by David P. Greisman
Having more options almost always means a better deal for the consumer – competition between companies means there can be no resting on laurels. The product can always be made better. The price can always be dropped lower.
Having more boxing broadcasts almost always is a good thing for fight fans – they have a hunger for watching people pummel each other, a hunger that is only satisfied on some nights in some weeks.
But even with HBO, Showtime, pay-per-views, ESPN2, the Spanish-language channels, YouTube, legitimate Internet streams, illegitimate Internet streams and illicit downloads, there is little danger of there being an oversaturation of the sweet science.
And so the potential addition of Epix to the list of boxing broadcasters could be a welcome one – so long as it is worth it to all involved.
Epix is a premium (subscription-only) cable channel that launched at the end of October 2009 and is now available to more than 30 million homes, according to its website. ¬
Its foray into boxing will begin March 19 with Vitali Klitschko’s heavyweight title defense against Odlanier Solis, a broadcast that will be simulcast on its network and its website at 6 p.m. that day and then replayed four hours later.
Having another network bringing the fights to the fans is a good thing. But this is a premium network – Epix needs to sell itself to potential subscribers as being a necessary addition to their cable plans.
That’s not an easy thing to do.
Epix has two selling points: its large library of movies (more than 15,000, the company says) that can be shown on television and online, and, potentially, its boxing matches.
The network hasn’t decided whether it’ll do any more boxing beyond Klitschko-Solis, according to Mark Greenberg, president and CEO of Epix, who spoke on the topic to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com.
“We saw this fight as a unique opportunity for us,” Greenberg was quoted as saying. “It's a heavyweight championship fight. We're going to do it and see if it makes sense for us to do more going forward. But it's good for the business to have another place that does boxing.”
It could be difficult to sell customers on a movie library alone considering what has become a cramped marketplace, between the premium networks (HBO, Showtime, Starz, Encore, The Movie Channel, Cinemax), the On Demand titles, Netflix and Hulu.
And then there is the conundrum of getting into boxing: To get fight fans to subscribe, the network needs to put a lot of bouts on its schedule so that customers are more willing to pay the price.
But the network must be careful not to overspend in the way so many ventures tend to do – EliteXC and Affliction famously came out too fast when attempting to enter the mixed martial arts promotional market.
The network is only paying about $150,000 for Klitschko-Solis, according to Rafael, citing multiple anonymous sources.
That’s considerably cheaper than what an HBO or a Showtime generally would pay. But both Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko have largely fought off of HBO and Showtime in recent years, with most of their money coming from ticket sales and television revenue in Europe. Smaller broadcasts in the United States have netted lesser sums that supplement the bottom line.
In the last two years, just two of Vitali Klitschko’s five fights have been carried on HBO, both of which came in 2009: his wins over Chris Arreola and Kevin Johnson.
His bout against Juan Carlos Gomez in 2009 was shown on ESPN Classic. His fights in 2010 with Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs were carried live on independent pay-per-view and ESPN3.com, respectively, with Klitschko-Briggs also being seen on tape-delay a day later on ESPN.
Wladimir Klitschko has not been on HBO since 2008. His three fights since have been seen elsewhere: ESPN Classic (Ruslan Chagaev, 2009), an online-only pay-per-view (Eddie Chambers, 2010), and ESPN3.com (Samuel Peter, 2010, with an ESPN tape-delay broadcast one day later).
Epix is already facing the typical difficulty a start-up faces, battling for acceptance against those with entrenched habits. It is not carried by major providers Comcast or DirecTV. The network’s website does list seven major companies that carry it, however, including Cox Communications, DISH Network and Verizon FiOS.
Yet that “30 million homes” figure can be misleading. Being available to 30 million homes doesn’t actually mean that there are 30 million subscribers.
Fight fans are already getting their boxing from HBO, Showtime, pay-per-views, ESPN2, the Spanish-language channels, YouTube, legitimate Internet streams, illegitimate Internet streams and illicit downloads. Those that are paying for HBO and Showtime will need more than Klitschko-Solis to convince them to add Epix (or to have Epix replace one of the other networks).
And the biggest enemies to Epix are the illegitimate streams and illicit downloads. As we’ve seen with many of the independent boxing pay-per-views, many fans will go the illicit-but-free route when possible rather than continue to shell out additional dollars on top of what they’re already paying.
