SBJ/September 28 - October 4, 1998/No Topic Name

Boxing still draws fans for TV bouts

Boxing scored a one-two TV punch on Sept. 18-19: an Oscar De La Hoya fight that drew one of the highest non-heavyweight pay-per-view buys and an Evander Holyfield fight that was one of Showtime's highest-rated original programs.

The De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez rematch, billed as a mismatch by sportswriters, drew 650,000 to 750,000 pay-per-view buys, and could be the highest-grossing non-heavyweight pay-per-view fight, said Mark S. Taffet, senior vice president of TVKO, the pay-per-view arm of HBO.

The De La Hoya-Pernell Whitaker match in April 1997 drew the highest non-heavyweight numbers with 800,000 buys and $35 million in sales, Taffet said. But while the Whitaker fight drew more buyers, the Sept. 18 Chavez fight was priced higher by many cable outlets and may have grossed more.

Bob Arum, promoter of the De La Hoya-Chavez fight, said the fight took in almost $2 million in closed-circuit television revenue in addition to the pay-per-view buys.

Meanwhile, the Holyfield-Vaughn Bean fight on Sept. 19 drew a 10.8 rating, making it "the highest-rated original program on Showtime since 1996," said Jay Larkin, senior vice president of sports and programming at Showtime.

"Boxing continues to amaze me," said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and current president of Pilson Communications Inc., a New York-based television consulting firm.

The rating for the Holyfield fight and the buy rate for the De La Hoya fight show that "there is a strong interest in specific fights and specific fighters," he said.

HBO and Showtime aren't the only networks that broadcast fights this month. Last Tuesday, Turner Network Television broadcast its first fight card, featuring "Sugar" Shane Mosely defending his IBF lightweight title.

The program drew a 2.1 rating, which was an acceptable number, said Kevin O'Malley, senior vice president of Turner Sports. O'Malley said Turner Sports executives will take some time to decide whether to broadcast another boxing program.

ESPN already has decided to launch a weekly boxing series on ESPN2. "Friday Night Fights," which will feature live bouts and classic fight footage as well as boxing news and information, will debut Friday.

ESPN manager of programming Bob Yalen said he expects the new series to be the highest-rated weekly regular program on ESPN2.

"We are going to go after the best fights for the money," Yalen said. He noted that the best-known fighters have contracts with HBO and Showtime but said ESPN has talked with both networks about having some of those boxers fight on ESPN2 between major bouts.

"HBO and Showtime have to keep them busy," Yalen said.

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