LAS VEGAS – As someone who’s heavily invested in boxing, Stephen Espinoza is increasingly concerned about some of the sport’s troubling trends.
One of boxing’s most prominent problems, according to the Showtime executive, is relatively new. With so much live boxing available via free TV, basic cable, premium cable and streaming services, Espinoza believes the market has been saturated with entirely too much content.
“Look, candidly, I think there’s too much boxing on TV, too much boxing available,” Espinoza told a group of reporters recently at MGM Grand. “And when you are doing the number of fights that are being done across the market, it’s hard to enforce a standard of quality. There’s a tremendous amount of noise in the marketplace. Unless you’re the hardest of hardcore fans, it’s tough to figure out which are the big fights, which are the medium fights, which are prospect fights. You tune in not really knowing what to expect. It’s hard for all of us to sort of remember what platform, what fights, where, what they mean.”
Espinoza, Showtime’s president of sports and event programming, acknowledged during this lengthy, informal interview session that he expects his network to “do better” in 2020 than this year, when it had difficulty duplicating the high number of quality fights it televised in 2018. He didn’t mention DAZN by name, but Espinoza expressed apprehension about how the free-spending streaming service has operated in boxing since it officially launched in the United States in September 2018.
“I have concerns that this is a business opportunity,” Espinoza explained. “And what I mean by that is when you launch a streaming service, you need content and you need tonnage. You need hours and hours of content. And there have been others in this market who have been very open that they’re getting into sports streaming and using boxing as a steppingstone. So that doesn’t speak well to their treatment of the sport or their long-term commitment to the sport, if you’re saying it’s a steppingstone to get into other sports.
“OK, what’s gonna happen? You’re gonna leave by a trail of expectations and everyone else cleans up the mess when these people are gone? And I think across it all, that’s why I think the commitment to the sport and understanding the sport, and wanting to present it this way, the best way, is key. I mean, we all loving being able to see boxing every weekend. But, you know, is that what’s best for the market? I don’t think so.”
Even with longtime industry giant HBO out of boxing, the sport is more available on television and through streaming services than at any time in recent history. DAZN, ESPN, ESPN+, FOX, FS1, Showtime, Telemundo and UFC Fight Pass all either televise or stream boxing regularly.
Espinoza doesn’t think the amount of platforms is the problem. It’s the amount of fights televised live.
“I think that multiple platforms can be served,” Espinoza said. “I don’t know that we can support 200 fight dates a year, or wherever we are with that. I made the analogy before of it’s as if we’re televising every minor-league baseball game on a national basis. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just, look, there are regional fights, there are national fights. And part of the problem is you’re tuning in, you’re not sure exactly what you’re getting. And when a viewer tunes in and expects to see something the quality of a Badou Jack or a ‘Tank’ Davis fight, and they’re getting something very different, [it’s] doubtful that they’re gonna come back and try it a second time.”
Espinoza mentioned Jack and Gervonta Davis because they’re scheduled to box on the Showtime card December 28 that the media assembled to discuss.
By the end of 2019, Showtime will have televised seven “Showtime Championship Boxing” and four “Showtime Boxing: Special Edition” cards, as well as 11 “ShoBox: The New Generation” events. It also distributed the Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner pay-per-view show January 19.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Showtime is owned by CBS, which also owns BoxingScene.com.]