For decades, HBO has been the standard for top quality boxing programing. Rival premium network Showtime has always been considered as runner ups, until now. In the past few years, HBO hasn’t been as committed to the sport in recent time. That may not be entirely Peter Nelson’s fault. Who currently serves as HBO Sports executive Vice President. HBO’s boxing budget has been cut down, which leaves promoters sometimes squandering for dates. Well, at least thats how Top Rank felt like.
Top Rank, who’s owner Bob Arum stated that they weren’t fond of how the way HBO Sports was being ran, which led them to find a new outlet for their fighters in ESPN/Disney. Promoters like Kathy Duva of Main Events and Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy, have stated how important HBO is to their respected promotional companies in developing their fighters on HBO to help turn them into stars, or higher name recognition.
HBO still holds the most subscribers with almost 50 million, as far as premium network channels. Rival network Showtime, holds almost 30 million subscribers. Out of the 20 top shows in premium network averages, 17 out of those 20 were HBO shows, while 3 of them were Showtime. It’s clear, that in order to get the best and most views, HBO would be the better option to take your fighters to. However, as Peter Nelson pointed out in his recent interview with Yahoo Sports Kevin Iole, “HBO isn’t a sports network, its a story telling network.”
Top Rank president Todd Duboef stated a similar reason to why they decided to partner up with ESPN. Todd stated that HBO was more worried about competing with Netflix’s and Amazon Prime videos of the world, as far as content for TV shows. Todd wanted to increase his fighters awareness. For that, their last card in December that had Vasiliy Lomachenko face Guillermo Rigondeaux, landed them 2.1 million views on ESPN. Their highest viewers on HBO earlier this year was 961 thousand, when Terence Crawford beat Felix Diaz. As you can see, its a huge difference.
But despite Showtime having less subscribers and average views than HBO, why is it even considered better? The answer, quality. Showtime simply delivered more quality fights than their rival network HBO. HBO put Alvarez vs Golovkin and Ward vs Kovalev rematch on their pay-per-view platform. Yes, showtime has a wider variety of fighters to work with, especially since Al Haymon is providing almost all of his fighters to Stephen Espinoza, But now that Top Rank has left HBO, they’re now more limited.
To Peter Nelson’s credit, he’s tried to do the best he can to work with what he’s got. He’s gotten creative with losing Top Rank’s stable, and so far appears to have invested more on the flyweight division. Theres plenty of talent their to be shown, that normally wouldn’t have gotten the attention it deserved in the past. HBO’s current promoters it works with is Golden Boy, Main Events, K2 which will be more of 360 promotions that’ll be ran by Tom Loeffler, and now Eddie Hearn with Matchroom USA, and quite possibly Dana White in the near future. Those are a lot of promoters to compete with to get and fight for dates.
In 2018, Top Rank will get 18 dates from ESPN. What’s good about that platform, is that they’re able to showcase all of their prospect fighters through the ESPN app. Fans can keep a close eye on their prospects on how they develop and follow their careers closely before becoming champions. Fighting on ESPN or ESPN 2 would give fighters more of a following, which ESPN currently has around 90 million subscribers.
What ESPN does that makes it easier for the younger demographic of fans is they’re able to watch fights, without having to pay $17 a month to watch fights on HBO and even dish out an extra $65-$75 dollars for pay-per-view fights. ESPN is extremely versatile in their programing, whether its on their cable channel, or on their app. ESPN/Disney had just bought 20th century FOX and collected a bunch of the regional FOX sports channels for their new streaming OTT platform for the spring of 2018.
HBO is behind in technology use. Their rival network Showtime has been more aggressive with being creative on how they distribute their content. They’ve began to have fights stream on Facebook or their YouTube channel, and grab streams from the U.K. while HBO hasn’t seem to been able to catch up to Showtime in this category. At this point, with HBO, promoters are limited to what they can show.
Despite having a close relationship with HBO, Golden Boy knows they needed another outlet to showcase their younger prospect fighters, which is why they went out to ESPN to get plenty of dates, for their fighters to have a platform to develop their fighters. Their census is that once they are ready, they would then move them to HBO to gain attraction. However, they would certainly lose less following, once they jumped ship to HBO.
Prior to the PBC taking a bunch of networks under their realm, and using them to have time buys for their fights, Main Events had a deal in place with NBC/ NBC Sports to showcase their fights. It would be wise for Kathy Duva to look for another similar deal with NBC in the near future. As of now, they rely heavily on HBO for their fighters like Sergey Kovalev, and now Dmitry Bivol who isn’t signed directly to Main Events, but will be working with them slowly.
Until HBO can prove that they will be becoming more creative with their content, having more fights stream on different platforms, give promoters more of an option to showcase their prospects, then HBO will continue to just be 2nd or 3rd best in providing boxing content. Completely disregarding HBO would indeed be foolish. Because lets face it, when HBO really tries, theres no one better production. Their 24/7 series was clearly better than rival Showtime’s “All Access.” But again, in the meantime, it appears that HBO/Time Warner, have different priorities.
If promoters indeed want to keep their relationship with HBO, then they’re going to have to get creative with finding a separate outlet to help build other fighters, that they would normally wouldn’t be able to on HBO. Younger boxing crowds may not have the ability to get HBO and Showtime. However, because technology is vastly improving, and makes and impact on how people watch their programming, having ESPN or FS1 is much easier for younger fans to obtain. Which is why UFC has been able to grasp the attention of young fans, that are interested in combat sports.
Before John Skipper left ESPN, who was the president of ESPN, people around him and the big guys on ESPN were on board with what Top Rank was selling them. For years, ESPN had Friday Night Fights, which was the minor league baseball version of boxing. However, Al Haymon used ESPN as one its network to use its time buys. Unfortunately, a deal with PBC and ESPN wasn’t able to fruition.
Top Rank, with its young stars, promising prospects, with ability to have good hall of fame match makers in Brad Goodman and Bruce Trampler, along with their library of great past fights, was able to away ESPN to have a 4 year deal. All Top Rank has to do now is deliver with good fights. ESPN’s OTT steaming service will only make it better for their fans. Despite being only half a year in their deal, Todd Duboef mentions how to brass at ESPN already are thrilled with the products and ratings. Consistency needs to be main key to make this partnership successful.
Starting off the 2018 year, it appears that Showtime will again start off the better content and quality of fights compared to HBO. Yes, HBO does fair off better in the fall schedule, while Showtime begins to hibernate. But this sort of competition would’ve never been talked about 5 years ago. Despite having lower viewers due to less subscribes, Showtime is winning fans with putting out better quality of fights, and being technologically more advanced on how they produce their content. HBO isn’t the juggernaut it once was, and it would behoove promoters to not entirely rely on HBO primarily as their number one outlet for boxing.