By Keith Idec
More viewers tuned in to watch ESPN’s boxing broadcast Saturday night than for any of the network’s telecasts of the sport since Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn.
According to Nielsen Media Research ratings released Tuesday, an average of 2,245,000 viewers watched the nearly two-hour show that featured Terence Crawford in the main event. The undefeated Crawford stopped Jose Benavidez Jr. in the 12th round of their welterweight title fight at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
The ratings for the Crawford-Benavidez broadcast were by far the highest of any boxing telecast in 2018. ESPN has an advantage over Showtime and HBO, however, in that the basic cable network is available in approximately 86 million homes, many more than HBO (32 million) and Showtime (24 million), both premium cable channels.
Regardless, it was ESPN’s most-watched boxing show since Horn upset Pacquiao in July 2017 in Brisbane, Australia, Horn’s hometown, to win the WBO welterweight title. That telecast was watched by an average of 2.8 million viewers and peaked at 4.4 million.
The Pacquiao-Horn telecast marked the start of an exclusive content partnership between ESPN and promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., which since has been extended to seven years.
Viewership figures for Crawford’s last fight, a ninth-round stoppage of Horn on June 9 in Las Vegas, aren’t available because ESPN doesn’t release ratings for its ESPN+ streaming service. Crawford obviously benefited, though, from fighting on ESPN’s linear platform Saturday night.
A strong college football lead-in to the Crawford-Benavidez show – top-ranked Alabama’s victory over Missouri – seemingly strengthened the Crawford-Benavidez ratings. The telecast started at approximately 10:25 p.m. ET, immediately after Alabama beat Missouri, 39-10, in an SEC game that averaged 3,758,000 viewers.
Undefeated featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson stopped Viorel Simion in the first round of the opening bout, a scheduled 10-rounder. Stevenson (9-0, 5 KOs), a 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey, dropped Romania’s Simion (21-3, 9 KOs) three times before their bout was stopped at the very end of the first round.
Because Stevenson-Simion ended so quickly, there was a 46-minute break between the end of the Stevenson-Simion match and the start of the Crawford-Benavidez bout.
Omaha’s Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) was ahead on all three scorecards – 110-99, 108-101, 107-102 – when his right uppercut dropped Benavidez late in the 12th round. Phoenix’s Benavidez (27-1, 18 KOs) got up, but Crawford hurt him again with a right hook and their fight for Crawford’s WBO welterweight title was stopped with 18 seconds remaining in it.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.