HBO bows out of boxing
The handwriting had been on the wall for awhile and it was made official by HBO Sports on Thursday morning that, after 45 years of covering boxing, they would no longer be televising the sport, starting in 2019.
The following statement was put forth by HBO Sports:
“Our mission at HBO Sports is to elevate the brand. We look for television projects that are high-profile, high-access, and highly ambitious in the stories they seek to tell and the quality of production in telling them.
“Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades. During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation. It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services. There is more boxing than ever being televised and distributed. In some cases, this programming is very good. But from an entertainment point of view, it’s not unique.
“Going forward in 2019, we will be pivoting away from programming live boxing on HBO. As always, we will remain open to looking at events that fit our programming mix. This could include boxing, just not for the foreseeable future.
“We’re deeply indebted to the many courageous fighters whose careers we were privileged to cover.
“We are a storytelling platform. The future will see unscripted series, long-form documentary films, reality programming, sports journalism, event specials and more unique standout content from HBO Sports.
“We are constantly evaluating our programming to determine what resonates with our subscribers. Our audience research clearly shows the type of programming our subscribers embrace. For HBO Sports, it’s programming that viewers can’t find elsewhere.
“In keeping with this mission, we’ve accelerated our commitment to storytelling. This has produced landmark shows like ‘Andre the Giant,’ which is the most viewed sports documentary ever on HBO; the acclaimed NFL reality franchise ‘Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cleveland Browns,’ which delivered double-digit viewership gains from a year ago; ‘Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,’ the gold standard in sports journalism on television; the powerful docu-series ‘Being Serena’ that chronicled the comeback of tennis icon Serena Williams; and the acclaimed unfiltered talk series ‘The Shop’ featuring LeBron James.
“This fall, HBO Sports will present an edition of “24/7” highlighting the upcoming Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match play plus engaging documentary films like ‘Student Athlete’ and ‘Momentum Generation’ brought to us by accomplished filmmakers. In 2019, we will have the innovative multi-part documentary presentation ‘What’s My Name|Muhammad Ali’ from director Antoine Fuqua in conjunction with executive producers LeBron James and Maverick Carter of SpringHill Entertainment.
“Other new ventures will be announced in the weeks ahead as HBO Sports continues to explore new frontiers in sports programming.”
It was a long and memorable run. What began on January 22, 1973 (when George Foreman faced Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica) will most likely end with a Dmitry Bivol fight in late November. As of now, the only fight card on the HBO schedule is for October 27, at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, where Danny Jacobs faces Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the vacant IBF middleweight title.
There was a time when HBO Sports was synonymous with boxing. If it was a major event, chances are it was on this network. There was a certain feel to its fights that was unmatched and it truly was the “Network of Champions” for decades.
However as the marketplace changed and technology quickly evolved, new players came into play and HBO’s dominance was being consistently challenged by Showtime. It became clear that boxing was no longer one of its top priorities and it was evident that, over the last year or two, it was phasing out this franchise.
When the network was first conceived, boxing was particularly useful. Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank (which had been the lead content provider for HBO for years), said, “I’ve been saying for awhile that the contribution that the premium networks, particularly HBO, made to the sport of boxing were tremendous. They came in; they used boxing to help build subscribers, particularly with the contract I signed with them with (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler. But that had the negative effect of driving out the other networks because premium networks could spend more money because they got monthly fees from subscribers. But it became obvious, as the premium networks grew, that they had no need for boxing, that they weren’t sports networks.”
In 2017, with Top Rank President Todd duBoef as the point person, they cut a deal to bring their content to ESPN, a network that knows first and foremost about sports. They saw the iceberg hit the Titanic and took the first lifeboat. “We’re not stupid and we have intelligent people in our company, Todd, myself, other people, and we saw the handwriting on the wall – that HBO’s involvement in the sport made no sense any longer and it was a matter of time before they would get out,” stated Arum.
He added with a chuckle, “So we got out when the getting was good and we got to a platform that was much. much better for the sport, for ourselves, than HBO was.”
The veteran promoter is fond of saying that, in life, “nothing ever changes; nothing ever stays the same,” and, in this instance, he pointed out, “Radio was the backbone of boxing, then television, then closed-circuit. Everything changes; now we’re entering into a new era where boxing has a huge future, where more people are going to have it available to them. Whether it’s ESPN, ESPN+, FOX – what a great reach that they have – FS1 and DAZN.
“I mean, that’s terrific and there’s going to be more networks; that’s my prediction. Maybe NBC, maybe TNT will go into the sport. All it is is a difference, a sea change, a difference in the way people will view boxing and I think it’s a plus for boxing because it will be available to more people, particularly people in the desired demographic group of 18-to-29.”
As more people cut the cord to “Netflix and Chill,” the reality is the network had to shift its focus on creating more scripted programming like “Game of Thrones.” “And economically to use the money that they were spending for boxing made no sense when they could put it into developing pilots and documentaries that had much greater financial impact on the company,” said Arum.
Some will blame the current head of HBO Sports Peter Nelson, which is simply unfair and illogical. This decision came from way above his pay grade.
Many of you reading will likely cancel your subscriptions to HBO but Arum certainly won’t. He loves its overall programming.
“Of course!” he told UCNLive.com on Thursday morning. “HBO is a bargain because of the tremendous programming that they offer. Just for John Oliver and occasional great series like ‘Succession,’ it’s certainly worth the price that you pay. But it is part of our family viewing, where Lovee (Arum’s wife) and myself love a lot of the stuff HBO produces and that we would never give up our subscription.”
For years Larry Merchant was an integral part of the HBO broadcast team before leaving the network in 2012, he was in New York City when he heard the news.
“I feel sad personally. I feel sad that it’s over. We built something good; we did some good work. But change happens at an accelerated rate these days and HBO knocked out ABC, CBS and NBC but now it’s up against Netflix and Amazon Prime and other challengers,” said Merchant. “So it’s a different world but, for boxing, you still have ESPN and Showtime and FOX coming on and all the digital platforms.
“So it’s changed but I don’t know how to quantify what it means to the infinite scheme of things.”
The game will move forward but Arum, perhaps echoing what many other feel about this development, stated, “Anybody who has been in boxing as long as I have has to be grateful to HBO for the support that they gave the sport so many years.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Here are some numbers provided by HBO Sports on its boxing history:
HBO Boxing Fight Facts
First telecast – Jan. 22, 1973, Frazier vs. Foreman, Kingston, Jamaica.
Total number of fights on HBO – 1,111
Years televising Boxing – 45
Boxing After Dark debut – February 3, 1996
(Main event: Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Kennedy McKinney, Inglewood, CA)
Boxers with most appearances on HBO:
Roy Jones Jr. 32
Oscar De La Hoya 32
Shane Mosley 27
Floyd Mayweather 27
Manny Pacquiao 24
Miguel Cotto 24
Lennox Lewis 23
Bernard Hopkins 23
Wladimir Klitschko 22
Arturo Gatti 21
Pernell Whitaker 19
Marco Antonio Barrera 19
Mike Tyson 17
Mario Lopez and I talk about the big news and review Anthony Joshua’s latest victory on “The 3 Knockdown Rule”:
Billy Joe Saunders has tested positive for a banned substance but Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn says he’s not sure how this will impact Saunders’ October 20 WBO middleweight title defense versus Demetrius Andrade…So with HBO now out of the mix, what becomes of WBA/WBC middleweight champion Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin?…Question: How many of you will drop your HBO sub because there won’t be anymore boxing on the network? Personally I enjoy stuff like Succession, “Insecure” and “Real Sports” way too much to get rid of it…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.