By Rick Reeno
In November of 2011, Stephen Espinoza was hired as the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Showtime Sports and Event Programming. Espinoza replaced Ken Hershman, who accepted an offer from HBO to take over Ross Greenburg's old position as the President of HBO Sports.
During his tenure with the network, Espinoza has raised their ratings, for boxing, by a 15% margin. In 2012, he convinced several of HBO's biggest names to fight on Showtime - including Saul Alvarez, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan and several others.
On Tuesday, Showtime announced a deal that shook up the entire boxing industry from top to bottom. The network signed the biggest name in the sport, Floyd Mayweather Jr., to a long term multi-fight agreement. Mayweather, who broke pay-per-view records for HBO and generating monster ratings for their network for over a decade, will make his Showtime debut on May 4th against Robert Guerrero at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
BoxingScene.com: How big of an impact is this deal for Showtime?
Espinoza: It's monstrous. Without question, Floyd is the number one fighter in the sport in terms of popularity, visibility, talent. To be able to establish a relationship with him, when he is still on top of the sport, is the best deal that we could have possibly done. There is no bigger deal in the sport.
BoxingScene.com: A lot of people are comparing this to Mike Tyson's high profile defection from HBO to Showtime in 1990.
Espinoza: I think it's pretty similar. Floyd is someone that we're going to build on. He will become a pillar of our sports programming and for good reason. He is entertaining and compelling and there is not more of a high profile athlete that we can get on the sports side.
BoxingScene.com: I know the financial terms are confidential. Other than money, what will be some of the key differences between this agreement and Mayweather's past agreements with HBO.
Espinoza: I can't get too much into specifics, but I think in general terms I think the key difference will be the promotional support. The outlets that we have access through, with our sister company CBS. We're not just preaching to the choir by marketing to boxing fans. Our goal is to market [Mayweather] to sports fans and non-sports fans and cast the widest net in terms of generating interest in his fights. With the number one network in the United States behind us - the sky is the limit.
BoxingScene.com: From the moment you were hired by Showtime, you always wanted to secure a boxer on the level of Mayweather to the network. You accomplished that in 14 months. What does finalizing this deal mean to you personally?
Espinjoza: It’s thrilling. It wasn't just me - from the people in marketing and programming and my colleagues in CBS. Our senior executives have supported every decision I’ve made since I’ve been here and allowed me to take the chances that I have. I’ve been fortunate that a lot of my decisions have worked out. They all haven’t, but there have been a lot more good [decisions] than bad. This one, all facets of the company supported this and this is something that the entire company wanted.
BoxingScene.com: For a very long time, HBO has been viewed as the top boxing network and Showtime has always been viewed as number two. What do you think this does to the playing field?
Espinoza: People have spoken about closing the gap with HBO. I don’t think there is a gap anymore. With a due amount of modesty, I think anyone can look at this objectively and see that our programming is on par with anything that HBO is doing or better - from our established shows like Inside The NFL, which has a tremendous following, to the new shows like 60 Minutes Sports and Jim Rome on Showtime. And then with one the most famous athletes in boxing and one of most recognizable athletes in the country, I don’t think there is any argument that we’re not at least on the same level as HBO if not more.