By Jake Donovan
How big were the past 12 months for Showtime?
The premium cable outlet was voted by the staff of this very website as the top boxing network of 2012, and still managed to far exceed expectations set forth for this year.
It was the year that the network claimed the sport’s biggest star and dominated the pay-per-view market.
It was the year that the network had the competition sweating, its own actions prompting others to desperately step up its game.
It was the year that fight fans were given more than one choice to satisfy its boxing hunger.
It was a year that forever shook up the power structure.
That said, let’s take a look at everything Showtime did right in 2013… and also what it could have done better.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Snatching Mayweather And Control Of the PPV Market
Showtime boasted a feather in its cap when it was able to successfully secure the services of Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto in the first half of 2011. Both fighters were one-and-done in their stay before going back to HBO, but not before the damage was done, the moves causing a major shakeup in the network’s sports programming department.
With that in mind, there was no shortage of network executives on Avenue of the Americas the moment it was announced that Mayweather agreed a long-term deal with Showtime. A six-fight pact worth well north of $200 million ensured the network exclusive rights to the remaining prime years of the sport’s best fighter and box-office attraction.
Furthermore, the signing served as the necessary bridge for the remaining fighters with Golden Boy and/or Al Haymon to cross the street from HBO to Showtime. It also meant an iron-clad grip on the pay-per-view market. Both major networks hosted two events each beyond their normal subscription; Showtime outperformed HBO by nearly 400%.
To further drive the point home, Showtime’s PPV ‘flop’ – Mayweather’s 12-round points win over Robert Guerrero – sold more units than the combined total of HBO’s two entries on the year (Manny Pacquiao’s virtual shutout of Brandon Rios; and Tim Bradley’s close but clear win over Juan Manuel Marquez), while Mayweather’s win over Alvarez outdrew all three events combined.
‘The One’ Was The One And Only
The record-breaking pay-per-event between Floyd Mayweather and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is a slam dunk for 2013 Event of the Year. The multi-city tour went way beyond just stopping from town to town, but actually taking place in historic locations, while fans thronged in record droves in hopes of soaking in every possible moment.
The box office record for largest live gate was already set before Golden Boy gave boxing fans the treat of a lifetime by announcing a co-feature battle between top 140 lb. fighters Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse. The announcement meant that the two biggest fights that could be made were not only made but now appearing on the same show.
It’s easy to dismiss the fight itself as just another fighter (in this case, Alvarez) falling way short of bumping off Mayweather. But the Mexican’s fan base, coupled with his unbeaten record (going in) and on the heels of the biggest win of his career (a unanimous decision over Austin Trout), made him the perfect B-side opponent for Mayweather, a combination that led to $20 million generated at the gate and $150 million in pay-per-view revenue, both all-time box office records.
Recreating Saturday Fight Night
The birth of undercard fights airing live on Showtime Extreme actually began in 2012, but its process was further perfected in 2013. Tripleheaders and quadrupleheaders on the flagship network were preceded by one, two or sometimes three preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme, giving fans the full experience of being in attendance without actually leaving their living room couch.
Stateside cable and satellite providers will most likely never come up with the equivalent of Boxnation – England’s 24-hour boxing network – but Showtime’s presentation of Saturday night fight night has become the next best thing.
Rebuilding An American Product
While other networks literally traveled the globe in search of viable boxing markets, Showtime kept it in country. Las Vegas remains the fight capital of the world, but frequent visits to Brooklyn, San Antonio and Los Angeles helped remind the boxing public that the sport is still alive and well, and that global assistance isn’t always required.
The building of local markets also led to the rise of several breakout stars in 2013.
Danny Garcia further established himself as must-see TV on the East Coast and a growing presence at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, despite his Philly roots. It may have taken Keith Thurman a moment or two to remember that he was in San Antonio and not San Diego, but it barely takes a second to bring to mind the fantastic campaign he led on the year.
Ratings On The Rise
If you’re going to ask for your bosses to crack open the vault, you better damn well show them a positive return on their investment.
A ratings spike of 62% over the past two years qualifies as a worthwhile investment.
