HBO Boxing is Bottoming Out

By Paul Magno on November 2, 2017
HBO Boxing is Bottoming Out
HBO is responding in the absolute worst way possible for the overall health of the sport.

When Peter Nelson, a former boxing writer, was named Executive Vice President of HBO Sports in 2015, it was hailed as the dawning of a new day…

When Peter Nelson, a former boxing writer, was named Executive Vice President of HBO Sports in 2015, it was hailed as the dawning of a new day for the down-trending boxing department at the premium cable giant.

And Nelson pretty much did as well as a boxing writer with real stroke could be expected to do. He tanked the job.

HBO Boxing viewers have come to expect that “stars” (you know, the ones that move fans to subscribe to the channel) will either be stuck behind a paywall or showcased in godawful mismatches while any good, competitive bouts on the network will feature fighters that only a shrinking hardcore base really cares about.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the reality that HBO Boxing, under Nelson, has been godawful in the area of growing the sport and the numbers tell the story. As this writer noted in an article written for another site:

TV ratings for this new era of HBO boxing have responded accordingly, trending steadily downward, threatening to make this the first year in HBO Boxing history without a main event average viewership over 1 million.

Here are the average viewership numbers for HBO Boxing main events this year:

Jezreel Corrales-Alberto Machado: 545,000
Canelo-GGG Replay: 726,000
Jorge Linares-Luke Campbell: 687,000
Roman Gonzalez-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai: 796,000
Miguel Cotto-Yoshihiro Kamegai: 730,000
Miguel Berchelt-Takashi Miura: 683,000
Ward-Kovalev 2 Replay: 752,000
Terence Crawford-Felix Diaz: 961,000
Canelo-Chavez Jr. Replay: 769,000
Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko Tape Delay: 738,000
Vasyl Lomachenko-Jason Sosa: 832,000
Golovkin-Jacobs Replay: 709,000
David Lemieux-Curtis Stevens: 606,000
Miguel Berchelt-Francisco Vargas: 497,000

HBO Boxing was once the home of premium bouts featuring elite fighters. “Super” fights were reserved for pay-per-view. Their Boxing After Dark program came along to feature the lesser-known fighters in scintillating late night brawls for the boxing true believers. And all was well with the boxing universe.

Well, actually, not really.

While HBO had its act together, it was still slowly sapping the sport of its fan base by its very existence, putting a pay barrier between the sport and new fans.

Now, so many years later, boxing in America is paying for the short-sighted cash grab concept of sticking everything of note featuring everyone of note on subscription-only TV.

And HBO is responding in the absolute worst way possible for the overall health of the sport—with a schedule that is, basically, ALL Boxing After Dark and no parts World Championship Boxing.

New to the HBO Boxing schedule is a December 9 triple-header featuring an Orlando Salido-Miguel Roman main event atop an all 130 lb. event with Francisco Vargas and Tevin Farmer in separate supporting bouts.

The thought behind this card is logical from the mind of a boxing writer—set up a super featherweight narrative and playoff-style format for future matchmaking consideration. The problem is that any possible combination of Salido, Roman, Vargas, and Farmer would not draw much more than the 700,000 who always tune in for any boxing on HBO, anyway.

The same can be said for HBO’s efforts to create an identical scenario in the 115 lb. division. It’s appealing to the ever-shrinking base, but it does nothing to bring attention (and, subsequently, money) to the table. HBO Boxing continues to bring in fewer viewers while the boxing product plays a smaller and smaller role in HBO programming strategies and budget consideration. With less money to play with, more bouts get pushed to PPV or driven from the network altogether.

To make matters worse, HBO has decided to put their Salido-Roman card up against Lomachenko-Rigondeaux on ESPN, a super featherweight bout that DOES have some actual buzz.

In better days, HBO would be all over Lomachenko-Rigondeaux, but these aren’t better days and the network’s muddled mess has even sent longtime ally Bob Arum looking for another home base for his biggest fighters.

So, where does HBO Boxing go from here?

Maybe it disappears, completely. And that would be a big blow to the American fight scene in the short term, but could ultimately help motivate promoters to actually get out into the real world and try new ways to market the sport to new audiences. Or, maybe, HBO decides to re-invest in the sport and rebuild from the mess they’ve made of things.

Maybe HBO sticks with Nelson and his overall vision—a vision which may include running off more demanding fight providers like Arum and Al Haymon and a plan to rebuild over time with new, easier-to-work-with promoters.

In any case, HBO has decided to play to the hardcore true believers at the expense of expansion. And the ratings being generated are real eye-openers, telling the tale of a boxing base that is clearly diminishing.

The American public still wants to believe in boxing and the sport is still very much part of the national identity and culture, but the support just isn’t there. Something will have to be done to grow the boxing fan base and promote the game in new, more dynamic ways.

Whatever the answer is, though, HBO Boxing clearly doesn’t have it.

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  1. William Frederick 03:25pm, 12/11/2017

    I thought the Lomachenko card on Showtime was the worst card in 10 years. I am glad I didn’t pay to see it.  I feel HBO is the top dog over Showtime

  2. Bill Frederick 03:12pm, 12/11/2017

    One of the problems at HBO are some of the announcers Who decide before the fight who they will favor and all of them are in lockstep. An example is the recent Farmer vs Owaga . From the beginning it was all Farmer .Who was missing most of his punches ,but in the truck they were counted. The one judge had the fight at 116-112 this to me was the closest to being right. of course Lederman was way off a usual. I think the announcers should let the fight speak for itself . They lose viewers when they decide a fight early

  3. JJ Austin 09:07pm, 11/07/2017

    McCain where the hell have you been??!! Showtime has been kicking HBO’s ass for YEARS!!! Besides Wilder they have Joshua, Mikey Garcia, Thurman, Porter, Leo Santa Cruz, Frampton, Mares, the Charlo Brothers, and on and on.. All the best fighters in boxing AND they fight each other!!! Not hand picked tomato cans like HBO gives us. Showtime is MORE THAN worth the money, HBO is NOT. That’s why hundreds of boxing fans like myself have Canceled HBO and kept Showtime.. Only good HBO fights are ppv thier regular programing has Sucked for years along with thier embarrassing announcers who insult the fans intelligence by sucking the house fighters dicks.. Get a clue

  4. Don from Prov 07:10am, 11/06/2017

    “HBO Boxing was once the home of premium bouts featuring elite fighters.”

    And Attleboro used to be a thriving factory town in MA.
    Life goes on.

  5. Lucas McCain 12:34pm, 11/03/2017

    HBO has been sagging, but when you have guys like Lomachenko, Golovkin, and Crawford around, it’s hard to say HBO “doesn’t have it.”  Look at Showtime’s big match with Wilder and Stiverne.  The second coming of Tony Tubbs does not merit anyone’s cable fee.

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