By Jake Donovan
If the past 12 months proved anything, it’s that competition is a good thing.
HBO and Showtime have become chief supports in boxing’s Cold War between promotional powerhouses Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions. If the two networks are going to pledge their allegiance to the respective promoters, they better make damn sure their content doesn’t suffer one bit.
Miraculously, it didn’t.
Despite the number of bouts that can be made but aren’t happening due to the bitter rivalry between promoters, the networks also did their part by refusing to buy junk and passing it off as gold. If its options were limited in fights that can be made, the onus was on the promoters to deliver to the best possible fights with little room for error.
That happened a lot throughout the year. It wasn’t all glory, but for 36 out 52 Saturday nights in 2013, HBO and Showtime took turns presenting compelling storylines, with only four pay-per-view shows between them and fewer head-to-head conflicts than have been the case for the past decade or so.
So which one had the bigger year of the two? It’s all in the eye of the beholder, but as far as what was sought by those among the Boxingscene.com staff who voted on the subject, we present...
2013 NETWORK OF THE YEAR - SHOWTIME (Seven 1st place votes; two 2nd place votes)
If this were a prize fight, the complaint in the end would be that the scores were wider than the action by which it was preceded.
That said, what the final choice came down to was that Showtime regularly offered what HBO didn’t give enough of – loaded fight nights.
Tripleheaders and quadrupleheaders have now become the norm on Showtime, enough to where you don’t have to fork over $50-65 per viewing just to catch that much action in one night.
Make no mistake, the network made a HUGE splash back into the pay-per-view market. With the stunning announcement of signing longtime HBO poster child Floyd Mayweather to a lucrative long-term deal, came its two entries in the year’s pay-per-view tallies.
Mayweather fought twice on the year – the first time since 2006 in which he’s made more than one ring appearance. Both came on pay-per-view, registering a combined total of more than 3 million units sold and roughly $200 million generated in PPV revenue.
The bulk of both totals came from his September 14 shellacking of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in their battle of undefeated champions and box office stars. The fight – voted by Boxingscene.com as a runaway favorite for Event of the Year – pulled in more than $20 million at the live gate and $150 in pay-per-view revenue, both of which shattered the records previously set in Mayweather’s points win over Oscar de la Hoya, which was carried by HBO PPV in 2007.
All told, Showtime delivered 39 live broadcasts on the year between its pay-per-view arm, Showtime Championship boxing, ShoBox and its lead-in series on Showtime Extreme. The four means of boxing content made for a total of 100 bouts aired by Showtime in 2013.
Their year ended with a bang, with its December 14 quadrupleheader from San Antonio which fired on all cylinders. Headlining the show, Marcos Maidana made for the year’s latest blockbuster storyline with his 12-round humbling of brash rising superstar Adrien Broner, who was the final fighter from the Golden Boy/Al Haymon stable to make the switch from HBO to Showtime. The Ohio native was a ratings magnet for both networks, with all three fights landing on the Top 10 most watched live cable bouts of 2013.
His pair of fights for Showtime marked two of four on the year in which its broadcasts generated one million or more viewers, doubling its total from 2012.
The aforementioned quadrupleheader was one of several loaded fight cards on the year. A watershed moment for the network came in late July, when perhaps the greatest tripleheader in cable history also took place in San Antonio. A trio of savagely beautiful fights on the night – Keith Thurman’s 10th round knockout of Diego Chaves, Omar Figueroa outlasting inhuman Nihito Arakawa over 12 rounds, and Jesus Soto Karass resurrecting his career while ruining that of Andre Berto with a heroic 12th round knockout – left fans buzzing for much of the summer, and earning long-sought validation for Eric Gomez, arguably the hardest working matchmakers in the sport.
Danny Garcia continued to develop into one of the sport’s very best. A breakout campaign in 2012 was trumped by his run in 2013, which included his career-best performance in a 12-round points win over Lucas Matthysse in September. The bout could have headlined any broadcast at any point of the year, but instead gladly served as chief support to the Mayweather-Alvarez pay-per-view headliner.
It was just that kind of year for Showtime, who was able to mix and match fan-friendly fights while developing young stars and ongoing rivalries in the weight classes near its biggest star.
It all added up to emerging as Boxingscene.com’s choice for 2013 Network of the Year.
TOP RUNNER-UP – HBO (One 1st place vote; seven 2nd place votes; one 3rd place vote)
It’s possible that HBO has reached a point where the network has become a victim of its own reputation.
Forget the regurgitated stats offered from its releases of holding 21 of the top 25 U.S. cable boxing broadcasts of the year, or working with other promoters, airing from around the globe, etc.
