The End Of An Era

By Mark Elezaj

The final bell has sounded and the decision, although not a popular one, has been given. HBO stated Thursday that they will be dropping live boxing in 2019 from its schedule, ending a 45 year run, because of low ratings. It’s a tough pill to swallow because HBO Boxing has given the fight fan some of the greatest moments in the fight game.

“Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades,” said HBO Sports in a statement. “During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation.

“It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services.

“There is more boxing than ever being televised and distributed. In some cases, this programming is very good. But from an entertainment point of view, it’s not unique.”

In 1973 HBO broadcasted George Foreman’s knockout victory of heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. the following 45 years, HBO Boxing showcased some of the sport’s biggest names and fights. One such name was Oscar De La Hoya. Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya, who himself was one of the last few remaining promoters working with HBO, gave his thoughts on Thursdays announcement.

“As someone who fought on HBO 32 times and worked with the network to televise hundreds of fights under the Golden Boy banner, I know firsthand the debt of gratitude the sport of boxing owes everyone at the company,” De La Hoya stated.

“For four decades, HBO Boxing helped carry boxing through its highest peaks and deepest valleys, and in the end it leaves the sport in the best shape it has been in many years. Multiple networks are now televising boxing; streaming services are bringing the sport to countless additional fans; and arenas across the world are now packed to the rafters to watch the sport of kings.

“None of this would have been possible without HBO. – I wish Richard Plepler, Peter Nelson and the entire HBO Boxing team all the best in their future endeavors.”

The issue is that over the last two years HBO had seen its viewing numbers for boxing drop by a third. That’s a big drop. Also, following a recent research done, there was no indication that their subscribers were signing up strictly for boxing. Not to mention that some of the top fighters at HBO have now jumped ship and signed with ESPN for example.

In 2017 Top Rank made the decision to take their content to ESPN and signed an exclusive deal that runs through 2025. For as long as I can remember, Top Rank was the main provider to the network. With names likes Marvin Hagler, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao, who would not tune in and watch the fights? But Arum said he saw the writing on the wall. ‘I’ve been saying for awhile that the contribution that the premium networks, particularly HBO, made to the sport of boxing were tremendous,” said Arum, the CEO of Top Rank, on Thursday.

Arum also stated- “They came in, they used boxing to help build subscribers, particularly with the contract I signed with them with Hagler. But that had the negative effect of driving out the other networks because premium networks could spend more money because they got monthly fees from subscribers. But it became obvious as the premium networks grew that they had no need for boxing. That they weren’t sports networks.”

“They were entertainment networks or as Nelson (HBO Sports Vice President) says, ‘story telling networks’ – and economically to use the money that they were spending for boxing made no sense when they could put it into developing pilots and documentaries that had much greater financial impact on the company,” said Arum.

“But that being said, anybody who has been in boxing as long as I have, has to be grateful to HBO for the support that they gave the sport for so many years.”

So here we sit, with many platforms available to watch the sport we love. I personally loved HBO boxing. I have watched some amazing fights. I watched an amazing group of commentators bring us the play by play. Guys like Jim Lampley, George Foreman, Roy Jones Jr., Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman just to a me a few. I’ve compared my scorecard to that of Harold Lederman numerous times during many fights. I’ve argued decisions and cheered fighters while even shedding a tear with Lampley as he expressed his thoughts after a fight. For me, this news is truly saddening. I’m going to miss HBO Boxing.

The final bell will sound with HBO’s last boxing broadcast Oct. 27.

~The Fighting Voice~

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