by Eddie Goldman
Repeat after me, ladies and germs: Boxing is a TV sport. Boxing is a TV sport.
If you don’t get that, you don’t get boxing, especially its immediate future. Yes, streaming is growing, but it is still often a lousy, glitchy, unreliable substitute for ye olde televisione, and will remain so for at least a few years if not longer. Besides, the major streaming services like Netflix seem uninterested in offering any live sports, much less one as ungeeky as boxing. And the most many of the streaming services offered by TV networks usually do is show the same thing, freezing pictures and all, as they do on TV. (Footnotes provided upon request.)
Even those who somewhat get this, that far more people watch boxing on TV than see it live in arenas, often with a far better view (if having to suffer through agonizingly idiotic audio propaganda), still have no way to evaluate this. A recent contributor article to that rag of the 1% parasites, Forbes, is entitled “HBO Still Rules Boxing Landscape Despite Criticism; Can Showtime Change That?” The writer argues that this is so because “29 the 30 highest-rated premium cable boxing shows in 2016 involved” HBO, proving it is “boxing’s premier broadcaster.”
Using this methodology, I can “prove” that Trump won the popular vote in the U.S. presidential election by conveniently eliminating from consideration all the states he lost. This is precisely what this guy did (and presumably got paid lots of bananas for doing so).
So here’s the truth. Five of the top six most-watched boxing shows on U.S. TV in 2016 were Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) cards. Here is my list, compiled from various reports based on Nielsen ratings:
1 – Errol Spence Jr. vs. Leonard Bundu, Aug. 21, 2016, PBC on NBC: average 4.8 million viewers, peak of 6.34 million.
2 – Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter, June 25, 2016, Showtime Championship Boxing on CBS presented by Premier Boxing Champions: averaged 3.1 million viewers, peaked at 3.94 million viewers.
3 – Danny Garcia vs. Robert Guerrero, Jan. 23, 2016, PBC on Fox: ave. 2.1 million, main event peaked at 3.5 million viewers.
4 – Andre Berto vs. Victor Ortiz, April 30, 2016, PBC on Fox: 1.6 million viewers.
5 (tie) – Gennady Golovkin vs. Dominic Wade, April 23, 2016, HBO: 1,325,000 viewers. (Note also that Wade is a PBC boxer and is managed by Al Haymon.)
5 (tie) – Joe Smith Jr. vs. Andrzej Fonfara, June 18, 2016, PBC on NBC: 1.32 million.
The last two are listed as a tie, because statistically 1.325 million and 1.32 million in the Nielsen ratings are the same. But if you prefer, PBC has five of the top six. And if you have the free time and resources, you can expand this list to ten, twenty, or whatever pleases your heart and head.
The ratings for the early 2017 cards also appear to be strong. The PBC on Spike show of Friday, January 13, headlined by a less-than-competitive showcase fight for Erislandy Lara against Yuri Foreman, reportedly averaged 547,000 viewers and peaked at 707,000. This was 11% higher than the last time Spike had a PBC card on a Friday night, when Danny Jacobs fought Sergio Mora on September 9, 2016.
The night after the PBC on Spike card, Showtime aired a card run by many of the same people associated with PBC and the publicly invisible Al Haymon. Headlined by an early fight-of-the-year candidate involving James DeGale and Badou Jack, the fight ended in a majority draw with each man retaining his super middleweight belt. The telecast peaked at 454,000 viewers and averaged 391,000, quite high for a Showtime boxing card.
In recent weeks there have also been a number of new TV deals announced in the U.S. and U.K.
Besides PBC already having said that there will be more telecasts in 2017 than in either of their first two seasons, the troubled Golden Boy Promotions just announced a new deal with ESPN. A total of 18 shows on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes will be shown this year, on various days including Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, beginning March 23, and also around the world. There will be supporting programming developed. No doubt these fights will feature up-and-comers, but if Golden Boy makes them competitive rather than planned mismatches, they could be entertaining.
In the U.K., a deal was announced late last year for Frank Warren to promote 20 live U.K. events in 2017 on BT Sport, as well as 20 live U.K. events on BoxNation. This expands the number of shows Warren’s company will air, as he strives to contract with more fighters and try to compete with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and Sky Sports, who are the strongest in the U.K. at the moment.
On top of this, British heavyweight David Haye and American promoter Richard Schaefer have just announced a new partnership and venture, Hayemaker Ringstar. This aims to get a U.K. TV deal as well, along with co-promoting Haye’s March 4 fight with Tony Bellew, which is on Sky Sports Box Office. For those unfamiliar with the 36-year-old Haye’s drawing power, when he fought the overmatched Mark de Mori last January and stopped him in 2:11 of the first round, the fight was shown on the U.K. comedy channel called Dave, which is a free terrestrial channel. It peaked at three million viewers.
Oh, what about HBO? I think I heard a rumor that they are still around and will show a few fights and a lot of unworthy pay-per-views, but, who knows, that could just be fake news. Word is that HBO is trying to stave off being quarantined in intensive care by bidding with Showtime for the U.S. rights for the April 29 heavyweight blockbuster between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. Joshua has an exclusive U.S. deal with Showtime, but Klitschko, who has recently fought on HBO, will be 41 at the time of this fight and may be in the last bout of his career, ready to pass the heavyweight torch to the unbeaten star Joshua. It thus makes more sense for Showtime to outbid HBO for this fight, but sense and dollars and cents often travel separately.
So who really rules boxing’s TV landscape? In a way, y’all do. What you watch on TV, what you tweet about, and what you even glimpse on those forbidden secret streams, all create buzz, bucks, and boom for boxing. Just don’t tell these writers. The facts may confuse them.
(Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of No Holds Barred, at http://eddiegoldman.com.)