TV’s Fight Card Getting More Crowded

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Boxing will take the spotlight over the
next few months as both broadcast and
cable networks look to feature live events
from the sweet science.

Staples HBO, ESPN and Showtime
will be joined over the next six months
by such networks as Epix, NBC Sports
Network and Wealth TV — and potentially
broadcasters CBS and NBC — in
televising live fights. The development of
young, up-and-coming boxers alongside
marquee fighters has helped to propel a
sport that has struggled in recent years
to punch its way past premium channels
and pay-per-view events.

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

“I don’t think there’s any dispute that if
you look across the board of all the television
networks — including Spanish-language
channels — that there’s far more
boxing content on air than there was two
years ago or even 10 years ago,” Showtime
Sports president Stephen Espinoza said.

This fall alone, at least six cable and broadcast
networks will air live fights, something
unheard of at the turn of the decade.

Advertisers and networks have
shunned boxing, which has suffered several
black eyes in recent years, due in part
to controversial results as well as an inability
to match up popular fighters for
fear of jeopardizing a shot at huge payper-
view paydays.

OFF THE CANVAS

Slowly, though, networks are climbing
back into the boxing ring. Last month,
NBC Sports Network said it would televise
at least six primetime boxing events
beginning in 2013 as part of its live Fight
Night boxing series. Its deal with boxing
promoter Main Events also includes a
Dec. 22 live afternoon broadcast on NBC.

CBS, in association with Showtime, is
scheduled to air the pro debuts of several
Olympic fighters on Oct. 14 and Dec. 15,
with additional dates to be announced.

Epix will air a Sept. 29 heavyweighttitle
fight between Alexander Povetkin and
Hasim Rahman, while upstart Wealth TV
will step into the squared ring on Sept. 8,
televising a live bout between heavyweights
Tomasz Adamek and Travis Walker.

Espinoza said the renewed interest in
boxing comes as new and emerging fighters
such as welterweight Saul “Canelo”
Alvarez are capturing the interest
of younger viewers thought to have migrated
to the Ultimate Fighting Championship
and other mixed-martial-arts
purveyors.

But younger viewers, particularly men
18 to 34, are becoming more engaged with
the sport as fighters such as welterweight
champion Floyd Mayweather — arguably
the pound-for-pound titleholder — gain
exposure through such social media as
Facebook and Twitter. Mayweather, released
from prison last week after serving
two months of a 90-day sentence for
threatening a former girlfriend, has more
than 3 million Twitter followers.

HBO Sports senior vice president Mark
Taffet said the network has made a conscious
effort to make its fight-preview videos,
fighter interviews and boxing library
available on sites like Facebook and You-
Tube to help young viewers get familiar
with the sport. As a result, HBO has seen
an uptick of younger viewers for its World
Championship Boxing
events in 2012.

And that has affected the overall
numbers: Year-to-date, all nine of the
network’s primetime WCB events have
drawn more than 1 million viewers. In
2011, only seven of its first nine WCB airings
surpassed the 1 million mark.

Shoulder programming such as 24/7,
HBO’s reality series that follows PPV
combatants through training camp, has
also boosted ratings, Taffet said.

“It creates a connection with fans that
goes well beyond the fights in the ring, and
builds the fans’ desire to follow the fighters
both outside and inside the ring,” he said.

HBO has slated its first-ever one-episode
edition of 24/7 to coincide with the Sept. 8
World Championship Boxing telecast featuring
Andre Ward and Chad Dawson, a candidate
for fight of the year. A traditional,
four-episode 24/7 is set for the Sept. 8 Julio
Cesar Chavez Jr.-Sergio Martinez PPV bout.

Showtime will offer its own fight card
on Sept. 15, featuring Alvarez against Josesito
Lopez. It will team with the MGM
Grand in Las Vegas, the fight’s venue, on
a national marketing campaign including
a sweepstakes, Espinoza said.

Alvarez will also be featured on Showtime’s
All Access boxing reality series.

The increased exposure could lead
to Showtime moving some of its major
cards to sister broadcast network CBS in
the near future, Espinoza said.

PUSHING PPV

Increased exposure for boxing on broadcast
and cable channels can only boost
marquee PPV fights. Along with HBO’s
Sept. 15 Chavez-Martinez fight, industry
sources said Pacquiao is expected to fight
in a Nov. 10 PPV event in rematches against
either Miguel Cotto or Bradley, or in a
fourth fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.

The industry has already generated
more than 2 million PPV buys combined
from the May 5 Mayweather-Cotto fight
and the June 9 Pacquiao-Bradley bout.

“All of this that’s happening with boxing
and television are great building
blocks that hopefully mean future PPV
success down the line,” Mark Boccardi,
senior vice president of programming
and business development at PPV content
provider In Demand, said.

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