Ever since entering the business of boxing in 1986, Showtime has presented pay per view events headlined by the likes of Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, and many others.
This year alone, Showtime has already produced three PPVs (Gervonta Davis vs. Hector Luis Garcia; David Benavidez vs. Caleb Plant; Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia) and has at least two more coming featuring Errol Spence Jr. vs. Terence Crawford on July 29 and Canelo Alvarez vs. Jermell Charlo on September 30.
Stephen Espinoza, Showtime’s president of sports and event programming, has spearheaded the strong slate of shows presented by Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions for the premium cable network.
In an interview with JohnWallStreet, a sports business publication, Espinoza peeled back the curtain on the PPV process and explained that one of the reasons why much-desired fights like Spence vs. Crawford often takes a long time to make is due to the proliferation of illegal streaming.
Espinoza cited the challenge of accurately “projecting revenues given the unpredictability of piracy.”
“If what the fighters view as fair is not what any of the business people think can be generated because of [illegal streaming], then fights do not happen,” said Espinoza. “Our best guess is [that] buys are being depressed by at least 30 to 40% [due to digital theft.]”
Espinoza also explained that tapping into sponsorship avenues for additional ways to drive new revenue are limited because “there are simply some brands who do not want to be associated with something that violent or bloody."
During the kickoff press conference for his undisputed welterweight championship fight against Crawford, Spence said, “We need all y’all to support us [to buy PPVs and tickets] because we gotta show these people in suits, and we gotta show these other fighters that there is a reward in taking risks.”
In a separate interview with BoxingScene.com, Espinoza said "everybody made concessions that they never made before" so that the Spence-Crawford deal could cross the finish line. Spence separately added that he made concessions that business people felt Crawford didn't need or deserve.
Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia proved that with risk comes reward.
Their April 22 fight generated approximately 1.2 million PPV buys. The figure marked the first time since the Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennadiy Golovkin II fight in 2018 that a boxing PPV show surpassed the one-million buy marker.
“We had a lot of first-time casual fans who didn't want to take the time, or weren't interested in taking the time, to figure out how to illegally stream,” Espinoza said about the Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia event.
“We see that [for big fights], people get together in large groups to watch it. The last thing you want to do is invite ten of your buddies over to the house to watch the fight and you've got a stream which is dropping out or lagging every few minutes. It’s not a good experience.”
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer, and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, through email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com, or via www.ManoukAkopyan.com.