By Jake Donovan
By the time the National Football League is ready to kick off the 2013 season, Fox Sports 1 will have invaded what used to be sacred ground with two fight cards having aired on Monday nights.
With Monday Night Football no longer what it once was, that makes what boxing is attempting to do a welcome change to the norm.
“We’re good with it,” says Golden Boy Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Binkow of the inevitable competition coming from Monday Night Football, which posted record-low ratings in 2012. “We’re an alternative for sports fans who don’t necessarily want to watch football on Mondays, and we’re happy to provide that outlet.”
Golden Boy’s latest boxing series – which airs Monday nights on the newly formed Fox Sports 1 network – debuted in mid-August with a show live from New York City. The headliner saw Daniel Jacobs continue his miraculous comeback, knocking out Giovani Lorenzo in three rounds to re-establish himself as a middleweight contender.
The next edition comes on Labor Day, September 2 in San Antonio – a rarity for a fight card to take place in the states on the holiday, much less warrant televised coverage. The main event features former welterweight titlist Luis Collazo in a crossroads bout against divisional spoiler Alan Sanchez, with local super flyweight contender Raul Martinez on hand for the undercard.
Most of the future shows will eventually work its way back to the East Coast, taking place in a modified setup at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“The idea is to have regular venues and create some consistently,” acknowledges Binkow. “Once upon a time they had regular fight series at the Great Western Forum (in Los Angeles) on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Grand Olympic. Having quality boxing shows on a weeknight no longer needs to be a rare exception.”
The series is a welcome break from the concept that the sport needs to be confined to weekend coverage. A major show no longer takes place in the states unless it’s on a Saturday night and guaranteed to air on HBO, Showtime or its pay-per-view arms. Boxing on Friday nights has focused more on prospects and badly faded former champions and ex-contenders merely getting by on name value.
Quality and regional growth are the two major sticking points in Golden Boy’s series on Fox. Upwards of 24 episodes are planned for its first 52 weeks, airing live on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Deportes, which previously has featured “Televisa on Deportes” on Saturday evenvings.
“You’re basically looking at boxing every other Monday,” points out Pat Crates of Fox Sports. “This is a great example of multi-platform presentation. We’re excited that we can do a deal with Golden Boy that works.”
The series has experienced growing pains during its infancy. The first episode didn’t come with ratings that blew away those involved, but did touch on all of the right areas, thus establishing a foundation to carry forward in the immediate and long term future.
“On cable, it’s hard to say what qualifies as successful ratings,” explains Crates. “From our perspective, quality equals success. We’re giving Golden Boy a three-year commitment. By the end of that initial agreement, we expect the sport of boxing will have established itself as a real player. If so, then we will view the series as a success.”
Boxing as a whole fell out of the realm of major sports long ago, but has slowly crept back into the hearts of the average American sports fans. Still missing from the sport is the inclusion of regular free network coverage. American football is by far the most popular among major sports, with no small coincidence that it also enjoys the greatest amount of free exposure.
Whereas football appears on network television every Sunday from September through its presentation of the Super Bowl in early February, boxing has only recently made strides towards returning towards that market. The closest the sport comes to offering an affordable option is ESPN2’s Friday Night Fight series, which runs from January through mid-August.
“We feel that boxing is very underserved,” believes Crates. “The economics were at HBO and Showtime for a long time. Our goal is to eventually change that perspective. It’s high time for high quality fights to be on a channel that most people can access.
“We’re betting that there’s an audience. There is lots of fighting that has to go on before you get to the championship. We plan to be in that market as the series develops.”
The motivation behind Fox Sports 1 jumping behind the series came from another successful venture between Fox Deportes and Golden Boy. ‘Televisa on Deportes’ airs semi-regularly on Fox’ Spanish feed, featuring select shows from Mexico that simultaneously air on Televisa.
“This deal morphed out of the Deportes series,” explains Crates. “We decided to do something bigger than Deportes. Let’s see if we can do something in English and Spanish that helps bring the sport justice.”
For the moment, it appears that ‘Televisa on Deportes’ has gone the way of the dodo, with no episodes presently in queue for the immediate future. Plans do call for Fox to offer a special edition in its fight series on September 12, with Shawn Porter and Julio Diaz squaring off in a show designed as a fight week lead-in to the year’s biggest event when Floyd Mayweather faces Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez that Saturday. Both shows will take place in Las Vegas.
In addition to the September 12 show hyping up the aforementioned pay-per-view event, additional attention will be drawn towards the Fox Fight Night series. By month’s end, the series will return to New York, with its first entry at Barclays Center.
From there, some normalcy for sports fans looking for a regular routine in the event that the NFL’s largely uninspiring Monday night schedule doesn’t quite whet the appetite.
“We see a series as being a staple of Monday nights,” Crates and the Fox network brass firmly believes. “We’re branding it as ‘Fox Fight Night.’ We think boxing matches up well with the competition.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox