Caesars Entertainment consultant Ken Condon, 58, has been responsible for virtually all of the major boxing events held at Boardwalk Hall in the past 15 years. The Northfield resident, who served as president/general manager of Bally’s Atlantic City for seven years, also plays a role in booking concerts at Boardwalk Hall.
Q: Atlantic City usually hosts two or three major championship fights at Boardwalk Hall every year. Most recently, you hosted a championship doubleheader there. Yet there is a perception that Atlantic City is no longer a so-called mecca of boxing. Is that perception accurate?
A: No, I don’t think so. We still have a number of terrific fights here each year. I just think there is a lot more competition in our area for major championship fights. And to be honest with you, we just don’t have that stable of East Coast fighters that we’ve had in the past. In order to draw people to Boardwalk Hall, we need someone who is a big draw and has an East Coast following. Our biggest mission is to develop East Coast boxers so we can attract those big events to Boardwalk Hall.
Q: You’ve brought most of the biggest fighters in the sport to town over the years, champions like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Wladimir Klitschko, Bernard Hopkins, Andre Ward, but you seem to focus on exciting fighters such as the late Arturo Gatti, Kelly Pavlik and Sergio Martinez. How do you determine which fights and fighters are the best fits for Boardwalk Hall? Is there really such a thing as an East Coast fighter?
A: There is such a thing. First, in order to attract major championship fights, you need fighters who are good fighters. Arturo developed an East Coast following. Arturo started out fighting in the ballrooms in Atlantic City and built himself up over time. Arturo became our biggest draw for many, many years, six consecutive sellouts (at Boardwalk Hall), just fantastic. I don’t know if we can ever duplicate what Arturo was able to accomplish, but that’s the type of boxer that we need to re-energize our program in Atlantic City. We’re always looking for that East Coast draw. You have international fighters that are great, but they don’t necessarily attract that general boxing fan that we need to fill seats at Boardwalk Hall.
Q: You recently attended Arturo Gatti’s induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. What kind of impact did he have on you personally and professionally, and do you think there will ever be another fighter as popular as Arturo?
A: Arturo and I go back a long way. When we first started the boxing program at Bally’s, Arturo would come to all the fights. He’d even come to the ones that weren’t necessarily Bally’s fights. We developed a nice relationship. The thing that people always loved about Arturo was that he was always very competitive. No matter who he was paired with, they were always competitive, terrific fights. And it seemed like the harder Arturo got hit, the tougher he got and fought back with a vengeance. I just think he captured the hearts of the boxing fan.
I’ll never forget after all his big fights in Atlantic City, even if he had to maybe go to the hospital or whatever, he would always come back to the Bally’s lobby or to the Caesars lobby and greet all his fans. No matter how bad he was beat up or what condition he was in, he would always say thank you to the people who supported him. It was a very emotional day to see him get inducted into the Hall of Fame. His whole family was there, and it was a nice honor.
Q: After Donald Trump dropped out of the boxing business in the 1990s, you almost singlehandedly kept the sport alive in Atlantic City. What was it about the sport that convinced you it was worth saving and reviving?
A: I was always a boxing fan, even back in my early days with Resorts when (local promoter) Frank Gelb had an office on property and we did fights at Resorts. Actually, we started doing fights in the Superstar Theater because the ballroom at that time wasn’t even built yet. We had a lot of great fights at Resorts. And back then, closed-circuit fights were really closed-circuit fights. There were no pay-per-view audiences. I can remember doing the (Sugar Ray) Leonard-(Thomas) Hearns closed-circuit fights, and every ballroom we had was packed with people on a Monday night. There were fantastic fights and tremendous excitement, and I just fell in love with the sport of boxing.
Once I got to Bally’s, I was encouraged by Arthur Goldberg and Wally Barr to see if we could re-energize the boxing program at Bally’s. They had had guys like (Ray) Mancini fight there before, so (promoter) Main Events and myself got together and started putting fights on and started building the Bally’s boxing brand in Atlantic City. That helped us get ourselves on the map, and it was great publicity.
Q: How did you get your start in the casino business in Atlantic City?
A: I started in an entry-level job at Resorts in 1978 about a year out of college (at Montclair State University) and later worked at Trump Taj Mahal. I just worked my way up (in the casino industry) until I was eventually named president at Bally’s. I was at Bally’s for 14 years, and the last seven or eight I was president or G.M. or whatever the title was at the time.
