NBC will bring pro boxing back to network television as part of a two-year extension of the “Fight Night” series that has aired on NBC Sports Network this year, taking another swing at a sport that last appeared on terrestrial television in 2004 and hasn’t run there consistently since 1998.
The deal with promoter Main Events calls for at least eight dates on NBC Sports Network in 2013 and again in 2014, with two slots on NBC in each of those years. At least six of the NBC Sports Network dates each year will air in prime time on Saturday nights.
“We have a long memory,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports. “There was a great history of boxing on NBC for a long time. It pained us to see how much the sport had been slighted and poorly executed. Promoters had put a lot of bad fights on and turned a lot of people off. Boxing was one of the top three sports in this country. Greed got the better of it.”
NBC and Main Events launched “Fight Night” as a pilot program in January with a commitment to only four dates. It already has aired four cards and plans two more this year: Sept. 21 and Dec. 8. Live airings have attracted 200,000 to 300,000 viewers, putting it at about half the audience of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.” That was enough to make the show one of the more watched offerings on NBC’s redesigned sports cable network and convince the network to continue investing.
The budget for “Fight Night” cards typically ranges from $100,000 to $150,000, according to sources, which is more than most fighters make appearing on ESPN or Spanish-language cable networks but far less than they make on most premium cable shows.
The extension also includes continued rebroadcasts of “Fight Night” on Comcast RSNs, along with NBC Sports Network’s commitment to continue creating shoulder programming that introduces viewers to the fighters who appear on the network. It already has aired two installments of its behind-the-scenes “36” franchise around boxers Zab Judah and Eddie Chambers.
“If you look back to all those stars of boxing who are iconic, they were in our living room on Saturday afternoons,” said Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. “They became stars on the major networks and then they went on to carry the sport. There have been very few of those stars to emerge since the networks stopped showing boxing. That’s why this is important, why it may be a tipping point.
“It’s five dates [on NBC], so it’s not like it’s every week, but it’s five more dates than we’ve had, for the most part, since the late ’80s. It’s a commitment. And I’m confident that, if they’re happy, we’ll do more.”
Though Duva would not discuss specific fighters or fights for Dec. 22, the date, time and NBC’s request that it be a heavyweight point to Tomasz Adamek, a Main Events-promoted fighter who beat Chambers on a “Fight Night” card last month. Putting Adamek, who is from Poland, on a Saturday afternoon card would allow Main Events to sell the show in prime time in Europe, where he likely would generate more revenue.
The network views the offering of airtime on NBC as a way to showcase fighters it builds up via the “Fight Night” show on NBC Sports Network.
“You’re going to see people there who have been on our air already,” said Gary Quinn, senior director of programming and acquisitions for NBC Sports. “One of the focuses in our grand plan was to bring back the heavyweight division. … There’s the potential for one of those guys to show up.”