After a two-year hiatus, Showtime will throw its hat back into the pay-per-view boxing ring this September. The punch will come as part of a month-long run of high-profile ring sports events the pay service will offer sports fans.
The network will distribute on a pay-per-view basis the Sept. 8 Fernando Vargas-Ricardo Mayorga middleweight fight — the first of what Showtime executives say could be more such boxing shows before the end of the year.
The event marks the first PPV fight card for the network since the October 2005 rematch between Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales. It’s also a return to a category that Showtime, along with HBO, helped build in the mid to late 1990s. Back then Showtime — fueled by the popularity of fighters like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Julio Cesar Chavez — earned millions of PPV dollars and buys for cable operators. In fact, five of the top 10 highest-performing PPV events of all time were distributed by Showtime.
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Holyfield-Tyson II (6/97)
The network was also very aggressive in offering non-sports PPV events like concerts in the 1990s.
But the network has pulled back on its pay-per-view offerings over the last few years, especially on the boxing front. The network has been unwilling to get into bidding wars with rival HBO over high-profile bouts or to develop exclusive distribution deals with various boxing promoters.
“We’re constantly looking at the marketplace trying to do smart deals, and some of those areas, like the music genre, have become more challenging,” said Showtime sports and event programming senior vice president and general manager Ken Hershman.
While the network hasn’t been very active in the PPV boxing arena, its Showtime Championship Boxing franchise has remained strong, offering fights every first Saturday of the month. The network has also sought to build up-and-coming fighters through its ShoBox: The New Generation franchise as well.
Still, Showtime’s boxing efforts have been overshadowed in recent years by HBO, which has arguably offered more high-profile fighters, such as Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, through its World Championship Boxing franchise.
“Our boxing franchise we think has been stellar,” Hershman said. “We don’t like to compare ourselves to HBO, but we have our own strategy to deliver the best fights on very regular schedules on the first Saturday of the month, we think to great success.”
He said the Vargas-Mayorga fight — as well as the network’s distribution of two June PPV mixed martial arts events — is a signal that the network is willing to take its shots against the ring sports genre’s big players, HBO and Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“We’re starting to step back into that genre and get a little more aggressive,” Hershman said. “I can’t say it isn’t a major focus for us, but the deals weren’t right and the industry wasn’t right over the last few years. But now we think we’re back in a good position.”
The Vargas-Mayorga fight is the centerpiece of a monthlong live ring-sports programming block the network will offer beginning in September.
A week after the Vargas-Mayorga bout, Showtime will air a live event from its Elite XC mixed-martial-arts franchise from Hawaii, according to Hershman. On Sept. 22, the network will air former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko’s return to the squared ring against Jameel McCline after a two-year hiatus.
For Showtime’s free-preview weekend Sept. 29, Hershman said the network will offer a “major boxing event” but would not reveal specifics. He did say the network will return to the ring Oct. 6 with a heavyweight boxing match between World Boxing Council champion Oleg Maskaev and Samuel Peter.
Showtime will also remain aggressive in the mixed martial arts ring, offering several Elite XC combat sports events over the next six months.
The Elite XC franchise, formed last year by Showtime Networks and Pro Elite to stage world-class live mixed-martial-arts events, will debut a second franchise later this month dubbed ShoXC that will offer live events feature up and coming MMA fighters, according to Hershman.
Hershman would not reveal specific ratings for its mixed-martial-arts events, nor would he provide pay-per-view buys for Elite XC’s June 2 and June 22 PPV events.
But he did say that the network is satisfied with the MMA franchise’s progression.
“We expect fans of the sport to come to Showtime more and more and hopefully that will lead to more subscriptions, which is the reason we’re in business,” Hershman said. “As more of our boxing fans get exposed to the sport we’ll make more converts out of them as well.”