Are Boxing Fans Sending A Message To HBO?
By: Sean Crose
HBO, long known as the biggest powerhouse in televised boxing, took a hit this past weekend when it’s terrific Vargas-Berchelt card was bested in the ratings by rival Showtime’s Frampton-Santa Cruz II card. To the casual eye, this may not prove to be any big deal. Frampton-Santa Cruz is a burgeoning rivalry that fans can salivate over, after all, featuring two legit stars (albeit not household names) who make for good viewing when they meet in the ring. Still, there’s the whiff of a sea change about all of this. Sure, it would be premature to write HBO’s boxing programing off at the moment, but there’s little doubt the network has started to insult at least some of its audience.
The truth is that HBO hasn’t been showing much boxing lately, unless you count the kind on pay per view you have to pay for. This in and of itself wouldn’t be such a bad thing for fans if it weren’t for the fact that HBO has previously been known to regularly broadcast fights. Now, however, fights on HBO are few and far between. What’s more, those cards aren’t always competitive. That’s not good news for HBO – if, in fact, the network even much cares. For people are wondering if HBO is simply no longer all that interested in boxing.
What’s more, the fact that HBO has done nothing to assuage fan’s concerns has only added to the problem. While it’s true people “in the know” have pointed to budget cuts as being the reason for HBOs boxing drought, the network itself has not engaged fans in a meaningful way at all. No explanation. No promises of good things to come. Nothing. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that Showtime won the ratings battle last weekend. People don’t like being ignored, and right now, boxing fans are right to be feeling ignored by HBO.
They also have a right to question whether or not HBO is interested in staying in the boxing business. Again, people “in the know” seem to feel that boxing will remain at Home Box Office, but HBO has done nothing to meaningfully let fans know of a continued (and consistent) commitment to the sweet science. When questions aren’t being answered, people are apt to start walking away. And it’s hard not to wonder if fans are going to start to walk away from HBO.
Since HBO is a subscriber based business, it’s only logical to suspect it would never outright announce a break from boxing. It might lose a bunch of subscribers at once if that were the case. By keeping fans perpetually out of the loop, however, HBO is still risking subscribers telling the network it’s been fun, but that they’re moving on. Again, Frampton-Santa Cruz was a glitzier broadcast than Vargas-Berchelt. Since when has a better card ever allowed Showtime to best HBO in the ratings, though?
Fans may be giving HBO a message here. The question, however, is whether or not the network lets those fans know that it’s listening.
Or that it even cares to listen at this point.