“We'll see what kind of buzz comes out of this,” Greenberg told Rafael. “People will evaluate it and then we will have the fight available on our network and our website and see how it performs.
“But premium cable can do boxing well,” he said. “You don't have commercials at the end the rounds. This is an intriguing thing for us to explore and this interesting for us.”
If boxing fans view Klitschko-Solis as akin to another independent pay-per-view – shelling out somewhere around $20 for the boxing match and then getting all the movie programming for the next month as a perk – then this could be a successful first foray for Epix, one that could convince them to air more fights.
More fights could lead to more interest, which would lead to more potential subscribers seeing that there are more options. And having more options almost always means a better deal for the consumer.
Epix isn’t there yet. The network is testing the waters to see if it is worth it – even if it hasn’t yet completely sold itself as being worth it to potential viewers.
This isn’t yet news of epic proportions, but it’s news that’s worth following.
The 10 Count
1. May 15, 2004 – Antonio Tarver knocks out Roy Jones Jr. in the second round with a single left hand.
May 2, 2009 – Manny Pacquiao knocks out Ricky Hatton in the second round with a single left hand.
Nov. 20, 2010 – Sergio Martinez knocks out Paul Williams in the second round with a single left hand.
Feb. 19, 2011 – Nonito Donaire knocks Fernando Montiel down in the second round with a single left hand. Alas, Montiel, somehow, was able to get up, and the stoppage would come two punches later.
2. Some believe that referee Russell Mora should have stopped the fight rather than let it continue. And some might believe that the fight being allowed to continue could deprive Donaire of some of the glory that would’ve come with a one-punch knockout, including potential “Knockout of the Year” honors.
I mostly agree with the first premise, but don’t at all agree with the second.
Watching the fight on live television – and watching Montiel’s legs flail as he was laid out on his back – I wondered why Mora didn’t call off the bout immediately. And then watching Montiel try to get up at the count of seven, only to fall back down, I wondered, again, why Mora didn’t wave the fight off there.
Watching it on replay, I can somewhat see what Mora might’ve been thinking. Montiel’s eyes were open as he was on the canvas, even while his legs were in spasms, and the referee was in position to see that.
Montiel was able to beat the count, though he didn’t respond to Mora’s commands to come forward toward him.
While allowing the fight to continue was questionable, Mora can at least be given credit for keeping the shortest of leashes afterward. The fight didn’t last much longer.
The fight continuing briefly shouldn’t take away from Donaire’s glory.
Granted, it was not a one-punch knockout delivering an opponent into unconsciousness a la Pacquiao-Hatton or Martinez-Williams 2. But it was a stunning, beautiful, devastating shot against a top-notch bantamweight, and the end basically came as a result of that punch, even though the fight continued.
Most important: It provided that “Holy [bleep]” moment that is a prerequisite for any “Knockout of the Year” contender.
3. HBO’s considerable investment in its production values has proven its worth before and did so again on Saturday.
First, the production crew was able to provide strong evidence that the cut that Jesus Soto-Karass suffered over his left eyebrow came as a result of a clash of heads with Mike Jones.
That’s the kind of instant replay HBO’s been providing for years, which lends credence to the argument that athletic commissions should incorporate replay to determine and double check the cause of cuts. In this case, a great referee, Kenny Bayless, had the rare off-moment, ruling that the cut was caused by a punch.
And following Donaire’s knockout of Montiel, HBO showed a great slow motion shot of the big punch, which appeared as if it nearly decapitated Montiel.
As with the replay of Alfredo Angulo knocking out Harry Joe Yorgey in 2009, the camera work was able to take a blink-and-you-missed-it moment and slow it down, showing both how brutal and how beautiful a knockout punch can be.
4. There was a great sequence following Round 3 of the Jones vs. Soto-Karass rematch, by the way:
Joe Goossen, thinking (correctly) that the cut over Soto-Karass’s left eye had been caused by a clash of heads – but not yet realizing that the referee had ruled otherwise – tried to get the fight stopped.
“That’s a badass cut there,” Goossen said. “I’m very concerned about his eye right now.
