Four platforms, one boxing business
Stephen Espinoza, the head of Showtime Sports, was asked a very simple question, last Saturday night, at the Staples Center, in Los Angeles: Just how divided is boxing currently, with four platforms (Showtime, HBO, ESPN and now DAZN) now in play?
While it’s great that there are major networks that want to invest in the sport, does it further fracture a business that is already divided? And with this dynamic, many of the most anticipated match-ups in the sport are either delayed or, worse, never come to fruition.
“For the fans, it’s a good thing; more boxing is generally good,” said Espinoza, whose network televised the lightweight unification bout between IBF/WBC lightweight champion Mikey Garcia and Robert Easter Jr. last weekend, which continued its strong 2018 campaign. “I have two concerns about the whole thing: More boxing is only good for the sport if it’s more good boxing. So to the extent maybe there’s new fans being brought on ESPN, people on DAZN, people being introduced to the sport – as long as they’re being introduced with quality, entertaining fights, it’s good for the sport.”
However Espinoza then warned, ”If we get to the point where it’s so watered down, because you’ve got 16 dates here, 16 dates here, and it’s just boxing, two guys boxing – that’s not a good thing. It’s not.”
Fights involving the premier prizefighters in the sport need some meaning on a consistent basis.
”Look, there will be interest but I don’t think it’s a good thing for the sport in the long run,” continued Espinoza, who then asked this vital all-important question: “How are these platforms going to play together? And it seemed like sort of winding down on some of the promoter rivalries. Maybe things were cooling and starting to open up, and just when you’re starting to wind down on that issue, now you have another issue, the segmentation, the fragmentation of platforms.”
Ahhh, the good ol’ days of the HBO-Showtime divide and the Top Rank-Golden Boy Promotions “cold war.” Now you have four major players and Top Rank signing an exclusive deal with ESPN and DAZN is controlled by Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. And every promoter who is aligned with a particular network/platform will always try to serve his or her own agenda, for the most part.
“And I’m not excluding us,” said Espinoza, who draws from the Premier Boxing Champions pool of talent, but he added, “We’ve tried to play nice when possible. We had a deal with Amir Khan; we let him go fight (Saul) ‘Canelo’ (Alvarez). (Danny) Jacobs came in with the (WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady) Golovkin opportunity, and we certainly didn’t try to interfere with that. But when you’re talking about a guy like (WBC heavyweight titlist) Deontay (Wilder) and we’ve done 10 fights with him or the Wilder-Joshua fight in particular, between the two of them, we’ve done 16 fights.”
Recently talk for that match-up imploded as Hearn took IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua over to DAZN (where he will face Alexander Povetkin on September 22). But if and when that fight comes to fruition, Espinoza states, “That’s one we feel we have a strong claim to, and I think we’re entitled to do that. But there’s others; Jessie Vargas, he had one fight with us. He comes in and says, ‘I’ve got an opportunity with DAZN.’ It’s his career, and it’s not like I have a ton invested in him. I don’t fault him.”
Many boxing fans – most actually – are yearning for two particular fights: Garcia versus WBA lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and IBF welterweight beltholder Errol Spence Jr. against WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford. However the hurdle is, while Garcia (who impressively shut down Easter to unify the WBC and IBF titles) and Spence are with PBC/Showtime, Lomachenko and Crawford are aligned with Top Rank/ESPN.
Now perhaps one day, these pairings will be big enough to become pay-per-view events (like Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao) in which network divides can be bridged with millions of dollars. But as it stands now, it looks more likely that Garcia will jump two weight divisions to face Spence. It doesn’t make a lot of sense but it’s certainly much more convenient for everyone involved.
Espinoza added, “But there are going to be cases where we have invested a lot where other networks are entitled to grab onto a guy, and that’s when I think there’s a good claim. I think the real question is – these guys who are not the core guys that you’ve done a ton of fights and spent a ton of money on: Can we be flexible and have some crossing of the street, and then make sure that the right fights get made?”
Originally Hearn had announced, during the unveiling of his deal with DAZN, last May, that his big hitter Joshua would not be part of this deal. Well it turns out that he is its centerpiece. However throughout much of the summer there were negotiations taking place for a Joshua-Wilder fight for the fall.
Does Espinoza believe, throughout this process, that Hearn was sincere in really trying to make this fight, given how everything played out?
“It’s a nagging question, and it’s a question that everyone is asking. The way it ended, sort of abruptly, with, all of a sudden, ‘Hey, there’s a deadline to make the fight,’ and it didn’t seem like there was a deadline, and, all of a sudden, they’re announcing the DAZN fight pretty quickly. It was a strange end to the saga,” answered Espinoza, last weekend.
“Of course at the end of it, no one really knows other than Eddie and AJ. Look, the reality of the whole thing is – it did DAZN a lot of good to have a high-profile, big fight,” admitted Espinoza, whose network had televised Joshua’s last six bouts. “And there is a strange dynamic going on because, when we’re talking about the Povetkin fight, Eddie is the one presenting offers from me, offers from HBO and an offer from DAZN, as if they’re a third party. DAZN is his own offer. In terms of boxing, Eddie Hearn is DAZN.
“When he’s meeting with AJ, he’s presenting, ‘Here’s the HBO offer; here’s whatever else, ESPN+ and here’s the ‘DAZN offer’ – which is him.”
It really made no sense for Hearn to not include Joshua in this package, given DAZN needs to drive subscribers – and rather quickly, as word is only the first two years of this deal are guaranteed.
Espinoza added, “Look, at the end of the day, Joshua’s a smart guy; he is an astute guy. I don’t think he’s getting tricked into anything but I also do realize that a Wilder fight is only happening on Showtime and Showtime Pay-Per-View. There’s no way around that. I do think they want that fight; maybe the timing didn’t work out right now. But that fight, I think, will happen in the near future, and it will happen on Showtime Pay-Per-View.”
This week on “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol and his manager Vadim Kornilov joined Mario Lopez and me in-studio. Mario and I also talked about Mikey Garcia’s latest victory, and his future plans to face Errol Spence Jr. at welterweight:
Word is the ESPN co-feature from Fresno, California, on September 14, will be a junior welterweight hook-up between Maxim Dadashev and Antonio DeMarco…Hearing that blue-chip, lightweight prospect Devin Haney will return to “ShoBox” on September 28…ESPN+ has acquired the rights for the Billy Dib-Tevin Farmer fight, for the IBF junior lightweight title, from Australia, later this week…OK, finally caught up to some episode of “Who Is America?” on Showtime, and, yeah, it’s hilarious…”Succession” on HBO is setting up for its version of “The Red Wedding”…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.