The fact is, HBO aired live boxing on 24 separate weekends this year – 20 on its flagship station, two on HBO2 and two via pay-per-view. If you subscribed to HBO solely for boxing, then you certainly got your money’s worth in 2013.
Losing the sport’s biggest star (Mayweather) certainly didn’t help any. Neither did its remaining biggest star (Manny Pacquiao) only fighting once, that appearance coming 47 weeks into the year and to the tune of his worst pay-per-view output in more than five years.
What did help its cause is the number of fresh stars it helped create over the course of the year.
Gennady Golovkin and Adonis Stevenson both fought four times in 2013, three each on HBO. Sergey Kovalev saw two of his four fights appear on HBO. Mikey Garcia enjoyed the biggest year of his career to date, with all three of his fights airing on the network. Ruslan Provodnikov was best known as a regular on ESPN2 prior to 2013; his two appearances on HBO are well-represented in Year-End chatter, along with his rising towards the top of a forever loaded 140 lb. division. Tim Bradley enjoyed newfound respect thanks to his 12-round war with Provodnikov and well-earned points win over Juan Manuel Marquez.
HBO enjoyed a memorable run to close out the year, airing live content on its main network or its pay-per-view arm in 11 of 12 weeks from late September through early December. The stretch saw appearances from Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Andre Ward, Marquez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., some of the biggest names in the sport today.
In any other year, HBO – judged on its own merit and not compared to its own past – is a runaway choice for the year’s top network. But because such is a position that the network has enjoyed for decades, the belief these days is that – while they continue to deliver a tremendous product, there is still more to be done to return to where it once was.
Worth noting heading into the New Year: HBO comes out swinging in January, with back-to-back weekends of boxing taking place in Montreal and New York City.
OTHER NETWORKS RECEIVING VOTES (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
BoxNation (One 1st place vote; two 3rd place votes) – Any network that is solely dedicated to boxing will forever have a spot reserved on this list. That said, it wasn’t a spectacular year for the network when forced to issue its own original content. Picking up the rights for the biggest fights around the world was a saving grace, but the difference between top honors and honorable mention were those nights of marathon cards that went nowhere.
ESPN2 (One 3rd place vote) – Whereas most other non-major boxing networks had an off year, The Deuce picked up its game. Poor judging proved an all too familiar recurring theme throughout the 2013 season, with its premiere and finale both featuring suspect scoring. Wedged in between, however, were plenty of fantastic moments. Included among the lot were: the emergence of featherweight Evgeny Gradovich; a fantastic doubleheader in front of 10,000 fans at Chicago’s US Cellular Field in early August (by FAR the best telecast of the season and what was originally scheduled as the season finale) and the official promotional debut of former heavyweight king Mike Tyson, whose show served as the makeshift season finale.
NBC Sports Network (Two 3rd place votes) – There were hints of the series suffering the sophomore jinx after a strong rookie campaign in 2012. However, the broadcasts continue to be loaded with fan-friendly action and have fully served its purpose, as evidenced by the emergence of Sergey Kovalev as a rising superstar and Gabe Rosado as a budding middleweight contender.
TBS Japan, Fuji TV and Nihon TV (One 3rd place vote) – Yes it’s ignorant to lump all three together since they are separate networks. But for fight fans in the US reliant on streaming software to access them, the trio of networks collectively serve their purpose of bringing to life the biggest moments in Japan’s boxing scene. 2013 was especially huge, including: the Kameda brothers racing to the record books while continuing its love/hate relationship with the public; the reemergence of Akira Yaegashi; the continued dominance of unbeaten 130 lb. titlist Takashi Uchiyama; and the forthcoming dueling broadcasts on New Year’s Eve, a tradition now three years running – each year featuring Uchiyama live from Tokyo on Nihon and undefeated Kazuto Ioka on TBS Japan, which has captured virtually the entire career of the precocious two-division champ.
Telemundo (One 3rd place vote) – A change in programming format resulted to a ratings spike for the longtime series and dominance in the U.S. Hispanic television market. Rather than one Friday per month, the series shifted towards three separate seasons, running four consecutive Fridays each in: late February and early March; late June and early July; and late September and early October.
Wealth TV (One 3rd place vote) – As EPIX has momentarily bowed out of the boxing business, Wealth TV continues to fill the void for boxing fans who long for ring action beyond US borders, but who don’t wish to scour the internet for live streams (legally or otherwise). It was a down year for the network, only in the sense that it didn't boast the Fight of the Year candidates that came with its 2012 schedule. Still, it served its purpose in creating a Saturday matinee atmosphere while bringing select telecasts from Canada and England to our living rooms.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox