The pay-per-view boxing genre has taken many shots over thelast year, but the game recently suffered a devastating blow from an entity outside ofPPV.
USA Network two weeks ago announced that it willdiscontinue its 17-year Tuesday Night Boxing weekly series. While USA neverdistributed a PPV-boxing event, it was instrumental in the overall success of PPV. Noother network -- whether on broadcast, pay TV or PPV -- offered a more consistent venuefor pro boxers to be exposed to the viewing public.
USA said it was canceling the show because it wants toattract a younger demo. That doesn't auger well for boxing's future if its fansare perceived as too old for cable networks.
If it weren't for USA, George Foreman probablywouldn't be as popular as he is today. USA was the only network that would televiseForeman's remarkable comeback in the late 1980s, and the network laid the ground forseveral PPV paydays for operators -- including Foreman's classic 1992 fight withEvander Holyfield, which launched TVKO.
Other boxers, such as Hector "Macho" Camacho,also revived their careers on USA, moving on to major PPV fights.
And USA was the launching pad for such upstart fighters asOscar De La Hoya and the new "Golden Boy," 1996 Olympics champion David Reid.Now, other than the occasional ESPN boxing show or weekend-afternoon fight on ABC or CBS,there is no weekly, primetime exhibition of boxing anywhere.
And that could prove costly for PPV's future. Boxingmade its name in the 1950s and 1960s through the Gillette Cavalcade of SportsFriday-night boxing series and through Saturday-afternoon fights on broadcast during the1970s and early 1980s.
It wasn't unusual to see heavyweight champion MuhammadAli in classic fights against Ken Norton or Leon Spinks on broadcast television, whichbuilt excitement and drew fans to the sport. Today, the only way that a heavyweightchampionship will appear on "free" TV is after it's played out on PPV, payTV and basic cable.
Pro sports like baseball, football and basketball buildtheir fan base through broadcast television. Boxing has no such outlet.
While PPV has brought millions of dollars to the sport andto cable operators, it has also spawned a new breed of boxer that has become hungrier formoney than for the sport itself.
At the same time, the sport has suffered severalpublic-relations nightmares over the last few years, culminating with Mike Tyson'sear-biting exhibition against Holyfield in June. As a result, broadcast and basic-cablenetworks, which had been exposing the new breed of boxers, have lost their enthusiasm forthe sport. Now, the only place to see boxing is to pay for it via HBO, Showtime, DirecTvor USSB.
That may work for the Tysons and the De La Hoyas of theworld, but the industry can't afford to lose another outlet to help groom itsminor-leaguers. If the industry can't find a way to expose its future moneymakers,there won't be much money to be made in the next millennium -- unless it can keepTyson fighting through the year 2000.