SBJ/Dec. 6-12, 2010/This Week's Issue

Finkel-led promoter Empire getting regular slot on FSN

The sports and concert promotion company headed by Hall of Fame fight manager Shelly Finkel has landed a monthly slot for its boxing cards on Fox Sports Net.

Beginning later this month, The Empire Sports & Entertainment will deliver “Fight Night in America,” a boxing card to air nationally on Fox Sports Net outlets on the final Thursday of each month, said Greg Cohen, president, founder and COO of Empire.

The promoter plans to position the cards as a middle-class stop for rising prospects, with budgets of $75,000 to $90,000 for its fight cards, which easily would eclipse the $25,000 to $35,000 ESPN pays for its “Friday Night Fight” cards, putting it in line with Showtime’s developmental “ShoBox” series.

Empire will become only the third boxing promoter with a regular slot on FSN, joining Top Rank and Golden Boy.

“Our agenda with this show is to be a breeding ground for HBO and Showtime,” said Cohen, who over the years has promoted several midrange heavyweights and still promotes former champs Shannon Briggs and Hasim Rahman. “We’d like to have our guys graduate from our Fox Sports Net series to become players on [premium cable].”

“Fight Night in America” debuts Dec. 30, when the network will air a one-hour taped show from Monroeville, Pa., promoted in conjunction with Prize Fight Boxing and featuring welterweight prospects Jesse Lubash (13-0) and Hastings “Sting” Bwalya (5-0), who will fight in separate bouts. Empire hopes to expand to a two-hour live window beginning in May, when FSN’s regional schedules clear out, Cohen said.

Empire hopes to hold future events at an anchor venue — likely a Las Vegas showroom that seats about 2,500 — with a handful of cards in other cities. Longtime announcer Barry Tompkins will handle blow-by-blow calls, joined by analyst Nate Yoder. The show also will air on Fox Deportes.

“I liken boxing to the real estate market,” Cohen said. “It’s beat up and depressed. And that creates opportunity.”

The TV deal is the latest in a series of moves by Empire, which launched last year as a boxing promotion company but quickly morphed into an enterprise that plans to make large music festivals its focus.

In May, Empire hired Finkel, whose roots are in concert promotion, as its chairman and CEO, signing him to a three-year contract at an annual base salary of $500,000. Finkel also received a 10 percent stake in the company.

In June, Empire launched a private placement that raised $2.9 million by the time it closed at the end of October.

Recent SEC filings show that Empire had operating losses of $1.45 million in the seven months from its inception to Sept. 30. Cohen attributed the losses to startup costs, coupled with the fact that the company has not yet promoted a concert.

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