HBO Plans Knockout Year

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Home Box Office wants to take its boxing franchise to the next level with an enhanced lineup of World Championship Boxing shows and marquee pay-per-view offerings.

Fresh off its Feb. 25 Shane Mosley-Fernando Vargas pay-per-view bout — which tallied a surprising 415,000 buys — the premium network will show as many as 14 World Championship Boxing events and at least three more pay-per-view mega-fights in 2006.

“We’ve made a commitment in 2006 to the sport of boxing that’s as big as any commitment that we’ve ever made,” said HBO senior vice president of sports operations Mark Taffet. “We’re committed to having the live HBO boxing franchise be the anchor and the foundation of our efforts, while maintaining our commitment to the PPV industry to continue to deliver strong revenue.”

HBO will create its own version of “March Madness” by scheduling three World Championship Boxing events during the month, with the hopes of setting up several pay-per-view cards later in the year.

The network this past Saturday was scheduled to present junior lightweight Miguel Cotto; followed by a March 18 heavyweight championship bout between former champions James Toney and Hasim Rahman; and then a March 25 contest featuring former three-time world champion Marco Antonio Barerra Jesus Chavez in a lightweight bout.

On April 22, the pay TV network will televise the Chris Byrd-Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight-championship fight from Germany in a rare 5 p.m. start. On June 17, HBO will move to the middleweight division to air the Jermain Taylor-Winky Wright championship fight.

In addition, the network also plans to add some punch to its late-night series Boxing After Dark, offering an event per month, beginning in April.

The programmer’s pay-per-view arm, HBO PPV — which generated $126 million in revenues last year — has already posted approximately $33 million between its Vargas-Mosley and the Jan. 21 Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales event. Next up: the April 8 Floyd Mayweather-Zab Judah welterweight championship fight; and a May 6 Oscar De la Hoya-Ricardo Mayorga junior middleweight bout. HBO is also working on PPV events for June and July.

Taffet said the company’s ultimate goal is to develop events that will generate 1 million or more buys, a plateau that was commonplace in the late 1990s.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we were able to deliver a million-buy fight before the end of the year,” he said, without specifying the card.

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