“That was a head butt, Kenny,” Goossen told Bayless, who was telling the corner that the cut came from a punch.
After all, a fight stopped due to an accidental head butt before the fourth round had been completed would be ruled a “No contest.”
Soto-Karass made the decision himself: He came out of his corner for the fourth and kept on fighting over the 12-round distance.
5. Good for HBO for bringing up the topic of Nonito Donaire working with Victor Conte, who is infamous for his major role in the BALCO performance-enhancing drugs scandal. And good for Donaire for not ducking questions about it.
It’s still troubling to hear that Donaire is working with tainted figures such as Conte and Remi Korchemny (and Donaire’s not the only one who has worked with Conte. So, too, has super middleweight Andre Ward and heavyweight Eddie Chambers).
But, as I said last year in a column on the topic:
“Conte’s actions would understandably be monitored closely by the government that busted him before. In the past, Conte had been able to take advantage of the cat-and-mouse race between drug manufacturers and drug testers, with the manufacturers attempting to remain one step ahead, coming up with new substances that were not being tested for. It would take a combination of bravado and stupidity for Conte to try the same thing again.
“He must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. And nobody is proving him to be otherwise.
“This, then, is the difference between skepticism and suspicion. For those who doubt Conte, they speculate that he is repeating old habits rather than seeking redemption from them.
“It is fair for Conte to seek a second chance. It is just as fair for those cautious of Conte to see the news of him working with athletes again and to give this former steroid distributor a closer, second glance.”
6. Then again, as Tuan Tran, vice president of TKO Boxing Promotions, said on Twitter following Montiel-Donaire, it’s not like Donaire didn’t also have an amazing left hook in the years before he brought Conte into the fold:
Wrote Tran: “Only a matter of time till haters start askin Nonito bout PED's. I know he is workin wit Conte now but ask Darchinyan bout dat hook in 07!”
7. I’ve no idea how the first boxing broadcast in 3-D looked, though I was in Salisbury, Md., and was able to see the card in three dimensions that way.
Watching the broadcast afterward, even in its traditional format, it seemed like the picture popped. It looked vivid and high-definition, even on my computer screen over the ESPN website’s stream.
Did anyone actually see last week’s “Friday Night Fights” on a 3-D television, with glasses on and everything? Let me know how it looked to you…
8. By the way, judging solely by Friday evening – not the first time I’ve been to a “Friday Night Fights” broadcast, but the first time I’ve paid attention to the following – Teddy Atlas is a popular guy, and he is classy in how he handles his popularity.
Both before the fights started and after the night ended, Atlas was accommodating to all the fans who approached him, taking pictures with them and signing autographs.
That’s not a small thing, whether you’re interacting with viewers, readers, fans or customers. Those are boxing fans who are all-the-more guaranteed to tune in each week because of the time Atlas gave them.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly: Tommy Morrison was arrested last week and charged with possessing drug paraphernalia – an arrest that came after a police officer pulled the former heavyweight titleholder over, glanced inside the car and then spotted what is thought to be eight grams of marijuana, according to The Emporia (Kansas) Gazette.
The arrest came Thursday night. Morrison, 42, was out on bail by Friday afternoon.
Morrison was arrested in March 2010 outside of a Kansas gym on suspicion of marijuana possession. Police, checking out a report of a suspicious person, saw Morrison sitting in his car. They searched through stuff Morrison says was in his car due to a recent move and found a pipe in a box with boxing equipment.
“They found an old pipe that had some residue on it or something,” Morrison was quoted as saying at the time to The Wichita Eagle. “Someone in my position, I guess, has to be more careful. I wasn’t aware of what I had in that box. I wasn’t aware of anything illegal.”
This scribe isn’t aware of how that case turned out.
10. Introducing the “Roy Jones Jr. On Commentary Drinking Game”:
First, mix yourself a cocktail – either a Paradise (gin, brandy and orange juice) or a Three Wise Men (whiskey, my friends, whiskey: a mixture of Johnny Walker, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels). You could also grab yourself a bottle of He’brew: The Chosen Beer.
Sit down, turn on HBO, and take a drink every time Jones mentions God.
But, hey, at least it’s not Lennox Lewis with the headsets on, right?
Amen to that…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]