Top Rank and truTV
What had been rumored for months in the boxing industry was substantiated on Monday as Top Rank Promotions and truTV announced that they would enter a partnership to televise a prime time boxing series. This new series would debut on May 1 at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas with a card featuring Takahiro Ao vs. Ray Beltran for the vacant WBO lightweight title the night before Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. get it on in the most highly anticipated fight of the year.
There will be a three-week stretch in which truTV will televise fight cards in conjunction with HBO broadcasts in May. In the second week of programming from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, Seanie Monaghan and Glen Tapia will co-headline. Then on May 15 from Phoenix, Arizona at the US Airway Center, Jose Benavidez Jr. faces Jorge Paez Jr. and Antonio Orozco takes on Emmanuel Taylor.
truTV – which is in 92 million homes – is best known for shows such as “Impractical Jokers” and “Barmaggedon” and televising the opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament is a part of the Time Warner umbrella, which includes HBO.
Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank – who Bob Arum calls the “architect” of this deal – told UCNLive.com, “It really started with getting Turner Sports, which is the parent company of all of it, interested in boxing and interested in the product, the synergies that the product has obviously with HBO is great. So just figuring out where to put it and they just relaunched truTV in the fall and they felt the best place for the boxing product was on truTV on Friday nights and putting it up next to whenever the next big HBO show would go on Saturday, the Friday nights before it which would have the synergistic behavior because they’re all apart of the Turner Network umbrella.”
There will be five more truTV telecasts in 2015. According to Arum, “It’s a multi-year deal.” Industry sources have inducted that there will be 24 shows in this agreement. This is certainly a significant deal for Top Rank who now has further opportunities to develop and showcase their clients on a sizable platform (not sure what that means for other non-Haymon affiliated promoters not named Golden Boy Promotions…but more on that later). The last time Top Rank had an exclusive output deal with a cable network was with Versus and quite frankly, well…there was way too much Tye Fields and Yuri Foreman.
And Versus was out of the boxing business rather quickly. Bottom line, with this changing marketplace, they can’t squander this franchise with a series of one-sided house fights. And there is no excuse here, given that Top Rank is being given a sizable six-figure license fee for these cards (said to be in the neighborhood between $200,000 to $400,000).
DuBoef bristles at any reminders of the content they provided Versus. He says, “Personally, in hindsight, what I’d say is Versus – and this is obviously not about Versus – when we were on there, there was never any on-air promotion, never any awareness. They never drove an audience to us. They were looking to buy some library content – which was a big portion of it, the ‘Legends of the Ring’ – they wanted a ton of that. It’s a totally separate play but they weren’t interested in, really, boxing product. They were looking to grab content to fill time.
“But I will say this: This series is a series where it’s obviously above the traditional ESPN fight. It’s something where you’re going to see guys who have fought on HBO, been lead-in fights on HBO and those things and will be looking to keep their popularity growing and give them opportunities.”
Perhaps this series can be what USA’s “Tuesday Night Fights” was long ago, which provided a platform for world-class fighters to stay busy before their bigger fights on premium cable networks. But duBoef says, “I wouldn’t look at it as an in-between place; I look at it as a supplemental place where it’s going to be useful because you’re going to have in the first fight [Mikael Zewski versus Konstantin Ponomarev] two young, undefeated kids fighting each other.”
What looks to be a positive development is the bout between Orozco and Taylor is a match-up in which neither fighter is under the Top Rank banner.
“You’re going to have compelling match-ups; it’s going to come from compelling cities,” promised duBoef. “It’s going to have direct relevance on what HBO’s doing. It’s going to have direct relevance vice-versa in how they’re going to support each other and work with each other and you’ll also have the flair of it being a Turner product.”
In 2015, CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN, HBO, Showtime, UniMas, Telemundo, FOX Sports 1, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network, Bounce TV, Spike TV and now truTV will be among the networks broadcasting the Sweet Science. Not bad for a dying sport.
“I never believed that boxing was not popular,” said Arum. “I believed that we have groups in the United States that are growing like the Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians that love boxing. They love to see boxing. So I never believed that boxing was on the downgrade. I think it had a difficulty in attracting sponsors and one of the reasons was because, obviously, it’s boxing and there’s violence when these guys fight. Companies didn’t want to be associated with the sport because it could result in injuries to the participants.
“But there’s no question that boxing attracted a very large audience. So now that the sponsors have gotten over some of their squeamishness, I think you’ll see more and more boxing on TV – and it won’t be time-buys. It’ll be actual payments for putting talent on.”
Arum quipped, “We don’t have any hedge funds backing us.”
Speaking of which, did all those deals procured by Al Haymon for the PBC (in which he bought airtime with a deep war chest provided by his investors) depress the market or affect duBoef’s negotiations with truTV and Turner Sports?
“At the end of the day, it’s about relationships,” said duBoef, who has friendships that go up all the way to the top of the food chain at Time Warner with the likes of HBO’s President of Programming Michael Lombardo and HBO CEO Richard Plepler. “It’s about people who are proven assets, proven to know what they’re doing and [President of Turner Broadcasting System] David Levy and [truTV President] Chris Linn, they are really qualified programmers. They believe in the product that we develop and the product we put on and the product we build. And I think what somebody does to disrupt the market or kinda puts it upside down, I’m not sure that really came into play from my extent.
“To answer it a little bit, I would say it’s, ‘What level are you looking to put on? And what is the uniqueness of the product?’ And we wanted to find a little bit more of a unique product in the marketplace, not following anybody, not doing anything else. It’s certainly something with really good programmers involved that understand it and understand sports.”
While this certainly is a mutually beneficial deal for both parties involved because Top Rank is the main content provider for HBO, HBO is seemingly in the crosshairs of Haymon (whom they jettisoned from their airwaves back in 2013) and this is about their own survival in the business.
But you have to wonder where does this leave everyone else in the marketplace? Several promoters have inquired about this deal and were told by the HBO brass that this deal with Top Rank was not brokered by them. Perhaps that’s true but you also have to wonder if it would serve HBO/Time Warner better if there were a platform that would aid the cause of more than just one promotional entity.
One of the reasons HBO is in this current position is because under the last regime led by Ross Greenburg and Kery Davis, they basically empowered Golden Boy and Haymon with an exclusive output deal. Well, we saw how all that turned out.
Oh, geez, so now instead of looking for the traditional split (usually close to 50/50) with the cable operators, the promoters are looking for something along the lines of 70/30. This is historic; so not only are they going to gouge the fans, they now are looking to gouge corporations.
But hey, it’s for the fans…always for the fans.
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