By Rick Reeno
The boxing industry received a shock wave on Monday morning, when HBO Sports President Ken Hershman revealed that his company had made a decision to sever their ties with Golden Boy Promotions. HBO Sports is refusing to purchase any further fights from Golden Boy, and that includes WBC lightweight champion Adrien Broner who was heavily pushed by the network in the last twelve months.
Some industry experts were very surprised with the move, while others expected HBO take this position.
The tension between HBO and Golden Boy began in late 2011, when former Golden Boy attorney Steven Espinoza replaced Ken Hershman as the Vice President and General Manager of Showtime Sports. Soon after Espinoza's hire, Golden Boy started doing a voluminous amount of business with Showtime. Hershman is now the current President of HBO Sports.
The turning point in the Golden Boy/HBO relationship took place in September 2012. Golden Boy was looking to do a major card on September 15th with WBC junior middleweight champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. HBO refused to give Golden Boy the date. The network would instead reserve the previously mentioned September date for a pay-per-view event, which was headlined by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. Sergio Martinez and promoted by Golden Boy's main rival, Top Rank.
In response to HBO's decision on September 15, Canelo jumped ship to Showtime. That move led to the now infamous head-to-head battle of HBO/Showtime events in Las Vegas, with Canelo facing Josesito Lopez at the MGM Grand and Chavez defending his title against Martinez two miles down the road at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Golden Boy/HBO relationship was further strained on February 19th, when the biggest star in the sport, Floyd Mayweather Jr., signed a long term multi-fight agreement with Showtime. Mayweather, while not a Golden Boy fighter, works very closely with the company. Mayweather's adviser, Al Haymon, has nearly all of fighters under the Golden Boy banner.
When Mayweather made his decision to go to Showtime , Golden Boy's CEO Richard Schaefer speculated to BoxingScene.com on HBO's potential response to the move.
Back in February, Schaefer said the following to BoxingScene:
"There are two ways to deal with this. For HBO, they can say f*** them and I'm not going to deal with Golden Boy anymore and [boxing adviser Al] Haymon. They can take that position. Or they can say 'it’s time to sit down with those guys and work out deals for their fighters to ensure that we have some of the deep talent pool that they have. I don’t know which avenue or which way HBO will choose. So far I haven’t received a call. I don’t know which one it’s going to be. Whichever [decision] it’s going to be is okay, because this is a business which is driven by talent and as I said before - our talent compared to anyone else - we clearly have the deepest stable." "
Less than a month later, HBO made their decision and Schaefer sat down with BoxingScene to discuss the network's announcement.
BoxingScene.com: What are your thoughts on HBO's decision?
Schaefer: I am not surprised. If you look at HBO Sports president Ken Herschman, he did not have any conversations with me since last November or December. So clearly it's the aftermath of the two biggest names in the sport, Floyd Mayweather and Canelo, leaving HBO for Showtime. HBO is upset at Al Haymon, HBO is upset with me and I guess this is their way of getting back at us. I think it is an ill-advised strategy because I feel the only ones who are getting hurt here are the HBO subscribers, which are used to seeing the best fighters fight on HBO and obviously this is no longer going to be the case
If you look at the Golden Boy fighters or the people we work with - like Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Saul Alvarez, Lucas Matthysse, Leo Santa Cruz, Paulie Malignaggi, Keith Thurman, Lamont Peterson, Andre Berto, Abner Mares, Marcos Maidana, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander and on and on - if you at that, the one thing that stands out is the diversity in the age and demographic [of the fighters]. There are fighters that I mentioned who are in their 40s, some are in their 30s and some in their 20s.
There are fighters with strong urban backgrounds, Hispanic backgrounds. and this is clearly pound-for-pound the best stable in the sport. So when I read the HBO statement, which states that they want to do the best fighters or fights - I think this is a flawed statement. There is no nobody out there, no media member and no fight fan or sports fan who would argue that our stable is not the best stable in the sport.
For them to make this decision, not to do business with Golden Boy anymore, I think that this is an ill-advised decision and strategy. Having said that, I wish HBO well. It is a great company, and whether it's a Kery Davis or a Mark Taffett or a Richard Plepler - I consider them fiends. But unfortunately there are other people out there who are making decisions at HBO Sports who frankly don't know the difference between Floyd Mayweather and Jessie Vargas. One thing you will not hear me say is something bad about HBO.
Boxingscene.com: How did you find out about this? Was there a call? Was a letter sent?
Schaeefer: I got a call this morning from Ken Herschman.
BoxingScene.com: What was his reasoning for the decision?
Schaefer: It was a short conversation. He said they had decided to go in a different direction and that they were going to pass on Adrien Broner. And I said 'whoa, that's interesting' and he said they decided to go in a different direction.' And I said 'okay.'
BoxingScene.com: When he said a different direction, does that direction mean to exclusively do business with Top Rank and other Golden Boy competitors.?
Schaefer: I don't know, you would need to ask HBO that question. I don't know what their philosophy is, but if their philosophy is what they issued in their statement - that they want business with the best and focus on the best fighters - I think that's a difficult philosophy to translate into reality if they don't have Mayweather, if they don't Canelo, if they don't have Miguel, if they don't have Broner, and if they don't have all of the other fighters I mentioned before. It think that's hard for them to achieve if they don't have these names. Like I said, I think it is a flawed statement. I think this is a disservice to the HBO subscribers. Again, I think people are making decisions there as it relates to their Sports programming which are frankly surprising to me.
It is surprising to me the kind of decisions they are making, but this call I got today was not surprising. Again, when there is no communication between the president of HBO Sports and myself going back to last November - its hardly shocking to get a call like this.
BoxingScene.com: We've discussed this subject before, but several of the fights that ultimately ended up on Showtime were initially offered to HBO and the network took a pass and allowed the cards to go to Showtime.
Schaefer: Exactly. Look, one of the trigger points was when Canelo was fighting on the Mayweather card last May. We asked HBO to help with some of the expenses to put Canelo on, and a deal structure was worked out. As a result of that, HBO wanted Canelo's next fight and we were happy to give it to them and told them that Canelo was planning on fighting again in September. They were not willing to commit to September to us, and obviously they gave it to Top Rank - and as a result Canelo left to Showtime.
So I think they were upset about that, but there is really nothing to be upset about because they could have had Canelo. If you look at some of the key moments which led to the decision they took today - it's hardly surprising. I really wish them well. We did some great fights together and you will not hear me trash HBO. There is no reason for it. They have a commitment to boxing and I congratulate them for that. I wish them well.
BoxingSene.com; Obviously this situation means Adrien Broner will make his Showtime debut on June 22.
Schaefer: Of course.
BoxingScene.com: There were a few people in the industry who were very surprised. It was only a few weeks ago that HBO was pushing Broner and Keith Thurman, and they raving about the ratings that Broner and Bernard Hopkins did on their network.
Schaefer: If you look at last year at the highest rated events, they were Golden Boy events. If you look at this year, the highest rated events were Golden Boy events. They made their decision and they are going to have to live with the decision and who knows what the future will hold.