Showtime comes out swinging
While Showtime hasn’t televised a major fight since July 30, the rumors of its boxing franchise’s demise were greatly exaggerated. A couple of days ago, the network unveiled its winter schedule, a strong line-up of solid-to-very good match-ups.
On Dec. 10, it presents a doubleheader from the Galen Center at USC that boasts the WBA “regular” featherweight title fight between beltholder Jesus Andres Cuellar and Abner Mares and Jermall Charlo defending his IBF junior middleweight belt against top-rated challenger Julian Williams.
Then on Jan.14, the super middleweight unification bout between WBC titlist Badou Jack and IBF beltholder James DeGale takes place.
Two weeks later, the rematch between WBA featherweight “super champion” Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz headlines, with a strong supporting bout that has WBC lightweight titlist Dejan Zlaticanin taking on Mikey Garcia. This will most likely take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
And finally, on March 4, the bout between welterweight beltholders Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman finally takes place.
It’s become customary for Showtime to roll out its fights now in quarterly segments.
Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports and Event Programming, explained to UCNlive.com, “I think it has much more impact to announce these fights as a series or a slate of fights. It provides more context for the sport, it allows people to see how fights relate to each other, allows fans to look forward to fights instead of getting everything on a piecemeal basis fight-by-fight.
“We’ve gotten into the habit of leaking out information in dribs and drabs and I don’t think that really provides regularity for the boxing fans or for the fighters. Now this feels like more of a sport and a real schedule, bringing that type of organization to the sport.”
Showtime had hoped to make this announcement last week but was still trying to put the final touches on a couple of fights. But it was inevitable that some of these fight rumors would leak out. “Once one guy says something here, another guy sends a tweet there and, next thing you know, 80 percent of your schedule is out,” lamented Espinoza, chuckling. “So there was some thought we’d hold this, so we could hold off on Anthony Joshua’s December 10th fight – whether it was (Wladimir) Klitschko or anybody else – but, given the recent developments with Anthony, it will probably be a few more days at least till he knows who he’s fighting.”
(Earlier this summer, Joshua and Showtime entered into a multi-fight deal. Espinoza makes it clear that Joshua will be on the network Dec. 10.)
“Meanwhile, information was starting to leak out,” Espinoza continued, “so we went when we did because, when you’ve got venues and fighters and promoters and managers and the (Premier Boxing Champions), you could only hold things for so long before the dam inevitably bursts and information comes flowing out.”
The recent hiatus from Showtime is directly related to the football season. It’s something that will be a constant variable in the future. The reality is football is a ratings grabber and rules Autumn. It’s also common sense, which will be employed throughout the year.
Espinoza explained, “Ideally, we’re going to schedule away from competing events. Perfect example: We had Deontay Wilder-Artur Szpilka earlier this year in January, which was a good fight – and one of the ‘Knockouts of the Year’ – but it went against (Green Bay Packers quarterback) Aaron Rodgers in the overtime playoff game. It had over 35 million people watching, so, at a certain point, if we do, on average, one big championship fight a month and maybe, with someone like (WBC heavyweight titlist) Deontay Wilder, there is a sizable contingent of a fan base that will be drawn away by a Green Bay Packers playoff game in overtime.
“At a certain point, we’re throwing money and programming down the drain. So it is inevitable that there will be competition, in January and February of 2017, the NBA will be doing a lot more Saturday night prime-time games, which is a new development. We’re never going to be able to escape all competition. But when you’ve got monster events like NBA Playoffs, World Series, SEC ( Southeastern Conference) in prime time on CBS, I think the best strategy is to to avoid those. So we’re not going to say we’ll never go in October, November, but I think we’ll be less likely in those months – as opposed to months like January and February when the sports calendar is relatively light.”
In the last year or so, Showtime saw some of its key fighters perform on other platforms utilized by the PBC. Now it sees many of its better-known boxers – and best match-ups -back on their airwaves.
“I’m not privy to all of the PBC strategy. My sense is that you’ll see a little more clearcut divisions, in terms of where that programming goes where. We obviously always want the best fights and all the best fights aren’t always going to happen, just by virtue of the involvement of other networks and the limitations of our budget and our schedule,” stated Espinoza. On Wednesday, the PBC announced its upcoming schedule that will be featured by ESPN, FOX, FS1, NBC and Bounce in 2017.
“But I do think it’s important for us and for fans at home to know that the biggest and best fights will be on Showtime and that, as a premium network, the fights that will be on Showtime will be premium level. They’ll be competitive. They’ll not just feature stars and names but they’ll feature stars and big names in competitive fights. To the maximum extent, that’s possible (that) we’re going to keep those off pay-per-view. It’s what we’ve been doing this year and we’re going to continue to do it next year,” promised Espinoza.
It’s clear: Showtime is still very much in the boxing business.
“I think what this announcement says is, among other things, we’re as committed as we’ve ever been to the sport. In terms of money, the amount of research, the amount of programming that we commit to it,” said Espinoza, “I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future. The past few years have been the strongest in the history of the sport and this year is the 30th anniversary of ‘Showtime Championship Boxing’ and it certainly hasn’t diminished in importance to the network and I don’t see it diminishing at any time in the foreseeable future.”
SOUTH BEND FLURRIES
Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia could land on CBS…Is John Molina in the mix to face WBC/WBO junior welterweight titlist Terence Crawford on Dec. 10?…There is boxing on UniMas on Friday night and then beIN Sports en Espanol on Saturday…So is Vine dying on the – y’ know – Vine?…Should be a fun weekend in Chicago and South Bend (Wrigleyville and the ‘Canes vs. the Fighting Irish)…This year’s Lakers team looks like it will be much more entertaining than the past few years. I’ll just leave it at that…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.