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Boxing’s Sometimes Saturday Night War

Boxing has become a niche sport that is only relevant when there’s a mega fight. Poor judging decisions, corruption, and the strong force of the UFC has caused the sport’s popularity to wane over the past 20 years. Boxing desperately needed a spark, and recent events are shaping up to give long-suffering boxing enthusiasts a renaissance movement I have sheepishly coined: “The Sometimes Saturday Night Wars.”

I call it sometimes, because boxing’s two big networks rarely go head-to-head as they did April 27 of this year, and unlike UFC, there aren’t even monthly events in which to gauge a ratings/buyrate winner.

[adinserter block=”1″]WCW and WWE (then WWF), waged a legendary ratings war (Monday Night Wars) in the late 90s that left many fans in a perpetual state of nostalgia. Showtime and HBO are in a similarly heated battle for supremacy.

On April 20th, Showtime aired Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s defeat over Austin Trout with a brilliant performance in front of 40,000 plus people at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The following week, on April 27, Showtime and HBO went head-to-head on live television. Showtime’s main event featured a tough decision win for Danny Garcia over Zab Judah, while HBO featured middleweight champ Sergio Martinez edging a surprisingly game challenger, Martin Murray. According to Ring Magazine, that night Showtime’s ratings were higher than HBO’s.

The ratings win didn’t even include Showtime’s airing of Amir Khan’s close win over Julio Diaz from Sheffield, England, immediately after the Garcia/Judah bout.

Floyd Mayweather’s landslide win over Robert Guerrero this past Saturday signaled the conclusion of a historic run for the CBS-owned Showtime Network. Long-seen as the number two boxing network behind HBO, Showtime has recently made WCW-esque moves that currently have them in the top spot.

The climb for Showtime started when their former Head of Sports, Ken Hershman, left his post to take a linear position with HBO Sports in October 2011. Shortly after that, longtime Golden Boy Promotions lead attorney Stephen Espinoza was named as his replacement. Espinoza’s relationship with Golden Boy (founded by boxing great Oscar De La Hoya) has enabled him to add some pretty impressive talent to their pay-per-view (PPV) and televised fight schedule.

The biggest move by Espinoza was signing Mayweather away from HBO to the “richest individual athlete deal in all of sports,” according to a Showtime press release. Forbes Magazine believes the deal is for six fights, totals 200 million dollars, and has lead HBO to declare that it will no longer buy fights promoted by Golden Boy (Golden Boy has co-promoted Mayweather’s recent fights with Mayweather Promotions).

The great scholar Saskya Pandita once said, “The quarrels of men often arise from too great a familiarity.” These two companies are so intertwined with one another it’s almost hard to keep up. What is almost a certainty is that there’s only one sure thing in boxing, and Showtime currently holds his rights.

Hate him or love him, Mayweather is pound-for-pound the best boxer in the world, and definitely a huge money producer (Mayweather and De la Hoya hold the record 2.4 million PPV buys for their bout in 2007). His signing reminds me a lot of Hulk Hogan signing with WCW. Like Hogan, Mayweather made his name and initial fortune with the rival company, and signed a honeypot deal to leave.

I believe Showtime’s parent company CBS gives Mayweather and other fighter’s built-in advantages that HBO just can’t match at this time. The Mayweather/Guerrero showdown was given unprecedented marketing and publicity for a prize fight. On April 27, the CBS broadcast channel aired an hour special on Mayweather that garnered 1.73 million viewers, according to TV By The Numbers. The weigh-in, final press conference (before the fight), and the post-fight press conference/analysis were all televised on the CBS Sports Network.

Big fights used to lack substantial coverage following an event. In the past, fans had to hope ESPN thought the fight was popular enough to air even 10 minutes of analysis on their infrequently watched ESPN News channel. CBS/Showtime has seemingly solved that problem in a way that benefits both the fans and their bottom line.

What also can’t be overlooked is Showtime’s increased emphasis on their sports division. They acquired the “Inside the NFL” show that was previously on HBO and added “60 Minutes Sports” and “Jim Rome on Showtime.” These shows along with the “All Access” program that will accompany any big fight (especially all Mayweather fights) will help bolster and hopefully sustain their position.

Even though their competition is flourishing, HBO will be just fine. They still have Manny Pacquiáo, Sergio Martinez and rising superstar Andre Ward to fortify their lineup. They are now in the very unfamiliar position of being the clear second place boxing network. Though they are lagging, they have a very familiar brand to boxing enthusiast, and produce a good product no matter who the fighters are. Staying the course and only worrying about themselves might be the key to regaining the throne.

Anyway, who’s to say Mayweather won’t resign with HBO at some point in the future (definitive terms of his Showtime/CBS deal has never been disclosed)? Who’s to say he will continue to win? Maybe there’s a young fighter in HBO’s stable that will become more popular, sell more PPVs, and gather more fans than even the great Floyd Mayweather. HBO did just fine before Mayweather ever became such a big PPV draw; they can do fine without him.

[adinserter block=”2″]WWE took a little hit and have bounced back to become the definite wrestling promotion, probably for decades to come. Competition is good for the consumer. It was great for wrestling before, and could lead to a true resurgence in boxing popularity in the near future. We just have to hope that Showtime continues to produce great fights, and doesn’t make the same sorts of mistakes WCW did before.

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Jack Gotta
Follow Jack on Twitter @JackGotta


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