By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Stephen Espinoza would’ve loved to have been able to tell reporters Thursday that Showtime has secured the U.S. television rights to air the Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight championship showdown.
The Showtime executive still hasn’t been told by promoters of that April 29 fight, though, if Showtime or HBO has been chosen as the American television partner for that huge event.
Showtime has a multi-fight contract to air Joshua’s fights in the United States, but that agreement doesn’t include automatic rights to televise a bout between England’s Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) and Ukraine’s Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs). HBO has worked with the 41-year-old Klitschko during much of his Hall of Fame career, but the former heavyweight champion doesn’t have an exclusive contract with HBO.
That left the premium-cable rivals to bid against one another for the U.S. rights to broadcast the biggest heavyweight title fight since Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson in June 2002.
“I wish I had it,” Espinoza said regarding an answer about whether Showtime will televise Joshua-Klitschko. “We’re in the thick of it, but there’s no real substantive update yet.”
Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager for Showtime Sports, added that the delay hasn’t made him pessimistic about being able to adequately promote the huge heavyweight fight if his network secures the U.S. rights to do so.
“The reality is on a non-pay-per-view [show], our marketing is usually only three-to-four weeks [in advance],” Espinoza said. “So this Saturday will be four weeks out. And that fight is such a big fight, it’s gonna make a lot of noise when we finally get closer to it anyway.”
Espinoza acknowledged that the negotiations are complicated because Showtime is invested in the 27-year-old Joshua, who’s already a superstar in Great Britain, and HBO is invested in Klitschko, who’s well-known to audiences in Europe, former Soviet Union nations and the United States.
“It’s one of those situations where no one’s really gonna be happy,” Espinoza said, referring to the network that doesn’t get the fight. “They’ve got a relationship with their guy, we’ve got a relationship with our guy. It’s hard to come up with ways to split this. I’m confident that we’re gonna be able to work out it, so that there is U.S. TV for it. From the network’s [standpoint], it’s a little [like] Mayweather-Pacquiao – not at that scale, but each side has interests and investments to protect, and you’ve gotta come to some sort of resolution. It’s just not something we’re used to doing, so it takes a long time.”
Sky Sports Box Office will televise Joshua-Klitschko on pay-per-view in the United Kingdom.
Roughly 90,000 tickets have been sold for their April 29 fight at Wembley Stadium in London. It will air early in the evening on the East Coast in the United States and in the middle of the afternoon on the West Coast.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.