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Can Boxing Continue to Network?


In what is even more mounting evidence that boxing is not dying or being overtaken by the UFC, NBC scored very strong ratings for their December 22nd broadcast featuring the heavyweight contest between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham. This two-hour broadcast did a rating of 2.2 (with an average of 1.6 million viewers) but really encouraging was that in the last half-hour of the telecast, the audience peaked at 3.2 million viewers.
The only sporting event that had superior numbers during this time slot was a basketball game between traditional powers Kansas and Ohio State and the fight had a bigger audience by the end of the broadcast.
Yeah, people still watch boxing. How ’bout that?
Now, you’ve got to put this into perspective. If a prime time sitcom did those numbers, it would get canceled after the very first episode. And it pales in comparison to, say, the NFL, which has become an absolute Nielsens monster ( but compared to what boxing does on the premium cable networks, it’s eye-opening. The highest peak audience that HBO had this year was during Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s bout versus Marco Antonio Rubio back in February, with about 1.8 million viewers.

CBS, which dipped its big toe back into the “Sweet Science” on December 15th, had a 90 percent retention rate from its lead-in, an overtime hoops game between Indiana and Butler that preceded Leo Santa Cruz’s latest outing from the Los Angeles Sports Arena. It peaked at around 1.8 million viewers, about three times more than the audience that saw him win his IBF bantamweight title in June on Showtime. The fight on NBC followed snowboarding which procured a rating of 0.5.
Decades ago, boxing’s powers-that-be shifted the sport’s biggest events from the big stages on CBS, NBC and ABC and onto the likes of HBO and Showtime, which came armed with big license fees in hopes of attracting subscribers. So while the game’s elite got richer, over time, there was an erosion of the audience. Just think about it; the Big Three are in approximately 125 million homes across the country while HBO and Showtime are - depending on what reports you believe - in approximately 20-to-30 million homes.
In other countries such as Germany, where boxing is still shown on regular airwaves, Klitschko fights routinely have audiences in excess of 10 million.
Going back to the NFL, whose nationally televised games are routinely among the highest rated weekly programs in the fall, they have relationships with CBS, NBC, FOX and ESPN (which is in well over a 100 million homes in the United States). Perhaps it’s comparing apples to oranges but if you go back to the history of this league, for years, Pete Rozelle understood the impact of the league being on the biggest televised platforms. He might have approved of “Inside the NFL” on HBO or Showtime but he certainly wouldn’t allow any of their games on these networks.
When boxing really stopped growing was when it stopped being a regular presence on terrestrial airwaves where boxers like Ray Mancini - among many others - became household names throughout the years. The truth is, the genie is now out of the bottle. Boxing, while not dead by any means, is at least a niche sport in America. HBO and Showtime will always be a part of the boxing landscape and the sport’s biggest events will continue to be featured on the absolute smallest stage: pay-per-view.
That said, can the paradigm shift to a point where entities like CBS and NBC become at least semi-regular players? Kathy Duva, the head of Main Events, didn’t want to comment too much on the recent ratings except to say that she’s pretty damn happy with the results. But Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, which promoted the December 15th card, sees a future at the network that is tied to boxing.
“I definitely see more dates; as a matter of fact, I had conversations today about exactly that,” he told Maxboxing on Thursday afternoon. “I’d like to identify some dates which make sense. I like those Saturday afternoon dates. I really liked everything about that December 15th show. I like the afternoon slot, the lead-in, then what we had in the afternoon with the fan-fest and then the evening fights with Showtime Extreme and Showtime. It was just a terrific experience. So I can definitely see that happening three, four times a year. My goal is to get CBS four times a year, once a quarter.”
Main Events, in their deal with NBC Sports Network, will have another card on NBC in 2013. And with the strong ratings they put up, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that more dates could be added. Programmers care about one thing primarily - ratings. Get them and it significantly improves your chances of coming back. Stephen Espinoza, the head of Showtime Sports, made it very clear beforehand that solid ratings, coupled with a good fight on December 15th, would heighten the chances of boxing returning to CBS. As for Showtime, which is under the CBS corporate umbrella and now closely tied with Golden Boy, you could absolutely see a scenario where young stars (such as Santa Cruz) are showcased on CBS and built up before they hit Showtime. It would be reminiscent of the way guys like Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield and Meldrick Taylor, fresh off the momentum of the ’84 Olympics, became household names on ABC as professionals before heading off to the cable premium networks and pay-per-view.
Logic dictates that CBS and Showtime would absolutely have a vested interest in building stars together.
Now, the question is, is there any chance of higher caliber fights being broadcast on CBS or NBC? It’s one thing to do a Santa Cruz stay-busy fight but what about the possibility of doing a card with, say, a “Boxing After Dark” budget?
Schaefer states without hesitation, “Absolutely, because you have to realize when you get these kind of ratings, in CBS’s case, where they were able to maintain 90 percent of the audience from the basketball game between Indiana and Butler. You can imagine what the network has to pay for getting such an NCAA game and as an extension thereof, the kind of rates they can charge advertisers to advertise during that game. So how can you afford more expensive fights? It’s if you can sell advertising inventory to potential advertisers. How can you sell that? If you have the ratings. And what we showed on this December the 15th is, yes, we can get the ratings and if we can put on an even bigger fight, we’ll have an even bigger rating and therefore, networks are going to be able to charge the advertisers money and then, the networks will be able to come up with more money.
“I don’t know how much they paid for that Indiana-Butler game but if they would pay us the same that they paid for that game, I think we could have a pretty big fight on CBS.”
Speaking of Whitaker, it was his 49th birthday earlier this week (where does the time go?) and I was reminded of his entrances with the marching band, his trademark during his fights at the Scope in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. To me, it’s right up there with Roddy Piper and his band of bagpipes, in terms of all-time great, live band entrances.
It got me thinking, just where was that band from? I asked Ms. Duva, who replied…
“Ha! That was the marching band from Norfolk State University!
“I found them and maintained a very good relationship with their band director and the president of the university all the time ‘Pea’ was fighting! Once we brought them to Convention Hall in Atlantic City. You should have seen the look on Ross Greenburg’s face when I told him that Pernell would be led into the ring by a full-on marching band. We rehearsed with them the day before and the band hit their marks 100% of the time. Ross couldn’t believe it!
“I first saw them at halftime of a home Jets game,” continued Duva, “and that is when I got the idea. I reached out for the University and, as it turned out, the band director was a big boxing fan and so was the university president. I heard from the band director not long ago. He is, coincidentally, a childhood friend of Cal Brock’s father. Small world.
“That’s probably a lot more than you wanted to know about the band.”
As it stands, the IBF has ordered its super middleweight champion Carl Froch to fulfill his mandatory obligation against Adonis Stevenson. According to their president, Daryl “Everyday” Peoples, they were more than willing to let Froch face WBA beltholder Mikkel Kessler since unification bouts take precedence. But once an agreement could not be reached by a certain point, they ordered the mandatory.
Both parties have till January 15th to reach an agreement. If they don’t, a purse bid will be ordered.
Now, there is still a chance that Froch vacates the belt and goes ahead with a Kessler bout regardless.
Just remember, fights like Meldrick Taylor-Buddy McGirt and Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi I were on ABC. Yeah, it was a different era and guys like Taylor, Holyfield and Whitaker weren’t thrown on HBO or Showtime as prospects. They were established stars when they got to that stage...I like the Seahawks, Texans, Ravens and the Packers this weekend...Chip Kelly not winning a national title at Oregon before departing just makes his run at Eugene just feel a bit incomplete; doesn’t it?...I can be reached at and I tweet at We also have a Facebook fan page at, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.

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