Answering the Bell for Three Decades

Showtime Sports’ coverage of big-time boxing events hits a major milestone

Showtime Sports has been at the forefront of televised boxing for 30 years, taking a sport that for a generation was the purview of the broadcast networks and effectively promoting, marketing and distributing some of the most successful and lucrative fight cards in the history of the fight game.

Showtime and HBO’s co-distributed May 2015 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view fight remains the biggest pay TV event of all time, drawing more than 4.4 million buys and more than $400 million in revenue. Boxing has become a staple of Showtime’s programming offerings, and both on its premium channel and via PPV, the network has showcased arguably the biggest names in the sport, including Tommy Hearns, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez, Lennox Lewis, Canelo Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather.

Showtime Sports and Event Programming executive vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza talked about the impact boxing has had on Showtime and vice versa over the past 30 years — as well as what the network is doing to ensure its future success with the sweet science — with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead.

MCN: How infl uential has boxing been to overall development of the Showtime brand?

Stephen Espinoza: It’s fair to say that boxing has been critical to the development of Showtime. It has provided another genre of programming that is completely consistent with the network’s overall brand. Showtime has become known for provocative, high-quality entertainment, with compelling characters, and there is nothing more provocative and there’s nothing more provocative and compelling than characters like Mike Tyson, Holyfield and Mayweather. Although it’s a much different type of programming in that its live sports as opposed to scripted dramas and comedies, its value to the network is the same — delivering unique, compelling, provocative programming at the highest level of quality.

MCN: How has Showtime enhanced the viewer’s experience of watching boxing on television compared to the broadcast television networks?

SE: I think there was a certain consistency in presentation that premium television offered to boxing. The ability to stay with a fight between rounds without going to commercial break is something that greatly enhances the presentation of the sport as a whole. The ability to do things without really needing to take a break in the action and to present [uncensored] content to an adult audience, in some cases, were really things that premium television could offer, so I think the experience of professional boxing on premium television was qualitatively different than anything else.

I also think the technology has impacted how the sport is presented and how we market, distribute and deliver the bout. We were covering the events with 15 cameras to be able to deliver the bout that mimics as close as possible the in-arena look and feel of the event. The advent of HD, Dolby 5.1, were also critical pieces of delivering that feeling of a live event. More recently, going to a 4K camera, which we started using three or four years ago, added another layer of detail of the visual presentation. Equally important was marketing and advertising the event. The advent of social media and digital marketing in general have been critical in being able to reach fans.

MCN: The premium category over the years has also been criticized for hurting the sport by taking its biggest stars away from broadcast television and forcing fans to pay to watch big fights. Do you think that is a fair criticism?

SE: I don’t think premium television hurt the sport per se. The shift to premium television was a significant change, but that was really more a factor of premium networks stepping into the void created by a decrease in networks televising boxing. There was the death of a fighter in the ring during the [1982 CBS-televised] Ray Mancini-Duk Koo Kim fight, and that caused some broadcasters to reconsider their commitment to the sport. It was a result of several factors that allowed premium television to become more active.

We can certainly debate whether [boxing’s move to premium cable] was a positive or negative development for the visibility of the sport. In an ideal case, having regular exposure of boxing on a broad, over-the-air platform is something that would have helped the sport overall historically. But overall, I think we have been good stewards of the sport and the sport has done wonders for the network as well.

MCN: Looking ahead, is the sport currently flourishing on Showtime?

SE: It is. The entire media market is undergoing changes, and that’s true for premium television, as well as boxing. There’s uncertainty as we undergo those changes, but there’s huge opportunity as well. For Showtime, our investment has been in the heavyweight division with such stars as [champions] Dante Wilder and Anthony Joshua are two investments that will provide us with hours and hours of great fights. More generally we are developing the largest pool of young, talented fighters that are going to lead the post Mayweather era. That includes Leo Santa Cruz, Keith Thurman, Sean Porter and Danny Garcia.

MCN: Who is the most impactful fighter to fight on Showtime?

SE: I’d say in terms of impact I’d say it’s a three-way tie between Tyson, Holyfi eld and Mayweather, with a close second being the fighter that’s appeared more than any fighter on Showtime, Julio Cesar Chavez.

MCN: What was the most memorable fight on Showtime?

SE: The one that immediately jumps to mind is the 2005 Diego Corrales- Jose Louis Castillo fight which, during my lifetime, is the best fight that I’ve ever seen and was later named fight of the decade.