By Mitch Abramson
Ken Hershman was there to talk about HBO’s dominance over its rival Showtime.
And he had the numbers and data to back it up.
But the conversation turned to a topic that while he was prepared to tackle, he wasn’t particularly interested in divulging any new information on it.
In other words, Hershman, the president of HBO Sports, wasn’t there to discuss the ongoing-off-again-on-going negotiations that seem to be going on at the highest levels for the potential super fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
“Nope,” Hershman said laughing in his midtown office last week. “Not going to talk. I’m not even going to confirm (that talks are ongoing).”
Finally after several more attempts and with a public relations representative sitting nearby and frowning, Hershman said, “I think it’s best that we move to a different question. I don’t think talking about it publicly will help it get done and if our objective is to have the fight come to fruition somewhere down the road it’s best we stay out of the media and let it naturally occur or not.”
Basically, he was saying that talking about the talks might upset the people involved in those talks, a situation that spoke to the delicate nature of those talks.
But others have been a little more forthcoming, mainly Bob Arum.
Les Moonves, CEO and president of CBS, the parent company of Showtime (which broadcasts Mayweather’s fights) has been talking to Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, for some time on the fight.
And those talks are alive and well.
“The Talks continue with Les and he’s continuing to tell me what Mayweather camp’s position is taking,” Arum said in a phone interview. “And hopefully we’ll be able to come to some type of resolution.”
Arum said he last talked with Moonves on Thursday morning and he expects to talk again with him again on Thursday night without getting into specifics.
Arum also said that Moonves and HBO CEO and Chairman Richard Plepler (which shows Pacquiao’s fights) recently had lunch together to “talk about a number of topics,” presumably one of them being the fight.
Arum also said that Mayweather’s powerful advisor Al Haymon has been in talks with Moonves and that Arum also spoke with Plepler on Wednesday about the fight. So talks abound.
“While there’s life there’s hope,” Arum said of making a deal for the fight to happen. “As far as the Pacquiao side is concerned, we want to make this thing happen. As far as the Mayweather side, we’re still talking.”
Arum is encouraged by these happenings. But on a personal level, he has his doubts if the fight will actually come off, he admitted.
“I have serious questions in my mind whether Mayweather wants to do the fight,” he said. “If I knew both guys wanted the fight, then that’s one thing. But I’m not sure he wants to fight Pacquiao. Deep down, I always felt that he didn’t want to fight him.”
In public, Mayweather has made it clear he does want the fight.
During an interview on Showtime, Mayweather said that he’s “just waiting” on Pacquiao’s camp and that he wants to fight him, even suggesting the match take place on May 2.
Pacquiao responded on Twitter by saying: “Let’s give the fans the fight they want.”
But Hershman politely declined to comment on any of these activities, not wanting to disrupt any of the discussions.
But he did have his opinions on a variety of topics related to the fight.
If the fight doesn’t happen, will it harm the sport, since so many fans are calling for it?
“Again as a fan, there would be some level of disappointment but it’s a business call on everyone’s part,” Hershman said. “But you have to respect it and move on to other options. I don’t really know what that means- hurt the sport,” Hershman went on. “I think the sport is thriving and it’s a global sport. You’re seeing sellouts in Europe, 80,000 people in England to watch Carl Froch and George Groves and Klitschko selling out in Germany and Terence Crawford selling out in Nebraska and Gennady Golovkin selling out at the StubHub Center. I think it’s really thriving and doing well all over and I expect that it will continue to grow if we do right by the fans they will support it and we will keep plugging away.”
He said the interest in not just the fight between Mayweather-Pacquiao but in the negotiations preceding the fight show how much intrigue there is in the fight, and by extension shows how much interest there is in the sport, he says.
“It’s always fascinating,” Hershman said. “Just as an example, if it is a niche sport, if it is dead- but when you ask people if you offered them the choice of seeing any sporting event or a fight like Pacquiao-Mayweather, they’re going to pick that fight. I think it’s just an indication of how the sport continues to be so unique and special and it’s great for premium television. It’s working really well for HBO and we’re very happy with where the sport sits and where we sit.”
Hershman said that his having worked at Showtime previously in the same position he holds at HBO isn’t a plus or negative in terms of pushing along the negotiations for the bout.
“I don’t think it’s helpful or harmful it’s just not an issue,” Hershman said of his experience at Showtime. “We’re all sophisticated and we know what we’re doing so I don’t think that’s an issue.”
Hershman and Arum said there were contingency plans being made for Pacquiao’s next fight if he doesn’t fight Mayweather.
“There are conversations taking place,” Hershman said. “Nobody is sitting here waiting for one particular fight to be made. His business goes on, just like Floyd’s goes on. There are some good opportunities for Manny Pacquiao if we have to go in a different direction and we’re prepared to do that.”
Here are some other bullet points that Hershman covered during the interview:
-Hershman confirmed that heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko will fight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 25, likely against undefeated Bryant Jennings. It’s the first time since 2008 that Klitschko has fought in the U.S. and will be the first time a heavyweight has fought at Barclays Center. “Having him at the Barclays is exciting,” Hershman said.
-Hershman said that reports pegging the PPV numbers for Pacquiao’s bout with Chris Algieri last month in Macau at around 300,000 were a little low and that they were more in keeping with his previous bout in Macau against Brandon Rios, which were around 475,000.
“It’s higher than that,” Hershman said of the 300,000 figure, without giving a definitive number. “I think it’s consistent with where we’ve seen those Macau shows. I don’t think it’s an indication that there’s anything wrong with the Manny Pacquiao business.”
-Hershman also said that he could see Algieri fighting on HBO again and that losing to Pacquiao in the fashion he did- getting knocked down six times- shouldn’t disqualify him from ever showing his face on the network again. He also suggested that Algieri could be a boxing commentator (among other endeavors) one day, though not necessarily on his network.
-On the subject of super middleweight titlist Andre Ward, Hershman didn’t have any news to report in terms of when he might fight on HBO again amid injuries and legal issues. He did say that when Ward does return to the ring, it won’t be in a tune-up despite his long layoff since November of 2013. Hershman declined to discuss Ward’s contract status with the network.
“No one’s a bigger fan of Andre Ward than me,” Hershman said. “I think he’s one of the best fighters in the world so we would try very hard to work something out to get him back on HBO. But at the same time we’re not in the business of comeback fights after comeback fights and Edwin Rodriguez- no disrespect to him but that was after a year off because of an injury he was given that opportunity. And it’s going to depend on what he’s willing to do and what he’s looking to get paid and all those conversations will have to take place. He knows how important it is for his career to get back going and fighting regularly. Look, obviously you have to talk to him, and he’s made some tactical business decisions on how to go about dealing with his situation and his promotional relationship and it’s resulted in him really having one fight in two years which he knows is not optimal for him so it’s been frustrating for him more so than anybody.”
Hershman said that Saul (Canelo) Alvarez and Migual Cotto are progressing in their talks and an announcement may come soon. He could see New York as a possible landing spot for the bout, along with Las Vegas and Texas.
“And I hope that comes to fruition,” Hershman said. “The conversations are continuing and I think everyone is operating in good faith to get a deal done. So hopefully after the New Year they’ll be some exciting news to report on that. I’m optimistic but you never know in boxing and I don’t announce anything until it’s a done deal. I would imagine shortly after the holidays if not sooner it should come together...or not.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.