The boxing genre has continued its strong showing on
premium and basic cable during the first two months of the year.
Home Box Office, Turner Network Television and ESPN2 are
all generating better-than-expected ratings for their boxing cards, according to network
executives, proving that the often-beleaguered sport is on an upswing.
"I think that boxing is hot right now, and people are
excited about the fights and the fighters again," said Lou DiBella, senior vice
president of programming for Time Warner Sports.
HBO's World Championship Boxing series extended
its string of consecutive double-digit ratings for a live main event to 11 with the
performance of its Feb. 20 Felix Trinidad-Pernell Whitaker International Boxing Federation
The card -- which also featured a replay of the Feb. 13
Oscar De La Hoya-Ike Quartey World Boxing Council welterweight-title fight -- was the
highest-rated HBO boxing telecast in four years, according to DiBella.
Trinidad-Whitaker's 16.5 Nielsen Media Research rating
(in HBO's universe) was the best-performing event since the 19 rating pulled by a
George Foreman-Axel Schulz fight in 1995.
"It was certainly one of our biggest fights and best
performances in several years," DiBella said.
But HBO wasn't the only network enjoying boxing's
sudden resurgence: TNT drew a 1.9 rating for its Feb. 17 fight featuring WBC junior
lightweight champion Floyd Mayweather.
While the 1.9 figure fell short of the 2.1 rating for the
network's debut boxing program last September, it still was slightly higher than the
network's average rating for the time period, TNT said.
Given the success of the event, TNT said it would likely
continue to distribute fight cards in the future.
"It's possible and likely that we will move
forward to do more boxing in the future," said Greg Hughes, vice president of public
relations for TNT.
ESPN2 plans to continue its ESPN2Friday Night
Fights series, given its recent ratings performance. Since moving the two-hour, weekly
live and in-studio boxing show from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. in December, Friday Night Fights
has averaged a 1.0 rating -- a 98 percent ratings increase from the same time slot last
year -- the network said.
The show represents the only weekly boxing program on
either cable or broadcast television.
"It's performed very well for us, and it's
become a focal point for boxing," said John Wildhack, senior vice president of
programming for ESPN.
"We developed the series because we felt that there
was a void in the presentation of weekly boxing shows, and it has since entrenched itself
as one of the best-performing series on ESPN2," he added.