boxing below the championship level, too, though Judge Ryan's decision was solely concerned with championship boxing. Their two weekly network presentations killed off all but a handful of small clubs. Fight managers were forced to truckle to the IBC in order to get their boxers on television.
What will happen to boxing now? Until Judge Ryan's eventual decree is entered no one can say. But some measure of competition will be restored to its promotion. Fights will still be televised on the major networks, so that there is no sound basis for hope that we will see a full resurgence of the small fight club, where boxers can earn as they learn. But some closed clubs will reopen. Ex-promoters around the country are beginning to dream of a return to their old stands.
As, for instance, Sad Sam Silverman, the Boston promoter who told off the IBC and had to get out of town:
"Everybody in the fight game I've spoken to is pretty happy. It's very good for boxing. It'll make a lot of new promoters."
Fight managers were less outspoken. For a while, at least, they will still have to deal with the IBC. But one of them had a few anonymous words to say:
"It's the best thing in the world that could happen to boxing. Am I glad!"
"No manager will say this, of course, because they're scared. We're all very, very, very happy but no one is going to say it."
Not even Jim Norris himself was saying very much in public. From somewhere in the Caribbean he reported through his New York office that "the court's decision was, of course, a disappointment to me."
"All I can say at this time," he went on, "is I hope we will not be prevented from continuing to present our Wednesday and Friday night fights, which have proved such popular television and radio attractions.
"We already have contracted for the Gene Fullmer-Sugar Ray Robinson fight to be held in Chicago on May 1. After that we hope to continue with our summer plans. This will depend, however, on the terms of the decree which will be entered to carry out the court's decision."
One of the IBC's summer plans envisaged a heavyweight championship fight between Floyd Patterson and Hurricane Jackson to be held outdoors at either the Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds. But Cus D'Amato, manager of Champion Patterson, has lately been renewing his old feud with the IBC and would not, one may assume, be averse to dickering with another promoter. Someone like, for instance, Al Weill, who was cast into outer darkness by the IBC as soon as he lost his grip on Rocky Marciano.
If the IBC is divested of its powers and divorced from its arenas, its prospect of promoting the next heavyweight championship fight may dissolve. In tears, of course.
FEDERAL JUDGE SYLVESTER J. RYAN