Are politics keeping World Boxing Super Series off HBO and Showtime?
The first quarter of the 2018 boxing schedule is steadily coming together. On Thursday afternoon, Showtime announced that Mikey Garcia will face IBF junior welterweight titlist Sergey Lipinets, from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Both Showtime and HBO have begun to fill out various dates but there is one omission that has left some fans wondering: What about the World Boxing Super Series?
On January 20, WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk faces Mairis Briedis in Riga, Latvia. Then on February 3, a cruiserweight title unification takes place between Murat Gassiev (IBF) and Yunier Dorticos (WBA). Then WBA super middleweight beltholder George Groves faces Chris Eubank Jr. on February 17, in Manchester, England. (As of now, the bout between Callum Smith and Juergen Brahmer has not found a date or venue).
None of these match-ups will be aired on the two premium cable networks, which are closely associated with the sport of boxing. The quarterfinals of the WBSS were streamed on its website and then telecast on the Audience Network, which had a limited reach.
It leaves Richard Schaefer, one of the promoters of this venture, befuddled.
“It really is amazing that there’s not more interest from a television point of view and one has to really scratch his head and wonder, is it boxing politics at its worst?” he asked UCNLive.com a couple of weeks ago, “because there’s some interest from television networks, actually from a couple of places in the tournament. Audience was certainly encouraged to have very, very, strong ratings and so there’s an interest from certain players but what is surprising is that the bigger platforms are not really jumping on this because I think there are some really mouth-watering match-ups.”
Yes, you could accuse Schaefer of being biased but these semifinal fights are enticing and are greatly anticipated by boxing fans across the world. Many American fans have expressed disappointment that one of the major platforms have not bought the rights to these bouts. ”So I’m surprised and I can only think that it’s boxing politics,” he lamented.
So worst-case scenario: Do these upcoming WBSS fights again stream on its website and end up back on the Audience Network?
“I don’t really know. I’m working on a couple of things and one has to think – just what is going on?” asked Schaefer, who, tonight, is promoting a card from Lancaster, California, that is being televised on FS1. “Why would, for example, an HBO buy a fight from Monaco with guys who really don’t mean much and pass, for example, on Usyk-Briedis fight, on fights in a division where they are already engaged? Why would they pass on something like that?”
The bout from Monaco to which Schaefer is referring was the November 4 blowout by WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol over Trent Broadhurst. (It’s clear that HBO is making an investment in the 175-pound division, which is why they bought the rights to this fight, which lasted less than a full round.)
He continued, “Why would a Showtime – which is already engaged in the super middleweights – pass on a fight which sold out in seven minutes (Groves-Eubank Jr.)? So I mean, again, I can’t explain it. I mean, I can explain but I don’t want to.”
Well, you can read between the lines, right?
“Exactly,” said Schaefer, with a chuckle, “and lets just leave it at that.”
While the initial installment of the WBSS has been a critical and box-office success (at least in Europe), will the next edition will have an American television presence? To attract big name boxers from the United States, you will most likely need a TV platform here.
“It really depends if the powers that be, here in the United States, those people, whether it’s networks, promoters, managers, advisers, whatever, are going to embrace it and let the fighters participate. And if the answer is ‘yes,’ than I think that answers the TV question because the fact is that promoters really exercise a tremendous amount of leverage over the networks and that’s just the fact,” Schaefer stated.
But it’s clear that there are definitive alliances with the major networks, which are televising boxing ,and there are clear lines that are drawn (and oftentimes not crossed).
Schaefer continued, “I mean, ESPN, nothing is going to happen without Top Rank. At HBO, nothing is going to happen without Golden Boy (Promotions) and we all know what’s going on at Showtime.” (Showtime is a network that airs fights on the “Championship Boxing” level that involve Al Haymon’s boxers).
“So I think that answers your question. And if the promoters or powers-that-be in the United States do not let their fighters participate in the World Boxing Super Series, then it’s going to be time for the fighters to stand up and say, ‘Hey we want to participate because A) it is an outlet, an avenue that will bring global exposure and most importantly it’s an avenue which provides higher prize money, bigger compensation and we want to be challenged. We want to be fighting the best.’ Like these cruiserweights in the first year have shown – they want to be challenged. They want to find out who is the best and the beneficiary of that is obviously we, the fans.
“If the fighters in the United States want to be following that path and want to participate in the tournament and network, managers and promoters and so on are going to stand in the way. That will answer your questions, as it relates to a TV deal.”
There was a time when Schaefer was running Golden Boy and had similar power and control over these same premium cable networks. Now he finds himself on the outside looking in, as he looks to build his stable at Ringstar Sports.
But the question has to be asked: Should networks be more neutral and just buy fights based purely on merit? Schaefer, who, more than anyone, understands the inner workings of the boxing business, answers, “Yes, I wish that but, at the same time, is it a realistic thing? No, it’s not. I mean, let’s face it; if you do have a certain talent or a talent pool or one guy – it really takes one who moves the needle – of course you’re going to use that leverage. You’re going to the network and dangle the carrot and say, ‘Yes, you can have this guy BUT I need this, this, this and that.’
“That’s just the nature of the business and that’s never going to change. I just think that’s the way it is and anything else is just being naive. That’s never going to change. We can wish as much as we want to but that’s just not going to change.”
One network that has been mentioned for the WBSS is EPIX, which, several years ago, dabbled in boxing. Schaefer believes this would be an ideal fit for both parties.
“If EPIX is really getting into boxing, EPIX is an premium subscription network. It doesn’t get more premium than this. To be affiliated with this tournament, with the (Muhammad) Ali Trophy, the semi/finals and finals, which are all 50/50 fights, it really doesn’t get better than that and to be able to do that with a license fee, where the entire semifinals and finals is not going to break the bank,” said Schaefer.
“I mean, you’re talking about bang for your buck. This is what this is: Bang for your buck.”
The FS1 card tonight, which features Jessie Vargas-Aaron Herrera, begins at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT…The co-feature to Garcia-Lipinets on Showtime will be Rances Barthelemy-Kiryl Relikh…Showtime announced that Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor did a final tally of 4.3 million pay-per-view buys for a whole lotta money…So Team Rigondeaux just keeps burying itself. Invoking the plight of Prichard Colon is repulsive and cheap…When does “Billions” return on Showtime?…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.