By Jake Donovan
Sorry fight fans, but there is such a thing as too much boxing—and we are in the midst of such a run.
While some boxing junkies marvel at fight shows appearing on a slew of networks on a regular basis, the recent ratings trend suggests the offense is being spread way too thin. Case in point, the less than spectacular numbers produced over the past couple of weekends.
A loaded Saturday night of fights was headed by the third installment of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) airing live in prime time on NBC. Shawn Porter scored a 12-round decision win over Adrien Broner in the evening’s main event, with the 2 ½ hour broadcast pulling in just under 2.4 million viewers on the evening.
To the average boxing fan, it may appear to be a gaudy number. In reality, it pales in comparison to a favorable broadcast in that time slot. Live coverage of the U.S. Open on free-to-air Fox won the overall ratings battle on Saturday evening, although PBC on NBC ran neck-and-neck with the well-established golf tournament in the key demographic targeting viewers 18-49 years of age.
Worse for boxing was the fact that the last hour of PBC on NBC overlapped with two more televised boxing events, both of which appeared on regional cable and felt the effects of boxing continuing to unnecessarily compete with itself.
Undefeated super middleweight champion Andre Ward enjoyed a triumphant ring return, scoring a 9th round stoppage of Paul Smith in his hometown of Oakland, California. The bout aired live on BET, headlining the first installment of Roc Nation Sports’ throne boxing series on the entertainment network targeted towards African-Americans. The event was the first of up to nine shows that Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports will stage over the next 18 months.
The show aired at 10:00 p.m. ET, right around the time that Porter and Broner entered the ring in Las Vegas. The conflict came at the expense of an entertaining opening bout on BET, as unbeaten prospects Antonio Nieves and Stephon Young fought to an eight-round draw.
The two-hour broadcast featured two fights and a live performance from Los Angeles-based rapper Nipsey Hu$$le. The ability to stage live performances in between fights is a perk that RNS believes helps separate its events from the typical boxing show to be found just about anywhere else. With Jay-Z and Roc Nation representing dozens of top musical talent, showcasing such artists during its events will continue to serve as the accompaniment to throne boxing shows.
Ward’s ring return was well-received on the local front; an announced attendance of 9,106 poured into the Oracle Arena, which played host to two separate events involving its principle resident, the Golden State Warriors. The previous Sunday saw the Warriors take a 3-2 lead after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the 2014-15 NBA Finals.
Two nights later, Oracle Arena turned into a viewing party as fans watched the Warriors close out the series on the road, beating the Cavaliers in six games to become the 2014-15 NBA Champions. Both events were sold out, drawing more than 39,000 fans on the two nights.
Not even Ward’s first fight in nearly two years was never going to draw similar numbers. With boxing graded on a curve, the live attendance figure for his fight was regarded as a solid pull. The same positive spin can’t be placed on the number of fans who tuned in, however.
Overall, the show averaged 323,000 viewers on the evening. A breakdown of viewers for each specific segment of the card—co-feature, entertainment portion and main event—were not immediately available, nor does it account for the number of fans who also streamed the event live on Jay-Z’s Tidal.com music website. The only preliminary breakdown available indicates an increase in viewership as the night went along, particularly in the final hour when Ward was posting the 28th win of his still-perfect career.
While Ward was maintaining his unbeaten record, David Lemieux and Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam fought middleweight lives, adding an entry to the Fight of the Year sweepstakes in the process.
It’s just a shame that so few fans were able to see it.
The bout topped a three-fight show which aired live on Fox Sports 2 and Fox Deportes from the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec City, Canada. Golden Boy Promotions—who promotes Lemieux—has regularly staged shows on Fox Sports 1, which is available in roughly 90 million homes. Its sister network, Fox Sports 2 (formerly the Fuel Network) is only available in about 41 million homes, but became the network of choice due to a conflicting event on the flagship station.
Overall, the broadcast—which ran from 10:00 p.m-12:22 a.m. ET—averaged 163,000 homes. Hurting the event in general was Golden Boy’s struggles to find a televised home. Lemieux—a knockout artist who enjoys a sincere love affair with his home fans in Montreal—signed with the California-based promoter last year, appearing on premium cable outlets Showtime and HBO.
Lemieux was hoped to become a fixture on HBO, a key pickup for the network if only to groom a notable attraction for another middleweight puncher, unbeaten titlist Gennady Golovkin.
Unfortunately, his signing with Golden Boy prompted a lawsuit from estranged promoter Yvon Michel. The move was met with a $1.3 million lawsuit launched against Golden Boy, Eye of the Tiger Management (headed by Camille Estephan, Lemieux’s manager) and HBO, all of whom Michel alleged had conspired to disrupt his working relationship with the popular middleweight.
The lawsuit likely played a major factor in HBO opting to pass on airing the fight. There came the suggestion from Golden Boy representatives that HBO simply didn’t have room in its loaded schedule, with the network airing boxing shows on every other weekend in June. However, the move mirrors a similar stance taken by HBO for a brief spell in 2007 while Top Rank and Golden Boy bickered over just who exactly had exclusive promotional rights to Manny Pacquiao.
