SBJ/August 20 - 26, 2007/This Weeks News

HBO, Showtime plan strong boxing lineups

Premium cable channels HBO and Showtime are breathing new life into the sweet science, with each channel rolling out fall boxing schedules that they call their strongest in decades.

Showtime has scheduled boxing matches five out of six Saturdays from Sept. 1 through Oct. 6, only one of which will be available via pay-per-view. HBO has six boxing telecasts scheduled from Sept. 29 to Dec. 8 — three on HBO and three on PPV.

“If you look at what we’ve put together, it’s hard to argue that boxing’s even been damaged, let alone dying,” said Ken Hershman, senior vice president and general manager of Showtime’s sports and event programming. “I don’t think there’s been a better run of boxing in the last three or four years.”

It’s not just the boxing-heavy lineups that have network officials optimistic about a sport that has been described as increasingly irrelevant by a variety of business observers. Network officials also point to the quality of the bouts, which include three matches that pair undefeated fighters.

“It’s our finest fall boxing programming schedule in 20 years,” said HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg.

HBO’s boxing schedule wraps up Dec.
8 with a pay-per-view bout between
Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton.

HBO has a more impressive fight schedule than Showtime, something that network executives say comes from the success of the May 5 Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather bout, which set PPV records with 2.15 million buys and $120 million in revenue. “More than anything else, that opened up people’s eyes that boxing can still reach top-tier revenues,” Greenburg said.

HBO has not increased its boxing budget to accommodate these fights, though ESPN.com reported earlier this month that Vladimir Klitschko, an HBO fighter, doesn’t have any bouts scheduled on the network this fall because HBO doesn’t have the budget to include him. Klitschko, recognized as the world’s top heavyweight, already has fought twice this year and is expected to be featured on HBO next year.

HBO’s schedule kicks off Sept. 29 with a middleweight championship fight from Atlantic City between Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik. It continues with a super middleweight championship fight Nov. 3 from Cardiff, Wales, between Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler. HBO wraps up its schedule Dec. 8 with a PPV bout between Mayweather and Ricky Hatton.

The network’s schedule also includes two other PPV fights: an Oct. 6 super featherweight bout between Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera, and a Nov. 10 bout between Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto. And it has blocked off Oct. 13 for a Don King-promoted card on HBO in which the fighters have not yet been named.

Showtime starts its schedule Sept. 1 with “ShoBox: The New Generation,” which will feature Russian fighter Victor Oganov. It continues Sept. 8 with a PPV match between Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga, in what is being billed as Vargas’ final fight.

Ricky Hatton

Showtime will present a card that includes Vitali Klitschko on Sept. 22 and a boxing card still to be determined on Sept. 29, in what will be a free-preview weekend for Showtime. The run ends Oct. 6 with a heavyweight championship fight from Madison Square Garden between Samuel Peter and Oleg Maskaev.

Showtime also will present a five-match mixed martial arts card from Hawaii on Sept. 15, making it six consecutive Saturday nights that Showtime will devote to combat sports. Hershman wants viewers to start identifying Saturday nights on Showtime with boxing and MMA.

“I hope there’s appointment TV where people want to see Showtime Sports on Saturday night,” he said. “We can’t afford to put on an event every Saturday month in and month out. Our goal is at least two Saturdays every month.”

Hershman says Showtime’s MMA audience, which is typically younger than boxing, has been crossing over to the network’s boxing programming. Showtime says 27 percent of its MMA male 25-plus demo also is watching this season of Showtime’s “Championship Boxing” series.

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