By Todd Franko
When Kelly Pavlik fought Marco Antonio Rubio in Youngstown in February, it was an opportunity for the region to make money hand over fist.
Many cashed in: Kelly, Team Pavlik, the Chevrolet Centre (now the Covelli Centre), the city of Youngstown, hotels, stores, bars and restaurants.
Valley businessmen Sean Pregibon and Ross Scianna are among the latter.
Pregibon owns Youngstown Sports Grille, and Scianna (and brother Chad) owns Antone’s restaurant group (nine sites in the Valley and Columbus) as well as the two Jeremiah Bullfrog’s sports bars (Boardman and Austintown).
They did in February as they’ve done since Pavlik ascended to the top of boxing — buying his latest fight on pay-per-view and hosting a fight party.
It ain’t cheap, and it’s a gamble.
You and I can buy the fight at home for $50 or so. For the bars, pay-per-view (officially called closed-circuit TV for commercial businesses) can cost as much as $1,200 — give or take. (It’s based on your occupancy rate.)
“You have to front that cash. It’s not fun,” said Pregibon. “There is no guarantee you will get that cash back.”
But Pregibon’s Pavlik fights have drawn great crowds. Same for Scianna.
Yet quietly working against their gamble each time are their own peers — bar owners who get the fights without shelling out the $1,200 or so and still get the big crowds.
Five such bars in the Valley stand accused of such a move. Instead of paying the $1,200, they each are now facing a lawsuit seeking $170,000 in damages.
The bars are East Side Civics Club and Dash Inn in Youngstown, Bistro GQ in Canfield, Callahan’s Irish Pub in Warren, and Chippers Sports Bar and Grill in Austintown. (I left messages at Civics and Dash Inn.)
If you’re at all engaged in Pavlik’s career, you can’t help but scratch your head about the first bar — East Side Civics. As Cheers is to Norm, and as the Bada Bing is to Tony Soprano, Civics is to Pavlik and his Team crew.
It’s his dart-league haunt, and it’s his getaway hangout.
And on the night of his Rubio fight, Civics — with its Pavlik-papered walls — was hallowed ground of sorts for those making a pilgrimage to the fight.
I had my dad and brother there for an hour or so. There were others like us, too. Civics is a place where regulars soak in like good tunes on a jukebox. Visitors stand out like the Rolling Stones at the Grand Ole Opry.
That Civics is being sued for not buying the fight was an irony not lost on Joe Gagliardi.
Joe’s boxing broadcasting career includes Ray Mancini fights and hosting closed-circuit events in Warren. He owns California-based J&J Sports Productions Inc., which is bringing the lawsuits against the bars.
“That’s an embarrassment,” Gagliardi said when told of Civics’ ties to Pavlik. “How silly is it that the place you go doesn’t buy it.”
Gagliardi is all business about pay-per-view — and the piracy of it.
His group recently settled with a California veterans’ club that was caught pirating a fight. The vets’ group pleaded poverty throughout negotiations in the $170,000 lawsuit — including claiming the elderly vets pass a hat to barely come up with the $50 for the cheaper residential fee they used. Their final bill will be $20,000 — fueled in part by an affidavit from Gagliardi’s legal team that one of their undercover agents was charged admission to get into the vets’ hall for the fight.
“The veterans’ club is just like everyone else,” Gagliardi said. “If I have to be compassionate, then it’s license for everybody to steal the deal. Don’t think we don’t have a lot of bars calling saying who’s stealing.”
Professional sports is big money and big business — all the way down to the bars that show the fight.
Gagliardi said a bar might not get caught every time it gets a fight illegally, but it will get caught eventually. Based on the penalties, he said, “You have to be silly to get the fights illegally.”
It’s Scianna’s business model, too.
“It’s not worth it to do it illegally,” Scianna said. “It’s not worth the fines or the publicity.”
He said his company buys virtually every sports TV option — from boxing to football.
“We spend a small fortune doing this. When you get a bar that’s not paying [but broadcasting it], we’re at a competitive disadvantage.”
It’s how he and his brother grew up in a family business that’s been going since 1961.
“Sometimes [the fees are] ridiculous. But my mom’s business sayings were ‘Never close a day’ and ‘Never let someone have something you don’t have.’”