By Jake Donovan
Showtime kicked off its 2016 season of boxing coverage with a January 16 heavyweight doubleheader live from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. In the main event, Deontay Wilder celebrated his one-year anniversary as a heavyweight titlist with a 9th round knockout of Artur Szpilka.
Opening the telecast, Charles Martin claimed a vacant belt in anti-climactic fashion when Vyacheslavez tore apart his right knee in round three and was unable to continue.
The card aired live during Showtime’s free-preview weekend, as well as being simulcast on its YouTube channel which was also legally streamed on a dozen websites (including BoxingScene.com). The win marked the third successful defense for Wilder (36-0, 35KOs) since claiming the title in a 12-round unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne exactly 52 weeks prior in Las Vegas, which also aired live on Showtime, drawing 1.24 million viewers.
Competition from the NFL Playoffs – including a head-to-head matchup with the highest-rated divisional round game ever for the time slot – took a bite out of subscriber viewership this time around. The official Nielsen ratings posted poor results for the show – Wilder-Szpilka averaging barely 500,000 viewers and peaking at 623,000, while Martin-Glazkov averaged 467,000 households.
Not factored into those numbers were the number of home viewers tuned in from the free-preview weekend or online telecast, as well as the overall reach gained from highlights and post-fight coverage made available online immediately after the fight.
“We are pleased with the exposure and reach of Saturday's heavyweight world championship event,” Chris DeBlasio, director of communications for Showtime told BoxingScene.com of the overall coverage that came of the night. “The live telecast was on par for live boxing and we are not including households who took advantage of the free preview.
“Add to that a first-of-its-kind live offering on YouTube that was simulcast on more than a dozen sports news sites in both English and Spanish across the U.S.”
Attributing to the Nielsen ratings itself was the fact that the show had the misfortune of going up against the divisional round of the National Football League (NFL) playoffs, including a head-to-head televised clash with the NFC matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals. Their nail-biting thriller generated 33.4 million viewers, good for the highest-rated NFL Divisional game for that time slot since the NFL went to that format in 2001.
Such direct competition wasn’t the case a year ago. Wilder was able to snatch the title from Bermane Stiverne during the NFL conference championship weekend, whose games only aired on Sunday. It meant that boxing essentially had the floor to itself, enabling the lofty ratings number posted on that particular evening.
Showtime was well aware of the competition that existed heading into the January 16 telecast. While nobody could forecast the record numbers to be pulled in by the Packers-Cardinals game – or the fact that it went into overtime, thus overlapping with a large portion of the boxing telecast.
Also lost in the shuffle – at least among those who simply posted third-party ratings results – was the fact that the show was a box office success. The event was originally budgeted for 9,000 seats at Barclays, but ticket demand forced DiBella Entertainment – the lead promoter for the show – to open the upper bowl, with more than 12,000 in attendance.
The figure and the live gate were second only to Danny Garcia’s 12-round win over Zab Judah in April ’13 for the best-selling events at Barclays Center.
Additional proof of more eyes on the event than suggested has come in the form of online post-fight viewership. The highlight clip of Wilder’s knockout – a right hand shot that put Szpilka down and out – generated 3 million views while the defending titlist’s post-fight in-ring war of words with reigning World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury surpassed 1.2 million views just days after the fight.
“Deontay, of course, helped further that reach with a spectacular one-punch KO to close the show,” DeBlasio notes. “That highlight clip, along with a highlight clip of Tyson Fury's spectacle during the post-fight interviews, have reached a combined 4+ million views in just a few days.
“This is a great indicator that sports fans are realizing Deontay Wilder is must-see-TV.”
Next up for Wilder – barring any additional delays – is a mandatory defense versus Russia’s Alexander Povetkin, who was in attendance for the card. Negotiations have already begun, with early indications suggesting the fight could wind up in the United States, possibly even back at Barclays Center where Wilder – the last American male boxer to earn an Olympic medal (bronze in the 2008 Beijing Games) – fought for the first time in his pro career.
Among other U.S. outlets, Showtime remains very interested in remaining in the Deontay Wilder business, for all of the reasons it has already mentioned – and regardless of what the official Nielsen ratings suggest for his latest appearance.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox