HBO will return to the pay-per-view boxing ring Saturday, having survived one of the greatest challenges to its category supremacy.
For a while, it looked like Showtime Networks would dethrone the PPV boxing distribution champ after the Viacom-owned network teamed with sister broadcast network and promotional partner CBS to lure Top Rank’s March 12 Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga PPV event — as well as Top Rank’s May 7 fight featuring boxing’s pound-for-pound champion Manny Pacquiao against Shane Mosley — away from HBO, which up to then had distributed nearly all of the biggest PPV fight cards over the last decade.
But the network absorbed that blow and countered its competitors with its own in-house promotional weapons. HBO teamed with other Time Warner Inc.-owned cable and publishing outlets to offer boxing promoters the opportunity to market and promote their PPV boxing events on such highly distributed networks as CNN, TNT and TBS.
The result is that HBO has once again cornered the marquee PPV boxing-event market, offering four mega-events in as many months, beginning with this Saturday’s (Sept. 17) Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz fight. Promotion for the fight — Mayweather’s first PPV event this year — is being aided by CNN’s Saturday midnight repeat telecasts of HBO’s documentary series 24/7: Mayweather-Ortiz.
HBO will gin up promotion on TBS and TNT sports programming for the Nov. 12 rubber match between Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. HBO is also expected to tap Time Warner Inc. cable, publishing and online assets for its Oct. 15 Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson bout and its recently announced Dec. 3 Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito event.
Still, Showtime’s return to the PPV boxing ring gave the category a much-needed adrenaline punch, and the hope is that the network will remain a player in the category going forward.
It’s going to take a lot of effort from numerous entities within the PPV boxing world to keep the sport healthy and financially vibrant, particularly as competing event categories such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Wrestling Entertainment continue to make moves to bolster their fan bases and bring new viewers — and PPV dollars — to the table.
UFC’s recent seven-year deal with Fox, which includes four live UFC events a year on the Fox broadcast network — its first is scheduled against Pacquiao-Marquez — will bring greater awareness and credibility to the mixed martial arts outfit, while the WWE is preparing to launch a 24-hour network in 2012, that undoubtedly will serve as a major promotional vehicle for the sports entertainment company’s monthly PPV shows.