Bob Arum accuses HBO of counterprogramming
This week, the highest-profile boxing card takes place from the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where an unprecedented match-up of two-time Olympic gold medalists Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux takes place as the headliner on ESPN (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Bob Arum, whose company Top Rank is staging this event, tells UCNLive.com, “We have a great card; we have a great fight and I think everybody who is involved with boxing knows what a great fight this is. Everybody has been tremendously complimentary and rightfully so – except the guy who’s somehow been put in charge in an executive capacity at HBO. So again, it is what it is.”
The individual in Arum’s crosshairs is Peter Nelson, the executive vice president of HBO Sports. HBO just happens to have its own card on this night, that begins an hour later, a tripleheader from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, that features a trio of super featherweight bouts.
So was this deliberate counterprogramming?
“Of course, not even a question,” Arum answered, without hesitation. “You think it’s an accident, after we announced November 11th and then December 9th, that they put shows against us? There are two premium networks, you didn’t see the same type of activity from Showtime. Showtime is doing these two fights from England, December 9th, but they’re on Saturday afternoon. They just enhance the world of boxing.”
Back on November 11, as Top Rank continued its new partnership with ESPN, with a card from Fresno, California, that featured Jose Ramirez-Mike Reed, HBO broadcast a card from Long Island, New York, that showcased middleweight Daniel Jacobs against Luis Arias. When asked if he felt this tactic would continue, Arum answered, “That’s up to them. We’re with the world leader in sports. They’re with the premium network that is finishing up with ‘Game of Thrones.'”
But why would HBO – which has approximately 25-to-30 million subscribers – want to go head-to-head with a network that is in close to 90-to-95 million homes and just about every bar and grill in America?
Also, there’s a finite amount of dates available, Having dueling shows in boxing is inevitable throughout the calendar year.
When asked for comment, HBO Sports (through publicist Ray Stallone) simply stated, “HBO does not deem the comments worthy of a response.”
Earlier this year, in a much ballyhooed move, Top Rank – which, for years, was the top content provider for HBO – took its business (and Lomachenko and Terence Crawford) to the “Worldwide Leader” with the belief that being on this network and its myriad of platforms gave them the best opportunity to fully cultivate the interest of the general sports fan and further the overall brand of boxing. In recent months, it does seem like the sport has become more of a priority for ESPN.
Throughout this week, network ads promoting the fight and the boxers on this card – sans Rigondeaux – made the trek up to Bristol, Connecticut to go through the “car wash” of programs on the various platforms of the four-letter monolith. And this focus on boxing will only grow in 2018, according to the head of Top Rank.
“I think it’s going to be incredible. I think the willingness of ESPN to telecast boxing events from anywhere in the world like the (Jeff )Horn-(Gary) Corcoran fight, which will be shown at 6:30, Wednesday morning (December 13), in New York, on ESPN, shows their commitment to the sport. The truth is, when we started this, we were dealing with people whose impression of boxing was not good. ‘Boxing was a niche sport; boxing skewed old,’ and we’ve turned all of that on its head and, now, among the greatest proponents of the sport of boxing are the executives at ESPN.”
According to Arum, “Their eyes are open and I think, from that, we’ll only be able to build greater and I’ve been meeting with some local promoters here in New York and we’ve been telling them that we’re going to cooperate with them to build the sport. In other words, it’s just not bullshit. My competition is not HBO or Showtime; my competition is the UFC or any other sport that takes away from boxing.”
While this deal was brokered by Top Rank (and Arum credits Top Rank President Todd duBoef as its architect), he promises, “I have absolutely no problems with using fighters that fight on other networks and I have absolutely no problems making arrangements for our fighters to fight on Showtime cards put on by Al Haymon.”
It’s certainly a diplomatic tone that Arum is taking and one hopes he keeps the promise to reach across the aisle and work with others for the good of the sport. He even looks back at the past union with HBO fondly, while also throwing some grenades at the same time. (Bob, don’t ever change.)
“Even though we’re no longer with them, we at Top Rank have a great loyalty towards HBO. We were partners for so many years. They did so many great things with us that I hate to see – because they have an executive who doesn’t know what he’s doing – that we have this kind of bad relationship with HBO,” said Arum, who added in an ironic twist, “contrasted with the guys we went hammer-and-tong with, the CBS,Showtime people, who now have realized that we can do good for them.”
K2 Promotions Managing Director Tom Loeffler joined Mario Lopez and me, in-studio, to talk about various issues (including “SuperFly 2”), this week, on “The 3 Knockdown Rule.”
The Top Rank/ESPN card will follow the Heisman Trophy Ceremony, so, unless that goes into extra innings or overtime before Baker Mayfield gets it, the fight card should start on time…Arum has spoken of a world tour for Lomachenko in 2018…Speaking of 130-pound beltholders, look for WBC champion Miguel Berchelt to return in February…Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz is the semi-main on ESPN this weekend…Judging by what I see on social media, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. don’t really like one another…OK, just finished up the fall season of ABC’s “Scandal.” Not sure what to make of the heel turn made by Olivia Pope…I can be reached at email@example.com 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.