Q: How do you envision the future of boxing in Atlantic City? Do you see yourself continuing the same pattern of one, two, three major fights a year?
A: Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of competition out there now. As more casinos get developed in our jurisdiction here, if they have the ability to open venues, then it’s going to create even more competition and put more pressure on us to bring big fights to Atlantic City. But I’m confident boxing fans will support our programs and the casinos will support our programs. In all honesty, if it wasn’t for Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City continuing the boxing program, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. They’ve been a great supporter of boxing for many, many years, and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so.
Q: When Boardwalk Hall underwent a renovation, the seating capacity for boxing was reduced from 22,000 to approximately 12,500. When he was Caesars Entertainment president, Don Marrandino suggested one way to get a so-called megafight to Atlantic City would be to stage one at Bader Field. Do you think that’s a possibility?
A: I think outdoor boxing events are really difficult to pull off, especially in our unknown weather situation. I think it would be a very difficult task. Those megafights in Las Vegas, those are huge, huge dollar commitments, and I’m not sure we could put that kind of dollar commitment together at this point, even with all the casinos joining forces. There are significant dollars being guaranteed for those fights.
Q: There was a time when the Atlantic City casinos did band together to bring big events and big fights to town. Is that still possible?
A: I think anything’s possible. I actually was chairman of the special events committee with Howard Bacharach and we were responsible for trying to generate big fights for Atlantic City and all the casinos would get involved in buying tickets. We tried to be as fair as possible in cutting up the tickets. It was a process, but we did have some success with it.
I think it could happen again. You never know what tomorrow brings, but when you have more casinos involved and making a greater impact, it could make a difference.
Q: Do other casino properties in Atlantic City buy tickets to fights at Boardwalk Hall?
A: Yes, but there’s not a lot of advance buys. They do it more on a customer-demand basis. So the better job we do of promoting the fight, it puts more pressure on them to buy tickets for their customers who want to watch.
Q: I’ve noticed in recent years you’ve started to branch out into mixed martial arts and even had a couple of Muay Thai events at Bally’s. Do you see mixed martial arts as a bigger part of your entertainment menu going forward?
A: I think it’s always an option. Obviously the UFC is the Mercedes of MMA right now, and it would be nice for us to get the UFC back to Atlantic City in a big way, in a large venue like Boardwalk Hall. Anytime you get 13,000 people in Boardwalk Hall, it has an impact on all the properties in Atlantic City.
Q: Are you considering expanding beyond combat sports and bringing other sports events to your properties?
A: I can only speak for what I do, and my focus is on boxing and concerts. I take my direction from the folks at Caesars. I work very well with them. I’m a consultant. I don’t set the policies, and I take direction from them. They’ve been very supportive of the program, and I’m very happy to be working with them.
Q: Do you think there is a future for sports entertainment in Atlantic City? The Atlantic City Surf folded, and hockey didn’t make it.
A: I don’t have the answer to that. There are smarter people in the business of re-energizing Atlantic City, and I hope they can come up with a plan to make it work. But you have to realize we have a small base of people that live in this area, and to do something on a recurring basis you need to draw people from way outside of Atlantic City, within a couple-hour radius. We do things on a recurring basis, and it’s important to keep that attendance factor at a certain level.
Q: Finally, I can’t let you leave without getting your predictions for the New York Giants. I know you grew up near the Meadowlands and are a huge fan of Big Blue. How do you think they will do this year?
A: Obviously, as a Giants fan I am always hopeful they will be there at the end. But I would like to tell you this short little story. I did get to go to Dallas for a Kelly Pavlik press conference at (Cowboys) Stadium, which is a fantastic stadium. As you know, (boxing promoter) Bob Arum is a big Giants fan like I am. Bob got up and said something about the Giants and I got up and I couldn’t help myself.
I said something like, “Well it’s so nice to be in the stadium where the Giants beat the Cowboys in their first game there.” That was the biggest response I ever got at a press conference. That was a lot of fun.
I think the Giants are a quality organization and they will always be in the hunt. I think you and I will be having our discussions throughout the season about the Giants and the (Philadelphia Eagles).
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