The Peter (Nelson) principle of HBO Sports
Last weekend from the Forum in Inglewood, California, HBO broadcast a “Boxing After Dark” tripleheader. The action was more solid than spectacular but it was some rare summertime boxing, regardless. There are still those who subscribe to the network for its live fights and don’t particularly care that “winter is here.”
But yes, HBO is still in the boxing business. contrary to what some believe. Peter Nelson, the Executive Vice President of HBO Sports, believes that rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
“We have one of the most robust schedules that I see in boxing happening anywhere and we’re incredibly proud to be delivering what is widely regarded as the ‘Fight of the Year’ in (Saul) ‘Canelo’ (Alvarez)-(IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady) ‘Triple G’ (Golovkin) and having delivered one of the great fights earlier this year in terms of (Roman ) ‘Chocolatito’ (Gonzalez) and (Srisaket) Sor Rungvisai and we’re going to deliver the rematch in what is a historic card on September 9th,” Nelson told UCNlive.com earlier this week.
The “SuperFly” card on September 9, that features a trio of 115-pound bouts, is the centerpiece of their upcoming schedule (which also includes an August 26 broadcast featuring Miguel Cotto against Yoshihiro Kamegai) and the network is distributing the highly-anticipated pay-per-view match-up on September 16 that will feature Alvarez versus Golovkin.
Nelson proclaimed, “We just came off a great tripleheader with 50/50, competitive match-ups and we’re going to be rolling into more programming in the fall, that will be announced shortly, that will stand up against anything else that’s out there.”
But that future schedule will not include any boxers promoted under the Top Rank banner. Recently the company – that has been HBO’s main content provider for the past quarter century – took its business to ESPN. This means WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko and WBC/WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford (who both perform in August), who had been HBO mainstays, have now gone the way of “Inside the NFL.”
“I think we’ve always been in different circumstances, where there’s different alliances and different ways in which partners are working together but there’s been a proven progression of fighters to become stars on our network and that’s a 40-year tradition and that’s not going to change,” stated Nelson, who believes his network remains the best star-building platform in the business. “It’s built into the fabric of the sport in so many ways and our dedication to the sport and couldn’t be more proud of the kind of partnerships that we have.”
Nelson, who came to this position, having to deal with the specter of Premier Boxing Champions, now has to deal with this development. However, he remains undaunted. “While things in the sport are constantly shifting, I think the landscape is as healthy for the sport itself as it’s ever been and it stands to create a great opportunity for young fighters out there to gain the recognition they deserve.”
When asked about the current relationship with Top Rank, Nelson answered diplomatically, “I believe our relationship with Top Rank is healthy and there’s still plenty in boxing to do together and obviously they’re a world-class company and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.”
Much has been bandied about, regarding HBO Sports’ budget, in terms of boxing, but nothing has ever been truly confirmed. There is a belief that until Time Warner completes its merger with AT&T that the purse strings will not be loosened. Long ago, HBO was the 800-pound gorilla in this marketplace; now its position has clearly been challenged by Showtime and ESPN is now firmly committed to the sport.
“As of right now, we feel that our strategy and our programming through the end of the year will prove to be quite robust and we’re excited for everything that’s going to happen in the future going into 2018 and beyond,” said Nelson, who some might think is doing his version of “Baghdad Bob” or Tim Smith. The future will be telling but, unlike the past, boxing doesn’t seem to have the exulted position at HBO (once known as the “Network of Champions”) nowadays that’s reserved for “Game of Thrones.”
But Nelson is steadfast in stating, “As I mentioned before, it’s over a 40-year tradition embedded in the fabric of this company and so it is vital to our enterprise within sports and I think plays very well into the broader programming mosaic of what HBO presents to consumers.”
Moving forward without Top Rank means that perhaps HBO will have more cards like the one last weekend (which was headed up by Golden Boy Promotions but had a few other promoters involved) and the September 9 card, which has six promotional firms in the mix headed up by K2 Promotions. Top Rank’s departure from the network has created an opening for others and, if they are willing to take the appropriate risks, it could benefit the HBO subscribers.
