Showtime marches forward in 2018
Much of the first quarter of the Showtime boxing schedule has already been laid out. Bouts such as Errol Spence Jr.-Lamont Peterson (January 20), Sergey Lipinets-Mikey Garcia (February 10) and Danny Garcia-Brandon Rios (February 17) are set, with a few more additions to be announced soon.
The network is coming off a very strong 2017 campaign, which saw it televise such match-ups as James DeGale-Badou Jack, Spence Jr.-Kell Brook, Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko and Garcia-Adrien Broner, among others.
Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports told UCNLive.com, “2017 was one of the best years in recent memory and obviously my history at Showtime, as well, before it. But I rely on guys with more knowledge and history like Al Bernstein and, when he says things like it’s the best year he can remember at the network – that carries a lot of weight.
“I think it’s a year where a lot of things came together. We’ve been building up a couple of divisions and 2017 was a year where we finally saw all that work come to fruition. We’re talking about the round-robin we’re having with the featherweights, starting to get the welterweights in big fights. We saw the emergence of Errol Spence. We saw the U.S. emergence of Anthony Joshua. So it’s sort of a year in which a lot of things that had been in the works for a couple of years really popped and broke through to the top tier.”
The landscape going into the New Year now includes ESPN, which is back in the business of big-time boxing, with its union with Top Rank (which broke off its long-time association with HBO, last year). So does this further divide the sport with its various factions and loyalties that already exist? Espinoza states, “I don’t think it’s any more clouded than it has been in the past. Yes, there’s one more network involved but I don’t see that it significantly complicates it. It’s network affiliations but it’s more so promoter obligations.
“Candidly I don’t know whether, under the ESPN deal, if any of the Top Rank fighters can fight other than on ESPN – that’s something to be clarified. (Top Rank CEO) Bob (Arum) has spoken a lot about ‘trades’ and so I assume there’s some space there but, at some point, there needs to be clarification. But I think the reality and what is happening is, in some cases, there’s certain weight classes that have sort of been, I guess, claimed by certain networks.”
Espinoza explained, “It’s tough to do anything at the highest level at heavyweight, welterweight, featherweight, at 154 (junior middleweight), without running pretty quickly into a Showtime fighter. Those are divisions where we have a lot of activity. 160 (middleweight) is a weight class that HBO has emphasized, so that will minimize some of the conflict but there still needs to be cooperation in order to make some of the big fights happen.”
In a recent column on UCNlive.com, I suggested – once again – that, in scenarios with boxers who have rival networks involved, the two entities essentially bid for the right to broadcast that particular match-up and that perhaps it’s a more realistic solution than “trading” fighters.
Espinoza agrees for the most part, stating, ”You’re right; the trade is a good concept. It’s sometimes not a good concept when you’re talking about guys you’ve invested a lot of money into and a lot of time and energy and then seeing them go somewhere else for possibly the pinnacle fight of their career. It’s tough to evaluate ‘equal value’ in what is coming back to you in an ‘equal fight,’ so you’re absolutely right in saying it’s not as simple as it may seem on its purpose.
“Yes, the simplest thing is to put everything up for bid. It’s best for the fighter; it’s best for the promoter, in terms of making sure they’re fairly compensated and the network that really, really wants it is going to end up with it. So look, regardless of the structure, there’s always going to be some disappointed parties. I agree with you; an open bid is the easiest way.”
Again, there is no perfect solution to this problem that is unique in many ways to the boxing business. It would be ideal that, moving forward, the powers-that-be will find ways to compromise for the good of the sport. Simply put, too many good fights are left on the table in this current climate.
But the Joshua-Klitschko bout was a situation in which Showtime and HBO found ways to work it out. Problem is, it happens too infrequently.
But Espinoza also pointed out, “Having said that, I think it would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that 2017 was the year in which we saw more of the big fights happen without delay, without a lot of politics, without a lot of difficulty, than the recent past. I know there’s still going to be those situations in which you say, ‘What about these two guys? These guys are on different networks.’
“There’s always going to be a little conflict but I think we have to stop and acknowledge that 2017 was a year in which the sport did it more often that it has in the past and recognition and credit has to be given to everyone involved for having done that. Hopefully that will continue in the near future.”
Speaking of my column from last week (The three universes of boxing), Ray Stallone of HBO Sports reached out, regarding this particular passage:
“Yes, there has been cross-pollination, in the past, when Pernell Whitaker, an HBO staple, faced Julio Cesar Chavez on Showtime’s pay-per-view platform in 1993 and mega-fights such as Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield in 1999, Lewis-Mike Tyson in 2002 and, most recently, Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao in 2015 were done in union between HBO and Showtime, as the bottom line was so great, the Hatfields and McCoys had to sit together at the table and break bread.”
Mr. Stallone pointed out (via email), “The Holyfield-Lewis bout featured an HBO fighter and a TV free agent (Holyfield). His promotional rights were maintained by DKP. That’s why (former HBO Sports President) Seth (Abraham) and (then HBO producer) Lou (DiBella) were able to make the deal.”
Coming into that fight, Holyfield had fought his previous four bouts on Showtime (or Showtime Pay-Per-View) and was promoted by Don King, who had an output deal with the network, at the time.
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