Competition is an important part of increasing word of mouth in the sports world. Even a pseudo-sport like pro wrestling was able to benefit greatly from competition among promotions in the days when there were multiple thriving promotions in America. On that note, boxing in America currently is in the middle of such a competitive battle, but it’s between networks and not promoters. HBO & Showtime are the two premium cable channels that broadcast boxing on a regular basis and have been doing so for many years.
There always has been a bit of a competition between HBO and Showtime, but it has slowed down during the last decade. Now it’s back in motion and that motion is full speed ahead with the two networks once again locking horns for the best boxers, the biggest viewer numbers, and the biggest pay-per-view buy numbers.
The HBO/Showtime feud peaked in 2002 with their joint broadcast of the Lennox Lewis/Mike Tyson heavyweight championship bout. After that, Tyson’s star faded and with him being Showtime’s biggest boxing draw by far, but no longer a force in the sport, HBO was assume clear control of the rivalry.
What has recharged the rivalry between two networks was Floyd Mayweather leaving HBO for Showtime recently, and bringing Saul “Canelo” Alvarez with him.
Money talks, and Mayweather signing a contract with Showtime for more money than previously imaginable was easy to accept. Also, there was the benefit for Mayweather of no longer having to deal with Larry Merchant during his post-fight interviews.
The signing of Alvarez was strategic on Showtime’s part. The goal of this signing is for Alvarez’s bouts on Showtime to bring in a large Mexican audience who will purchase the channel for their cable package solely because of Alvarez. This is a good strategy because Mexican boxing fans are by far the most passionate, fanatical, and dedicated fans in the boxing world.
The investment so far has been a good one for Mayweather, Alvarez, and Showtime with the Mayweather/Alvarez bout from September generating $150 million in revenue and 2.2 million pay-per-view buys—just short of the all-time record of 2.5 million for Mayweather/Oscar de la Hoya. The fact that this bout resembled everyone from Showtime to Golden Boy Promotions to Mayweather Promotions sending Alvarez to the slaughterhouse didn’t get in the way of the bottom line.
Both Showtime and HBO have great rosters of boxers tied to them, but if the younger or lesser known stars are only going to draw so much, and the big draws have little time left in their careers, are enough people going to invest in boxers whose entire pro career will be broadcast on HBO or Showtime? This is a tough question that boxing promoters and networks aren’t asking themselves and likely won’t until it’s too late.
My personal take on this whole rivalry boils down to another tough question the boxing world needs to ask itself: are premium cable channels alone going to be able to create new stars? It’s a whole lot easier for new stars to be created when they have the most possible exposure to the public and casual viewers in particular with even a basic cable package offering this kind of exposure. Even if it’s just a monthly fee for a channel like HBO or Showtime, that fee is in addition to what someone is already paying for their cable package, and plenty of people aren’t going to pay that extra fee.
Also, boxing as a sport needs to shape up. Even if there are stars on the networks and even if the networks are able to get boxers to the point where they are becoming draws, if there are still bouts with criminally poor judging and the sport is still perceived by the general public to be a joke (as it is these days), the networks are only going to be able to do so much.
In the short term, the HBO/Showtime rivalry can do some good for boxing because the competition itself might make both networks put more pressure on promoters and boxers to make big name bouts and bouts that are good for the sport happen. In the long term, it’s all about whether the networks are able to properly promote up-and-coming boxers and if people are able to see enough in those up-and-coming boxers to stick with them for years as they make a name for themselves in the sport.
Finally, if you want to know which network I favor in this rivalry, it’s HBO. The announcers are better, the presentation is better, and they have the 24/7 specials for select fights, which are amazing.
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