While HBO enjoyed most of the spots in the Top 25 as well as the entire Top 5, Showtime boasted four telecasts which drew one million of more viewers, twice as many as was the case in 2012.
Adrien Broner’s two appearances on the network drew comparable ratings to his last appearance on HBO. While his defection meant a slight dip (drawing just shy of 1.3 million viewers for bouts with Paul Malignaggi and Marcos Maidana, as opposed to 1.4 million drawn for his own over Gavin Rees on HBO), they also played to a subscription base 25% smaller than that of HBO. Do the math, and Shwtime comes out miles ahead.
A major ratings win came in late April, when Danny Garcia’s points win over Zab Judah was viewed by more fans than was the case for Sergio Martinez’ controversial points win over Martin Murray on HBO. There were several factors surrounding the HBO broadcast not being able to properly capitalize on the event – but that wouldn’t stop them from sending a press release claiming victory had the roles been reversed.
Quantity Can Also Equal Quality
In the same calendar year, fans touted Showtime for presenting the best tripleheader they’ve seen in years (if not ever), as well as the best quadrupleheader ever offered on television.
Both events took place in San Antonio, a rabid fight town not particularly fond of boxing matches breaking out on fight night. The July tripleheader saw a trio of Fight of the Year entrants, with Keith Thurman stopping Diego Chaves, Jesus Soto Karass outlasting and battering Andre Berto, and Omar Figueroa and Nihito Arakawa beating the snot out of each other for 12 rounds.
Five months later, Showtime capped a banner year with more bouts worthy of awards-season discussion – Thurman becoming one of the year’s breakout stars following his violent ninth round stoppage of Soto Karass, and Marcos Maidana going from cult hero to industry hero with his humiliation of previously unbeaten Adrien Broner.
Less than two years since its experimental stage, Showtime has vowed for loaded cards to become the norm rather than the exception as the network heads into the New Year. As boxing fans’ chief priority these days is to view as much of the sport as possible, the network has not only listened to such feedback, but found a way to constantly make their dreams come true.
Furthermore, Showtime and Golden Boy found a way to recreate the magic that came with Don King – once the nework’s chief content provider in the 1990’s – loading up his pay-per-view undercards. The biggest difference is that fans are being treated to the same formula but without the pay-per-view cost.
Letting Its Product Speak For Itself
If there was a major difference between HBO and Showtime in 2013, it’s this: HBO spent most of the year reminding the media and its audience of its accomplishments, while Showtime simply presented its product, sat back and absorbed feedback before moving on to the next show.
That’s not to say that HBO didn’t respond to the public’s needs in its own way – the network had plenty of its own great moments as well as a slew of year-end fight and fighter entrants, facts that were made aware to several prominent writers towards years end. But fight fans didn’t need reminding of the year that was on Showtime. They were simply blown away by the product and anxious to see how the network can outdo itself in 2014.
If network brass was talking about its product, it was in plain sight, talking with the people rather than having the media speak for them.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Quantity Doesn’t Always Equal Quality
Finding the right mix for its tripleheaders and quadruple headers continues to be a hit-or-miss type affair. Sadly, when it’s off, it means a LONG night of boxing not always worth writing about. Case in point, the Dec. 7 four-pack from Brooklyn, topped by welterweight retreads Paul Malginaggi and Zab Judah.
Their “Battle of Brooklyn” didn’t quite register with the audience, producing the lowest attended boxing card at the Barclays Center since the venue opened its doors to the sport in Oct. ’12, not a good sign when both fighters were marketed as local draws. Also not good when the show came with a $2.7 million price tag for the televised participants, to the tune of a paltry rating of 640,000 viewers at peak audience on the night.
And just who the hell green lighted a quadruple header on Shobox with a start time of 11:50PM ET? That all four bouts ended in one-sided knockouts and thus not eating up the budgeted four-hour time slot, only speaks to the lack of quality to be found on the card, though more to come on that note.
The counters to any insistence that this event was something that went wrong: it still made for the second most-watched pay-per-view event of 2013, and it helped put the Showtime brand out there, that the network was all the way back in the pay-per-view business.
