By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Stephen Espinoza made it perfectly clear he feels Showtime has surpassed HBO as the premier provider of boxing programming on premium cable.
Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager for Showtime Sports, made that statement as part of a response to a question about Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko being a joint television venture with HBO. It was posed during the Shawn Porter-Andre Berto post-fight press conference early Sunday morning at Barclays Center.
“To be completely candid, I do think it’s easier now [to work together] because there’s really one network that is committed to the sport,” Espinoza said. “If we look at the output, the resources, the commitment to the sport, there’s no question that Showtime is putting far more into the sport than any other network. So the reality is, I think where the important fights are happening are on Showtime. I think the fighters see that, the managers see that. I think you guys, as the media, see that.”
Winning the rights fight to televise Joshua-Klitschko live Saturday from London is widely viewed as an important victory for Showtime over HBO, long considered the unquestioned leader in broadcasting boxing. HBO still draws higher overall ratings for boxing, but Showtime has narrowed the gap considerably in recent years.
Showtime started 2017 strong by beating HBO’s ratings when the networks offered simultaneous telecasts January 28 (https://www.boxingscene.com/showtime-scores-rare-ratings-win-over-hbo-head-head-battle--113183).
By the end of May, Showtime also will have offered eight live “Showtime Championship Boxing” and four live “ShoBox: The New Generation” telecasts to its roughly 24 million domestic subscribers. HBO will have provided a combined four live “World Championship Boxing” and “Boxing After Dark” broadcasts to its approximate 32 million subscribers in the United States.
While the premium-cable competition remains fierce, Espinoza acknowledged that the companies must work together when necessary for the overall health of the sport.
Airing Joshua-Klitschko on Showtime (live) and HBO (delayed) on the same day is a prime example. As part of the deal, it is believed HBO would own the live rights to a Joshua-Klitschko rematch, which Showtime would air on delay.
“When the opportunity comes up, we have stepped back many, many times for the benefit of the sport,” Espinoza explained. “Daniel Jacobs is a guy who has fought on Showtime many, many times. Daniel called me one Saturday morning [last year]. I remember it [being] early, and I knew as soon as I saw his number on my phone, what he would be calling about. And we had a conversation.
“And him taking the Golovkin fight, that’s never something that I would stand in the way [of]. And it was absolutely clear that because of Golovkin’s contractual situation, that that fight could only happen at the other network. … So there has to be the right balance. Of course, we want every good fight on Showtime. And I think that’s what we’ve been delivering. But at the same time, it is incumbent upon all of us in the sport to not let things like that get in the way of the right fight at the right time. And we were able to avoid that as well with Joshua-Klitschko.”
Showtime’s coverage of the Joshua-Klitschko fight will begin at 4:15 p.m. ET/1:15 p.m. PT on Saturday. HBO’s delayed telecast is set to start at 11 p.m. ET/PT.
Sky Sports Box Office will televise Joshua-Klitschko on pay-per-view in the United Kingdom.
The 27-year-old Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) will defend his IBF heavyweight title against the 41-year-old Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs) before a sellout crowd of approximately 90,000 at Wembley Stadium. England’s Joshua and Ukraine’s Klitschko also will fight for the vacant WBA and IBO titles in their scheduled 12-rounder.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.