The Seven Year Itch

By Robert Ecksel on August 3, 2018
The Seven Year Itch
Fight fans know better than to expect something for nothing. (Jacob Kepler Photography)

“The present situation that existed a couple years ago was not sustainable. We knew we had to do something to survive…”

On Thursday ESPN and Top Rank cut a seven-year rights deal through 2025.

According to Variety, “Under terms of the pact, ESPN will air 18 events on ESPN, and 13 exclusive prime-time events on ESPN+, its new live-streaming subscription-based broadband outlet. ESPN+ will also feature 24 international events and undercard coverage of all 54 events.”

That sounds like an embarrassment of riches, and with Top Rank’s voluminous archives there are enough fights in its vaults to satisfy the most insatiable fight fans. But they know better than to expect something for nothing.

With corks popping in executive suites from sea to shining sea, the ESPN/Top Rank alliance, whatever its virtues, has created another Bandustan to go along with Showtime/HBO duopoly, so that fighters aligned with one corporate/promotional entity will likely not fight fighters aligned with another corporate/promotional entity. Keeping the money in-house makes sense in a perverse kind of way, but it causes the furtherance of boxing, where the best fight the best, irreparable harm.

“ESPN is thrilled with this new long-term agreement with Top Rank,” said Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN president and the co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, “which represents the most innovative and comprehensive relationship in the world of boxing today. By creating and distributing significantly more Top Rank events and boxing content, ESPN and Top Rank will jointly cultivate upcoming fighters and fights, creating the stars of tomorrow while providing fans with the sport’s best content in a more personalized manner.”

In general, corporate-speak needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The bottom line, after all, is all that matters.

Top Rank has come full circle with the new deal. It was an ESPN mainstay from 1980 to 1995 before it spread its wing to fly in the direction of HBO/Showtime. That worked for several years, but stopped working recently, which made the return to ESPN both poignant and inevitable.

“The present situation that existed a couple years ago was not sustainable,” said Top Rank honcho Bob Arum at the recent NABF convention in Reno, “where we sat there with hat in hand waiting for HBO to give us a date. We knew we had to do something to survive.”

Arum sitting “there with hat in hand” is hard to imagine. Maybe there was a reason they stopped getting dates. Maybe we’re not getting the full story.

“We tried ESPN. We tried NBC. We tried FOX. And we made great progress with ESPN.”

There’s no standing in the way of progress, unless one chooses to get crushed to make a point. But the future is now, and with Bob Arum leading the way, protect yourself at all times.

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  1. Bruce Kielty 08:00am, 08/08/2018

    Boxing’s fan base deteriorates every year.  Adding costs to the boxing programming will only hasten the decline.  There simply are too many viewing alternatives, with legitimate competition instead of sanctioning body garbage.

  2. Chico Salmon 09:04am, 08/04/2018

    Thrashem… I very well remember those days. Ali had many of his championship fights in the 70’s on just plain old regular network television, and that is a good reason that boxing was a mainstream sport back then.  The only fights that weren’t broadcast on regular network television were the REAL Superfights like Ali vs. Frazier or Ali vs. Foreman, etc. Many of the non-heavyweight title fights were on network television. Lots of Duran lightweight title defenses, some classics like Matthew Franklin/Saad Muhammad vs. Marvin Johnson, Foreman vs. Lyle, Chacon vs. Boza Edwards, etc., the list goes on.

  3. Thrashem 07:34am, 08/04/2018

    I agree Chico.
    In my day we had the Wide World of Sports every Saturday which featured boxing main events for free. Commercials sold Gillette Razor blades to pay for venue. Today, everything is about “Money” directly out of pocket or No Show. The fan base will eventually dry up if this continues.
    Maybe they are going toward animated events so no one gets hurt.

  4. Chico Salmon 08:39am, 08/03/2018

    ESPN was the ticket for a lot of fighters back in the 80’s and 90’s. The Braxton brothers, Dwight and Tony, Frank Fletcher, Bobby Czyz, Alex Ramos, Tony Ayala, Tommy Morrison, etc., all got a big push from being featured on ESPN.  Of course that was a different era.  You could still catch some good fights on Tuesday Night fights, or on Saturday or Sunday afternoons on network television. But thanks to people like Bob Arum, boxing has become a third tier sport in America.  Bob Arum,  just look at that face, is that a face you can trust or what?

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