HBO Boxing is Dead (And Peter Nelson Dug The Grave)

By Paul Magno on September 28, 2018
HBO Boxing is Dead (And Peter Nelson Dug The Grave)
Nelson didn’t kill HBO Boxing all by himself. (Brad Barket/Getty Images for HBO Latino)

They fed their hand-picked superstar candidates soft touches and sold them aggressively as true superstars doing superstar things…

Peter Nelson, executive vice president of HBO Sports, didn’t kill HBO Boxing all by himself, but he certainly made it so that there was no chance of ever making a deathbed recovery.

When the Harvard graduate and former boxing writer took control of an ailing HBO Boxing in 2016, there was hope that he might bring new energy and fresh insight to the brand. Nelson talked about “story arcs” and about bucking boxing politics to facilitate good matchmaking. The boxing media crowed about finally being able to see what a boxing writer, one of their own, would do when given control of, arguably, the most powerful entity in the business.

Well, the world certainly found out what a boxing writer applying his “expertise” to the boxing business could accomplish.

On Thursday, HBO announced that it was now, officially, out of the boxing business.

In three years at the top of HBO Boxing, Nelson did very little to reconstruct the brand that was once synonymous with big-time prizefighting. Some good fights were put together, but nothing to bring back the viewership lost gradually over 20 years due to bad decisions made by HBO executive predecessors Ross Greenburg, Kery Davis, and Ken Hershman.

If anything, Nelson exacerbated the bad decisions of past execs. He embraced foreign fighters (and had an instrumental role in bringing in Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, and a roster of super flyweight talent), often at the expense of showcasing and promoting American fighters. The prominent showcasing of non-American talent was a continuation of Hershman’s decision to let Floyd Mayweather leave for premium cable competitor Showtime and the subsequent purging of Al Haymon-represented talent from its roster.

Dubious matchmaking continued to hobble HBO Boxing under Nelson’s regime as the network rolled along with its misinformed stabs at manufacturing stars that they would shamelessly promote to excess. Rather than matching intriguing talent in good, competitive bouts to allow for natural growth, they fed their hand-picked superstar candidates soft touches and sold them aggressively as true superstars doing superstar things.

The move away from sound, honest matchmaking saw a steady decline in viewership over the years and eventually led to the Nelson era where even the best of the best on the network only drew between 400K and 800K live viewers.

The diminishing numbers and reduced prominence of HBO Boxing to subscribers led to a tightening of the budget and fewer available dates.

Nelson would then lose long-time HBO Boxing partner Bob Arum to a suddenly boxing-hungry ESPN which promised more dates and a more prominent platform to showcase his talent.

Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin being allowed to drift off into free agency after their September 15 PPV battle was a definite signal that HBO would be moving away from boxing, opting to not compete in an increasingly competitive boxing world where networks and streaming services were suddenly pursuing the sport as quality live content.

And now we’re here. It’s the end of an era, 45 years of HBO Boxing coming to an end, and Nelson doesn’t seem too busted up about the whole thing. He seems as dispassionate and aloof after the fact as he did during his reign.

“This is not a subjective decision,” Nelson recently said in an interview. “Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO.”

“There’s plenty of boxing out there,” Nelson continued. “But what we have not seen is a lot of signature destination fights…Because of our association with boxing, people forget that we’re not a sports network, we’re a storytelling platform.”

Somebody should maybe point out that that Nelson’s job should’ve been to CREATE those “signature destination fights” and BE that storyteller for boxing.

But all of that doesn’t really matter now, does it?

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  1. fan 09:04am, 10/01/2018

    Boxing link could be a good way to promote boxing elsewhere.

  2. Koolz 12:11pm, 09/30/2018

    crap I forgot to share this one it’s damn awesome fight, complete war!

    Kimura vs Tanaka

  3. Koolz 11:40am, 09/30/2018

    Linares vs Cotto no not that Cotto!

  4. Koolz 10:57am, 09/29/2018

    It looked like Groves could go any moment in that fight.  Smith was so patient.
    Man is that guy in the mix now!  There is only one other Fighter at his level.
    That Mexican fighter.  Who else is there in that weight class?

    Wild Times!

  5. Pete The Sneak 04:01am, 09/29/2018

    Koolz is like a drug pusher for boxing Fans. Always has the best stuff…Thanks for the link. Great fight. Keep em coming brother…Peace.

  6. raxman 11:37pm, 09/28/2018

    Yeah great fight.  Callum Smith is a beast but Groves did look ripe to get picked off by a young beast

  7. Kid Blast 05:59pm, 09/28/2018

    KOOLZ, thanks for the link. Great fight. Great ending

  8. Lucas McCain 04:30pm, 09/28/2018

    “Game of Thrones” made HBO too cocky.  Funny, I never could sit through an episode of that show.  Bill Maher, on the other hand. . .balls of brass

  9. Bruce 03:08pm, 09/28/2018

    Can I assume that Vice President of HBO Sports Peter Nelson who oversaw the deterioration of HBO boxing programming will also join the ranks of the unemployed?

  10. fan 01:50pm, 09/28/2018

    Boxing could step up with Internet service.

  11. Koolz 01:35pm, 09/28/2018

    I just saw this fight!

    Groves vs Smith!

    were in Saudi Arabia!  Of all Places!

  12. Kid Blast 12:04pm, 09/28/2018

    Mofongo rules

  13. Kid Blast 09:34am, 09/28/2018

    What’s been totally missed here is that HBO has a new owner.

  14. Kid Blast 09:33am, 09/28/2018

    KOOLZ, huh? Like Nike?

  15. Koolz 08:49am, 09/28/2018

    and there goes HBO’s Stocks!

  16. Pete The Sneak 08:20am, 09/28/2018

    Toro, yeah I have to admit there are a couple of good Documentaries and shows on HBO. I do happen to be a fan of ‘The Deuce’, being a born and bred New Yorker who remembers Times Square being as gritty as it’s portrayed on the show before Giuliani and Company turned it into Disney World. But I can always catch those on some stream and/or Firestick where applicable. Or yes, perhaps take a road trip to NH. Hope you like Mofongo…lol…Peace.

  17. Kid Blast 07:47am, 09/28/2018

    Oh yes, boxing is indeed a fringe activity in the US.

  18. Kid Blast 07:46am, 09/28/2018

    Pete the Sneak, I will keep HBO because I like True Detectives and The Deuce. Also, Bill Maher. So there are a few reasons plus they have great specials from time to time. Boxing was just one of many reasons for subscribing. Showtime is only for Boxing, however, because its specials are not compelling.

    You can come over to my compound in NH to watch the specials on HBO if you wish .LOL

  19. Toby 05:25am, 09/28/2018

    A network can have all the (Dates) (Platforms) and (Fighters )  but if they don’t put the best in the best who cares.

  20. Koolz 05:12am, 09/28/2018

    I looks like the future is streaming.  Streaming services will rule the nest.

  21. joseph 05:00am, 09/28/2018

    Boxing is now a dying sport. Thanks to the corrupt judges who continue to ruin the sport. Boxing hardcore fans including the casual viewers are already fed up with the corruptions in boxing. Hope this will serve as a wake-up call to the organization. Wake UP!

  22. Pete The Sneak 04:15am, 09/28/2018

    “Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO.”

    Maybe not, but they will probably have to do some research as to how many will Un-subscribe as a result of this announcement. Well, at least I will. The only reason I’ve kept HBO for all these years as part of my Cable package was due solely for the boxing (same with Showtime). So thanks HBO for saving me a couple of bucks a month from now on. It’s been a slice…Peace.

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