So where does this leave Showtime?
With much fanfare on Wednesday, it was announced that NBC’s “Premier Boxing Champions” series would debut on March 7 in Las Vegas with a doubleheader that will have Adrien Broner facing John Molina and Keith Thurman taking on Robert Guerrero. On April 11, a junior welterweight championship unification showdown between Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia is scheduled. As a whole, this series will feature boxers from Al Haymon’s vast stable. Many of the details of this deal were broke on Tuesday evening by the New York Times.
For boxing, it’s a huge step and it harkens back to the days when it was truly a marquee sport that rivaled the likes of the NFL and Major League Baseball and the heavyweight champion was “the baddest man on the planet” and among the most famous.
But where does this leave Showtime, which, at one point, gave Haymon carte blanche over its airwaves? Have they been left at the altar and were nights like Aug. 9 (that featured mismatches featuring Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson at the Barclays Center) all for naught?
UCNLive.com asked Showtime Sports Executive VP and General Manager Stephen Espinoza his opinion of these goings-on and as he was flying into Las Vegas for this weekend’s bout between Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder that headlines his network’s tripleheader, Espinoza answered several questions via email (with the assistance of Showtime spokesperson Chris DeBlasio). The questions were sent to him and his replies (which were transcribed by DeBlasio from notes he took and then sent back in blue font and all caps) were returned late on in the afternoon.
The following is the Q&A that took place:
Q: With the recent announcement of the fights on NBC, how does that impact Showtime’s future moving forward in 2015?
A: IT’S A POSITIVE FOR SHOWTIME’S FUTURE. WE WERE CONSULTED IN ADVANCE REGARDING THE FIGHTS TO BE SCHEDULED ON NBC AND WE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO RETAIN THOSE FIGHTS FOR SHOWTIME BUT WE DECIDED THAT THE BETTER LONG-TERM PLAY – FOR THE INDIVIDUAL BOXERS, FOR THE SPORT OF BOXING AND ULTIMATELY FOR SHOWTIME – WAS TO ALLOW THE BOXERS TO BENEFIT FROM THE MAINSTREAM EXPOSURE OF NETWORK TELEVISION. THAT EXPOSURE WILL ONLY SERVE TO ELEVATE THEM FURTHER WHEN THEY RETURN TO SHOWTIME IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE.
OUR GOAL IS NOT TO GET ONE OR TWO GOOD FIGHTS ON SHOWTIME. WE WANT TO ELEVATE THE BOXERS WE’VE BEEN BUILDING ON SHOWTIME – AND SIMULTANEOUSLY ELEVATE THE SPORT OF BOXING AS A WHOLE – TO HEIGHTS WE HAVE NOT SEEN FOR MANY MANY YEARS. PART OF DOING THAT INCLUDES ALLOWING BOXERS TO APPEAR ON NETWORK TELEVISION IN ORDER TO EXPAND THEIR FAN BASE AND TO ATTRACT NEW FANS TO THE SPORT. IF WE CAN REFRESH AND EXPAND BOXING’S FAN BASE, THEN SHOWTIME AND EVERY OTHER NETWORK THAT TELEVISES BOXING STANDS TO REAP THE BENEFITS.
Q: Are there any fights or dates for “Showtime Championship Boxing” past July 17 now?
A: WE HAVE A NUMBER OF SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING DATES AND MATCH-UPS PENDING. WITH THE DEEPEST ROSTER OF FIGHTERS OF ANY NETWORK, SHOWTIME IS WELL-POSITIONED FOR STRONG BOXING PROGRAMMING IN THE COMING MONTHS AND THROUGHOUT 2015.
Q: Are you disappointed that Danny Garcia-Lamont Peterson will not be taking place on Showtime after doing that Aug. 9 telecast?
A: NOT AT ALL. WE AGREED TO THAT OUTCOME. WE AGREED THAT THOSE FIGHTS SHOULD GO TO NETWORK TELEVISION IN ORDER TO FURTHER FACILITATE THE STARMAKING PROCESS. WE ARE NOT IN THIS BUSINESS TO HOARD ONE GOOD FIGHT AT A TIME. WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY HERE TO RAISE THE STAKES AND TO HELP ELEVATE THE SPORT TO THE MAINSTREAM SPORTS FAN. IT WOULD BE AWFULLY SHORT-SIGHTED OF US TO STAND IN THE WAY OF THAT, ESPECIALLY SINCE WE STAND TO DIRECTLY BENEFIT FROM IT.
Q: What is the current relationship with Al Haymon like?
A: TERRIFIC. I WOULD EVEN SAY THAT IT HAS NEVER BEEN BETTER.
Q: Did the announcement of the NBC deal and the boxers involved surprise you in any way?
A: NOT AT ALL. IT’S BEEN A TOPIC OF CONVERSATION FOR MONTHS. WE SIGNED OFF ON THE OVERALL STRATEGY (SEE ABOVE)
Q: Are the fighters on NBC eligible to still appear on Showtime?
A: 100% YES. NOT ONLY ARE THEY ELIGIBLE, THEY MOST CERTAINLY WILL BE BACK ON SHOWTIME IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE…AND WE EXPECT THAT THEY WILL BRING WITH THEM A LARGER SWATH OF FIGHT FANS THAN EVER BEFORE.
Just a few random thoughts (which I’m sure have been echoed through various social media platforms already) on this new deal and it’s possible ramifications…
– I like the opening bouts that have been announced. I know some will complain but really, not only are these pretty significant match-ups, they have a chance to be entertaining. It’s not surprising that Haymon came out of the gate strongly. Say whatever you will about the man, he is not dumb. The key now is to maintain this standard over the long haul. There is/was a realization that they have to put out a strong product and build momentum quickly, expand the audience and attract sponsors.
– This leads me to this point: Being a time-buy (in which the programming block is purchased), it’s more important than ever to sell advertising, which has oftentimes been problematic for boxing in the past. And with Haymon picking up the cost of production and marketing, this will be paramount as they pay a million dollars per card.
– Al Michaels and Sugar Ray Leonard bring a certain star power to the broadcast. There’s no doubt about that. Again, they are going all out in this venture.
– I found it ironic that a statement was read from the creator of the Muhammad Ali Act, John McCain, given that many believe Haymon is circumventing that very legislation.
– It’s interesting that Showtime – if you are to believe Espinoza’s statements – is OK with this maneuvering given that NBC is a direct competitor of CBS/Showtime/Viacom. So just how will Espinoza’s network be a part of this synergy? I’m sure some will be keeping track of just which boxers appear on NBC and then Showtime and vice versa.
– When it’s all said and done, it’s about the fights. Haymon took a lot of deserved heat for the fights he trotted out in 2014. Now in 2015, if he keeps procuring quality match-ups while simultaneously getting them on bigger platforms, he should be praised. I heard some gnashing of teeth on Twitter over the announced bouts and, in my opinion, it’s because of the association with Haymon. To me, it’s akin to not liking a certain recording artist or song because of the record label with which they are signed. Again, I think these are solid pairings. Sit back and enjoy them.
– I’m told Haymon’s overall plan isn’t just to bring boxing back to terrestrial airwaves but to grab as many television dates he can (hey, it’s going to take a lot of dates to keep a roster of 150 fighters busy) and essentially be the only game in town. Yeah, in many ways, he’s trying to drive everyone out of the business and be the dominant force in the business, much like the UFC is in the realm of mixed-martial arts.
Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets (a lot) at http://twitter.com/steveucnlive. He also shares photos of stuff at http://instagram.com/steveucnlive and can now also be found at www.tsu.co/steveucnlive.