It was a battle that Top Rank eventually won, with Golden Boy remaining along for the ride for a small percentage. Still, it came at the expense of Pacquaio’s knockout win over Jorge Solis in April ’07 taking place atop a Top Rank PPV rather than one distributed and produced by HBO.
Opting to ride out the lawsuit before returning Lemieux HBO wasn’t a luxury Golden Boy enjoyed in getting this fight done. As per the terms of the purse bid, the fight had to take place no later than July 7. The date is a few days after Golden Boy’s longtime deal with Fox Sports comes to an end, as the network becomes the latest to join the PBC movement.
Given the latest ratings trend and the threat of market saturation, there is legitimate concern over the direction of the boxing movement in general. Some suggest we are living in a golden age of boxing on television. With a few exceptions, the overall ratings strongly suggest otherwise.
The June 21 installment of PBC on NBC was the third such event to air in primetime. The 2.4 million viewers marks its lowest rating of the three events in that time slot, and a considerable drop from the inaugural telecast on March 7, in which Keith Thurman’s thrilling 12-round win over Robert Guerrero averaged 3.4 million viewers.
Father’s Day this year came with the treat of a rare Sunday afternoon of boxing on free TV. Rances Barthelemy enjoyed a successful leap to the junior welterweight division, pitching a virtual shutout of former two-time lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco over 10 rounds in Las Vegas. The chief support saw rising welterweight prospect grind out a 10-round win over ring veteran Wale Omotoso.
Both bouts aired live on CBS from 4:00-6:00 p.m. ET. Not even the novelty of boxing on Sunday could spark a boost in viewership. The show posted an 0.8 overnight rating and in the vicinity of 1.1 million viewers. The total is slightly down from the previous PBC on CBS telecast, when Omar Figueroa edged Ricky Burns last month.
Both shows are down from the first PBC on CBS event, when World light heavyweight Adonis Stevenson topped Sakio Bika, in a bout that played to roughly 1.6 million viewers.
PBC on Spike TV continues to live and die with its headlining act. The first installment—which aired on March 13—produced near-record breaking numbers for the network, with Andre Berto’s thrilling knockout win over Josesito Lopez averaging 862,000 viewers, peaking at more than 1 million.
Amir Khan’s 12-round win over Chris Algieri helped propel the May 29 installment of PBC on Spike past the 1 million viewer mark. Both events were massive ratings win for Spike and PBC. Khan-Algieri in particular overcame serious sporting competition, with the May 29 telecast going head-to-head with Game 7 of the National Hockey League (NHL) Eastern Conference Finals, where the Tampa Bay Lightning’s win over the New York Rangers to advance to the Stanley Cup finals drew 3.3 million viewers on NBC Sports.
Not quite as memorable were the other two PBC on Spike TV events. An April 24 doubleheader—both legs featuring major titles—averaged roughly 565,000 viewers on the night. Its most recent installment, Erislandy Lara scored a 12-round win over Delvin Rodriguez atop a June 12 show that registered just 442,000 viewers, the lowest-rated of any of PBC event on any network to date.
The fact that PBC shows in general continue to perform favorably among the 18-49 market is a positive sign for the future.
Lara’s win over Rodriguez came on the eve of the latest in a long list of competing boxing telecasts between HBO and Showtime, almost none of which ever result in good news.
HBO’s June 13 entry served as the last of a three-week stretch of boxing in New York City. Khan-Algieri kicked off the run, and the May 29 card at Barclays Center performed well in viewership and at the box office, drawing 7,000 in attendance. The following weekend saw Miguel Cotto pack more than 12,000 into the venue for the first defense of his middleweight championship, scoring a 3rd round knockout of Daniel Geale in their HBO-televised headliner, which came at a catchweight of 157 lbs.
While both events were big hits—Cotto pulled in just under 1.6 million viewers for HBO, the third highest-rated premium cable fight of 2015—market saturation kicked in at the tail end of three consecutive Saturdays of big time boxing in New York City. A June 13 show at Madison Square Garden Theatre saw just over 3,000 in attendance for a doubleheader featuring unbeaten featherweight Nicholas Walters and rising lightweight Felix Verdejo, the latter serving as the draw on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City.
The doubleheader served as a ratings dud, on average barely outperforming a conflicting boxing event on premium cable rival Showtime. While HBO’s show averaged more viewers, the most watched bout of the night took place on Showtime, as Deontay Wilder was entertainingly flawed in a 9th round knockout of Eric Molina in a heavyweight title fight falling just short of 700,000 viewers.
It paled in comparison to the 1.24 million viewers Wilder pulled for his title-winning effort over Bermane Stiverne in January. However, it was enough to easily outdraw both legs of HBO’s doubleheader, Verdejo’s win over Ivan Najera (611,000 viewers) and overweight Walters outpointing Miguel Marriaga in the main event (588,000 viewers).