That said, the buildup was sorely lacking for its first big event in two years. Mayweather was reluctant to make himself available to media. Guerrero, already a marginally known fighter beyond the sport’s hardcore fan base, landed in the middle of a public relations disaster with his weapons possession charges in a New York City airport.
The incident turned out to be a giant misunderstanding, for all intent and purposes, but was enough to hinder the promotion for the event. Whatever the final number was (some say around 1 million, others say well south of that), there’s no question the event could have been so much more than simply getting the word out that Mayweather was now part of the Showtime family.
The Declination of ShoBox
At its best, ShoBox was a prospect-based series, with series Executive Producer Gordon Hall’s vision of matching young fighters tough to properly prepare them for the future.
That wasn’t quite the case throughout 2013, especially once the series became headquarters for Mayweather Promotions and Al Haymon-advised fighters on the rebound.
The good news is, the series returns to its roots with its 2014 season premiere in January. The bad news is, it’s not part of what the network offered in 2013, thus landing on this side of the “Right versus Wrong” discussion.
CBS Merely As A Marketing Tool
Fans were overcome with holiday joy this time last year when CBS proudly announced that Santa Cruz was coming to town – Leo Santa Cruz, that is. Then an unbeaten bantamweight titlist, the free-swinging rising star capped a banner year by making a title defense of free TV, resulting in the highest-rated fight of 2012.
Sadly, that never paved the way for more to come in 2013, as was the case for NBC, who aired two fights on the year following its return to boxing just one week after CBS’ boxing telecast.
Instead, the network’s only involvement in the sport was to help pimp Mayweather’s pay-per-view events. Its one-hour documentary on the unbeaten pound-for-pound king was the lowest-rated prime time telecast of the year and the network’s lowest-rated since… “Pacquiao-Mosley Fight Camp 360” two years prior, which produced the lowest rated telecast of any network in 2011.
Lesson learned: the audience wants fights, not segments talking about fights.
HBO’s stretch run towards the end of the year had its good points and bad. But at the very least, the network had boxing to offer for ten out of 11 weekends until and including its season finale on December 7.
Showtime’s original game plan called for boxing to be offered in early and mid-November, capped by a pay-per-view to end the year. Instead, just one live telecast took place from the conclusion of Mayweather-Alvarez until the December 7 quadrupleheader – Bernard Hopkins’ points win over Karo Murat in late October, a bout that topped a live tripleheader.
Hopkins-Murat proved to be more entertaining than most expected. It’s still a hell of a game of chicken unintentionally played by the network in offering it as its only piece of live boxing action for nearly three months.
Spreading The Wealth
So far, the relationship between Showtime and Golden Boy Productions is working out just fine.
Golden Boy continues to do right by its business partner, as a conscious effort has been made to deliver the best fights possible within its resources.
However, there’s hardly ever a happy ending to any exclusive output deal with a single promoter. While the door remains open to all promoters, it’s clear who is the favorite for the moment.
Also to consider while limiting its number of content providers: 2014 will be a year in which Golden Boy will have to rebuild two of its biggest stars in Alvarez and Broner.
There’s no other way to put it, other than Showtime had a phenomenal 2013 campaign. The results spoke for themselves. It wasn’t a year in which the network had to rely on raw stats to prove its worth in the marketplace. But when the situation warranted such an examination, the numbers were there to support the buzz and the investment made.
The moves made by the network in the wake of Ken Hershman’s departure late in 2011 were met with views of skepticism. Why would Showtime put in place a former member of the Golden Boy family at a time when Golden Boy – at the end of its output deal with HBO – was searching for a new full-time home, many wondered.
Those questions deserved to be asked. Those questions were given terrific answers by all involved in the network’s transformation over the past two years.
The network still has Mayweather under contract for four more fights, including two promised ring appearances in 2014.
Life couldn’t be better for the folks at Showtime these days.
Let’s just hope that doesn’t stop them from trying to outdo themselves in 2014 and beyond.
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