To this, Nelson says, “I think what it represents are instances where promoters really want to deliver a great show and have realized that’s the best way of doing it, to cooperatively work together to deliver the best results for the fans and that, win or lose – that’s ultimately going to be for the betterment of the sport and that’s going to be for the betterment of the business. And so I think if you take a look at what Oscar (De La Hoya) did this past weekend and you look at what Tom Loeffler is doing on September 9th, you took a look at Canelo-Triple G coming together, that the way in which these biggest fights – and even the smaller events – are really the fights that the fans have been asking for, that these events have come together as a result of a cooperative effort. Not a unilateral one and that benefits everyone.”
2017 has been a bit of a renaissance year for the sport. For all the criticism its taken, HBO has contributed to it.
“I think what fans of any sport want is quality competition. They want to see 50/50 fights and the advantage that boxing has over a lot of sports – and that’s not to say that other sports don’t have other advantages – but one of the great advantages is that you don’t have to go through a whole regular season where you might encounter mismatches, where you kind of know, going in, what the results are going to be.
“In boxing, if everyone is doing their part, the fights should come together as 50/50 events. Because if you want to become a great name you have to start by being in great fights and everyone knows that’s the only proven recipe to becoming a banner name in the sport. So I think you’re right, that the fans have been vociferous in what they want.
“We have to listen to what our consumers say and do our best in working with our partners to deliver on that.”
Thus far, in 2017, HBO has had six boxing broadcasts:
– January 28: Miguel Berchelt-Francisco Vargas, Takashi Miura-Miguel Roman
– March 11: David Lemieux-Curtis Stevens, Yuriorkis Gamboa-Rene Alvarado
– April 8: Vasyl Lomachenko-Jason Sosa, Oleksandr Gvozdyk-Yuniesky Gonzalez, Oleksandr Usyk-Michael Hunter
– April 29: Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko (delayed broadcast)
– May 20: Terence Crawford-Felix Diaz, Ray Beltran-Jonathan Maicelo
– July 15: Berchelt-Miura, Jezreel Corrales-Robinson Castellanos, Sullivan Barrera-Joe Smith Jr.
(HBO Latino also telecast a card on April 15 that featured Sullivan Barrera against Paul Parker.)
Upcoming, they have the aforementioned cards on August 26 and September 9.
In terms of pay-per-view, they have distributed three shows:
– March 18: Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs
– May 6: Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
– June 17: Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev II
And then they have the September 16 card from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
One common complaint I hear often, regarding HBO’s boxing franchise, is they don’t allow their fights to be streamed live, unlike rival Showtime. Personally, I wonder why they don’t at least reboot “Legendary Nights” once a year (like they did with Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward) or have a developmental series similar to “ShoBox,” that could then further complement their live fights and programs such as “The Fight Game with Jim Lampley.”
Has any of this been discussed by HBO?
“We talk about different programming opportunities on a daily basis and what’s out there to do and what is ultimately going to be best, in terms of a broader sweep of sports programming that we provide to the network, which is in a broader portfolio of programming,” answered Nelson.
“So we’re constantly looking at different possibilities and we don’t rule anything out but, as of now, our focus is on our flagships, ‘World Championship Boxing’ and ‘Boxing After Dark.’”
HOME BOX OFFICE FLURRIES
The bout between Anthony Dirrell and David Benavidez for the vacant WBC 168-pound title will take place but probably not on September 9, as widely reported…So who will “protect” Jermain Taylor now?…Top Rank CEO Bob Arum (or somebody on his account) tweeted out that already 80-percent of the tickets for Terence Crawford’s next bout against Julius Indongo in Lincoln, Nebraska have been sold…Hearing tix sales for the Mikey Garcia-Adrien Broner fight at the Barclays Center are…well, no bueno…NFL Yearbooks are back on the NFL Network. Yes, the season is getting close!…So Miami is the pre-season choice to win the ACC Coastal Division, huh? Interesting…Yeah, judging by his closing comments on the most recent “Real Sports’,” Bryant Gumbel will definitely not be purchasing Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. MMA Guy…Geez, Arya Stark is a straight savage now…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.