Earlier that day, Guerrero fought for the first time since the Thurman loss, returning to the PBC circuit just three months later in a 10-round win over Aron Martinez. Guerrero was forced to climb off the canvas to secure a close, questionable win in a Saturday afternoon NBC-televised headliner that drew roughly 1.2 million viewers. The numbers were up 12% from the May 23 installment of PBC on NBC during a Saturday afternoon, when James DeGale scored a decision win over Andre Dirrell.
All told, PBC has offered 11 events since its official debut on March 7 in Las Vegas, five of which aired in the span of just four weekends. There are plenty more to come – including another stretch of four shows covering five weekends, but none until its ESPN debut on July 11.
Thurman headlined the first show on NBC and will also top the July 11 edition on ESPN, facing Luis Collazo at home in Tampa, Florida. Three weeks later, Danny Garcia and Paul Malignaggi square off at Barclays Center in the August 1 edition of PBC on ESPN, with Daniel Jacobs—who knocked out Caleb Truax in 12 rounds on the April 24 PBC on Spike TV telecast—facing Sergio Mora.
Wedged in between, unbeaten junior featherweight titlist Carl Frampton fights for the first time in the United States and under the PBC banner as he faces Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. in El Paso, Texas. The bout will air live on CBS during a Saturday afternoon telecast, with the show serving as boxing’s version of a day/night doubleheader. Later that evening, Julio Cesar Chavez headlines on Showtime.
Also in the works is a planned August 14 show—likely on Spike TV, the only PBC-related network hosting cards on Friday evenings—headlined by a heavyweight bout between Antonio Tarver and Steve Cunningham at a location to be determined, with Newark whispered as the possible hosting city. The show also features the stateside debut of longtime cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck.
While PBC takes a three-week break—lf only to reload—this weekend is yet another where boxing will appear on seemingly every network. HBO returns on Saturday night, with a doubleheader that will open with the 1,000th live fight in the network’s history. It’s the last card of a stretch that saw HBO have its hand in eight events in the past 11 weeks.
The run is the notable exception to market saturation. Of the eight shows, HBO produced the four most-watched premium cable fights of 2015, including Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’ 3rd round knockout of James Kirkland in what was the highest rated fight on premium cable since 2006. Wladimir Klitschko, Miguel Cotto and Gennady Golovkin all posted big wins on HBO, both in the ring and in the ratings.
Chief among the eight events, of course, was the one HBO shared with Showtime in presenting the most lucrative card in boxing history—Floyd Mayweather’s 12-round win over Manny Pacquiao, which sold 4.4 million units on Pay-Per-View.
After this weekend, HBO goes into hibernation—perhaps deservedly so, given its recent run. But the swarm of content produced in recent weeks now calls into question just how much remains in the budget for the rest of the year.
Its lone piece of business following this weekend has Sergey Kovalev making a mandatory title defense versus Nadjib Mohammedi, a fight anticipated by few outside of Mohammedi’s camp. The bout tops an HBO telecast airing July 25 in Las Vegas—in the dead of summer out in the desert heat.
This Friday sees cards on old players Showtime (ShoBox) and Fox Sports 1, as well as new kids on the block CBS Sports Network and truTV. The truTV series—with Top Rank as its primary feeder—is unique in that it’s the only sporting event on the network, which is part of the Time Warner family that also houses HBO, TBS, TNT and CNN.
truTV was utilized along with CBS, TBS and TNT for NCAA March Madness coverage, but is otherwise primarily a comedy-based network, a far cry from its roots when previously known as Court TV.
The first three installments of Top Rank’s Metro PCS Friday Night Knockout series—all of which ran in three consecutive weekends in May—was consistent in its ratings, drawing between 240,000-280,000 viewers for each episode. The May 15 card headlined by Jesse Benavides’ title-defending win over Jorge Paez Jr. outperformed a competing ESPN2 Friday Night Fights telecast in the key 18-34 market.
Metro PCS Friday Night Knockout returns this Friday, with budding super middleweight Gilberto Ramirez facing veteran spoiler Derek Edwards in the main event. The episode will serve as the lone series entry of the summer before reloading in September, likely returning in succession as was the case with its kickoff in May
It’s a sound plan—if only its one-off installment this week didn’t have so much company this weekend.
The truTV event will likely do far better in the ratings than will be the case for Golden Boy’s show on Fox Sports 1, which, frankly, has never made a dent since its inception nearly two years ago. What began as an intended Monday night series never really found a home or rhythm, with shows appearing on random nights of the week all the way to its forthcoming July 2 series finale.
CBS Sports Network telecasts—boxing or otherwise—are not tracked by Nielsen for reasons only the station can explain.
The real battle will likely come down to truTV and Showtime’s installment of ShoBox, topped by a middleweight bout between unbeaten Dominic Wade and former titlist Sam Soliman.
Whatever telecast comes out as the evening’s ratings winner, there’s no question it could have been that much bigger if it didn’t have to share time with three other shows.
There’s also an argument to be made that too much boxing is better than no boxing at all. It’s also true that, for the most part, competition is a good thing.
However, it’s never proven to be a good thing when boxing winds up competing against itself.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox