By Rick Reeno
One of Showtime's biggest boxing events of 2012 took place last Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Headlined by a junior welterweight rematch between Danny Garcia and Erik Morales, the Showtime televised card featured four championship fights in total. After the smoke had cleared, Showtime Championship Boxing generated their third highest rating of the year. The only Showtime boxing events to generate higher ratings this year - June's welterweight fight between Victor Ortiz and Josesito Lopez and September's quadrupleheader featuring Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.
"I've been informed that the rating was fantastic for the event. I'm very happy for Showtime. Show after show, we are bringing great ratings for Showtime," said last Saturday's promoter, CEO Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions, to BoxingScene.com.
Showtime's boxing related programming has experienced a lot of change in the last twelve months. Last November, 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.
Espinoza spoke to BoxingScene.com about a variety of subjects. He didn't shy away from any questions, including his working relationship with Golden Boy. Before he was hired by Showtime, Espinoza was the lead counsel for Golden Boy. His prior job position has placed his current business decisions under the microscope. Over the last few months, Espinoza has been criticized in the press by Golden Boy's competitors. The criticism is not necessarily over the quality of the content that he's purchasing, but the high volume of content being purchased from one particular company - Golden Boy.
BoxingScene.com: What are your thoughts on the rating for last Saturday's show?
Espinoza: At this point, that event was our third highest [rated] event of the year - which ranked only behind Canelo and the Ortiz vs. Lopez fight. What was particularly interesting, is by the time we got to the main event.....the rating for the show overall was an average of 1.7 and it peaked at a 2.2 for the main event. And about that time of night, it was roughly about 725,000 viewers on a live basis and when we add in the replay - it was in the neighborhood of 900,000. That doesn't include DVR or On Demand viewings. So they are very preliminary numbers.
Erik Morales is a huge name but this was obviously a rematch of a very interesting fight. If we look at our number one and number two, Canelo and Victor Ortiz are much more household names than Danny Garcia - and the fact that he was in the main event and it drew those kind of numbers it was a real testament to the type of attention that this event got and the attractive [nature] of this matchup.
BoxingScene.com: How have the ratings in 2012 compared to the numbers generated in 2011?
Espinoza: I think we're roughly, 2011 vs. 2012 - we're up roughly 15% - which I think is relatively impressive for a year over year increase. We've had a lot of momentum going into the end of the year. In particular the second half of the year, we've been very strong if we isolate [the events] from June on - then the ratings are up even higher and that's where I think we hit our stride in terms of the type of fighters that I'd like to see on our network going forward. Overall, year over year it's roughly 15%.
BoxingScene.com: How do you respond to the public comments from certain promoters who believe that Showtime is purchasing too many events from Golden Boy Promotions? You hear comments like "Golden Boy owns Showtime" or "Showtime owns Golden Boy, etc."
Espinoza: My goal is the same as the network's goal - which is to provide the highest quality and most attractive programming to our subscribers. Ultimately, that's what I'm trying to provide, regardless of who the provider of that content is. To put this whole debate in context,.....no one says to NBC that they have too many Dick Wolf shows when "Law and Order" and all of their spin-offs are rating very well. No one says to CBS they have too many Jerry Bruckheimer shows when "CSI" is rating very well.
I understand the interest in some of the business of it, but at the same time I'm a little bit puzzled by the obsession with it. Because at the end of the day what matters to our audience and what matters to our subscribers is - are they getting good programming when they turn on their television. Are they getting a satisfactory viewing from their Showtime subscriptions. In the viewer's mind - who produced the product or who promoted the fight is not a relevant concern.
I'm happy to be judged on the results of my work, which is the content that I put out there and the ratings that the content generates. That doesn't make much sense to me, to judge based on the variety of different promoters that I'm getting that content from. Fundamentally, the basic right of any businessman is to choose who they do business with. There is nothing in the television industry that requires a television network to purchase content from a broad variety of producers.
In fact, if a particular network gets the highest ratings buying all of their programming from Jerry Bruckheimer or Dick Wolf or another producer - nobody would fault them as long as they were producing good content and good ratings. Ultimately, there is nothing in the television business, or the boxing business, which says that I'm required to buy [content] from a variety of suppliers. There is no affirmative action for boxing promoters. I'm looking for the best quality fights.
Another way to look at is.....'what should I have bought instead of what I did buy?' In other words, what should I have acquired the rights to instead of the October 20th event that I did acquire? I'm happy to engage in that conversation with anybody because there was nothing else offered to me for the month of October that matched the level and quality of this event. And I will say that for November 10, I will say that for December 1st and December 15th. Each of my decisions is based on acquiring the highest quality of content that is offered to me.
BoxingScene.com: How do you respond to the complaints that you refuse to work with Top Rank or purchase Top Rank events?
Espinoza: Top Rank has offered me two fights this year [that I turned down]. They offered me Donaire vs. Mijares, which I passed on. And then they went and did Donaire vs. Mathebula on HBO - which by the way I would have passed on as well. And then they offered me Salido vs. Garcia on a date where they knew I couldn't take it.
While we're on the subject that I work exclusively with Golden Boy, the Salido-Garcia fight - before it fell out - is a good case study to look at. The reality versus what the perception is. The perception is - I passed on that fight because I don't do business with Top Rank. The reality is - they insisted that fight take place on November 10th when they knew I had an event already scheduled for November 10th [Mares-Moreno].
November 3rd was open and at that point November 17th was open, but Top Rank insisted that Salido vs. Garcia go forward on a date where they already knew I had scheduled an event. That's why I don't understand that complaint...that I passed on the fight because I don't do business with Top Rank, when in that particular instance they structured the deal so that I couldn't acquire it."
BoxingScene.com: What has been the general feedback, from some of the network executives, regarding the boost in ratings and the content being purchased? Compared to last year, Showtime has gone the extra mile to secure certain events.
Espinoza: It's a different programming strategy. My predecessor had a different programming strategy and different preferences. I have a slightly different strategy and different preferences. Things have been going well for me so far. And that's not to say that his strategy was wrong and mine was right, but I think I've have a slightly different focus in terms of the type of fighters that I want to prioritize and that's been well received by our subscribers so far. And that's fundamentally all that my colleagues and my senior executives really care about.