By Keith Idec
LAS VEGAS – A few hours before the biggest boxing match of 2018, Bob Arum wasn’t ready to call Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin the last high-profile pay-per-view fight HBO would ever televise.
The outspoken promoter, whose company long prospered from its work with HBO, is still convinced that the premium cable network soon will move away from broadcasting boxing. Arum also suspects Showtime, which has committed more dates and resources to boxing in recent years than its longtime rival, won’t continue airing boxing much longer, either.
Speculation intensified during the buildup toward the Alvarez-Golovkin rematch regarding HBO’s future in boxing because their respective promoters revealed that the middleweight stars both would be network free agents after their second bout.
“How can I say?,” Arum told a small group of reporters when asked if he thinks Alvarez-Golovkin would be HBO’s last major pay-per-view event. “What do I know? I’m saying HBO doesn’t belong in boxing, Showtime doesn’t belong in boxing. They’re entertainment networks and I think they’re beginning to realize that. You don’t spend money on an entertainment event that opens and closes the same night.
“You don’t spend money, which they don’t anymore. That’s the key. How many concerts do you see on HBO or Showtime? None. Both of them used to do it. Different philosophy. Now their competition, for both, is one competitor, and that’s Netflix – not schmuck boxing, not ESPN. That’s different.”
Arum’s company, Top Rank Inc., entered an exclusive television and streaming partnership with ESPN in June 2017. The Hall-of-Fame promoter believes streaming will become boxing fans’ favored method of consuming the sport in the not-too-distant future.
Fans can watch boxing live via Showtime’s streaming app, the same way they can consume ESPN’s boxing programming through the basic cable network’s ESPN+ app. HBO doesn’t offer fans the option of streaming boxing live, but like ESPN and Showtime, subscribers can stream replays through hbogo.com.
HBO has approximately 32 million subscribers, roughly eight million more than Showtime (24 million). ESPN is available in an estimated 87 million homes in the United States.
HBO has televised 10 live events through its “World Championship Boxing” and “Boxing After Dark” series in 2018, whereas Showtime has aired 18 live events, including “Showtime Championship Boxing” and “ShoBox: The New Generation” broadcasts. As part of its recently announced, seven-year deal with ESPN, Top Rank will at least help produce 54 live boxing events per year through 2025 (18 prime-time cards on ESPN, 12 prime-time shows on ESPN+ and 24 international events on ESPN+).
“Let’s be honest – look what’s happening,” Arum said. “The premium networks saved boxing. They came in, they paid more than the networks, they took it over and we’ve been living off them for the last 20 years. Right? Their time is over. Why? Because they’re entertainment networks. They make their money on entertainment – on Succession, on Sopranos, on Sex and the City, on Billions. That’s their business. It’s stupid business for them to put money into boxing, where the fight opens and closes the same night. After it’s done, it has no more value to them.
“If you put that into a series and that original programming, and that series hits, then you can syndicate it for billions of dollars. HBO now realizes that and you will see, in my opinion, HBO out of boxing. And now with the change at CBS [from former CEO Les Moonves, who resigned recently, to Joseph Ianniello], you’ll see Showtime be out of boxing. But [Al] Haymon has FOX, which belongs in boxing. We have ESPN, which belongs in boxing. And five years from now, the linear platform won’t mean sh*t. Everything will be streaming – everything. Entertainment, sports, everything will be streaming.”
CBS owns Showtime. CBS also purchased BoxingScene.com in June.
Arum admits he wouldn’t have said such things when Top Rank did almost all of its broadcasting business with HBO, which regularly paid seven-figure license fees for fights Top Rank promoted.
“Of course not,” a smiling Arum said. “We all sucked on their t*t.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.