"The Connector." It has a nice ring, doesn't it? For one night's work on the Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns fight next Wednesday, The Connector may make enough money to fix himself up for a decade. In The Connector's own words, he expects to make "big, big money."
The Connector -- a.k.a. Lou Falcigno of White Plains, N.Y. -- is by far the biggest closed circuit TV operator in the land. He is the classic middleman, the link between the millionaire promoters and the fans who come in from the back alley with $25 in their hand. Sort of a top dog in a business in which the promoters, managers and theater owners generally run in snarling packs.
But yesterday, in his 10th-floor flat on the West Side of New York, The Connector was suffering from a rare siege of anxiety. For the first time, he wondered if the $500,000 to $750,000 profit he had been counting on may not suddenly evaporate. More on that later.
By all accounts, The Connector, a 43-year-old former telephone company technician, is an honest man. He just likes to take risks with huge sums of money -- he calls it "Monopoly money" -- and he just likes the feeling of "buying" huge chunks of the country in somewhat the same way Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory.
"For Ali-Holmes last year, I bought New England, New York and New Jersey," he will tell you. "I'm absolutely the largest exhibitor in the country. On Leonard-Duran I, that was big, BIG money. I bought New York, Florida, Kansas City, St. Louis, Indiana, parts of Canada. . . "
You would think The Connector would wear a fedora and have a pinky ring and be licking the end of his cigar. But the top men in boxing are slowly beginning to change. They are "statesmen" now. Falcigno (say Fal-SEE-no) is part of the new breed.
Five years ago, The Connector had lost his house and car in a divorce proceeding and, despite his $30,000 a year salary, was effectively broke. The saving grace was that he had a job selling equipment for Ma Bell to closed circuit TV companies. Slowly, he began to realize where his fortune lay.
For the last few years he has put together closed circuit networks for big business. A General Motors executive in Detroit, say, will appear on TV screens before salesmen at 40 different locations around the country, and the salesmen will be able to talk back. But boxing -- ah, this slippery, twisted sport -- that's where one lives by his wits.
Think of it: The conniving, the back-room dealing, $500,000 in one night.
The Connector now owns two companies that promote certain fighters like heavyweight challenger-to-be Renaldo Snipes, furnish production equipment for closed circuit telecasts and tie together and oversee theaters that carry closed circuit telecasts of major fights.
For the big bouts, so many independent exhibitors try to buy chunks of the country from the promoters that it gets to be like the Oklahoma land rush. For this fight, The Connector elbowed his way in by paying $750,000 for all of New York City, except Madison Square Garden and the New York suburbs. He has 40 theaters in all.
Why is he The Connector of closed circuit? Because he can pay the promoters a huge price and make a fortune for himself at the same time. Because he has dozens of hangers-on in his entourage who will go to a theater in some sleazy backwater of the Bronx, say, and spy on a larcenous ticket taker.
The Connector has learned to make his fortune in three ways.
First, he lays off the action when he gets nervous about the appeal of a fight. Let's say he originally buys all of Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, only to find his locations not selling out a week before the fight. Like a bookie with too big a handle, he cuts other exhibitors in on the deal. His risk (and profit) now limited, he sits back and collects the vigorish.
Second, he learned about the forces of darkness at a theater during a recent bout.
"I got to the theater late and they said there were 1,000 people inside," The Connector said. "Damn, I knew there was more than 1,000 -- more like 1,800 -- but it was too late to prove it. The ticket taker, he would take the tickets, then hand the customer a stub from down in the drop box, and then pass the real tickets back to the box office for resale.
"You can lose $100,000 a night in fraud that way. You've got to watch the ticket taker and you've got to get there early to make sure people aren't hiding in the toilets or the curtains."
Third, he will intentionally take a loss on one fight to buy into the action on another. "I was required to take Leonard-Kalule (last June) to get this show," he said. "It's all Monopoly money. I lost $47,000 when I expected to lose $100,000. I was happier than hell. We poured champagne when it was over."
So it's a great business if everything works. When things don't work, the champagne turns sour in the pit of your stomach. That's what was worrying The Connector yesterday. He could see $500,000 a-glimmering.
Seems that one of the promoters, Shelly Finkel, publicly claimed last month that the fight will never -- repeat never -- be rebroadcast. No commercial TV, no cable. Finkel promised him the same thing, The Connector said.
Wouldn't you know it? Yesterday, The Connector invited his lawyer up to his office for a late-afternoon conference. Several sources said ABC had paid $1.9 million to the promoters to air a tape of the fight 30 days later. The same sources said HBO also has paid an unknown amount to retransmit the fight about a week to 10 days after it takes place. ABC would neither confirm nor deny the report.
"At this point," The Connector said, "we're not talking about Monopoly money. We're talking about real money. If word of the HBO thing gets out, ticket sales will stop, literally stop . . . I'll scream. I've got as much invested in this as anyone in the country."