Has HBO Boxing Tightened Its Belt?
By: Sean Crose
Back when I was in high school, oh, around a hundred years or so ago, HBO broadcast the Mike Tyson-Larry Holmes fight live. It was a major bout which today would undoubtedly have landed on pay per view. So far this year, the highlight of HBOs non-PPV boxing broadcasts has been …well, there hasn’t been a highlight. Not a single one. It’s basically all been name fighters having tune ups. HBO has also essentially been running on average one fight a month. What’s more, this summer’s excellent Bud Crawford-Viktor Postol junior welterweight unification bout will be run – wait for it – on pay per view.
Clearly, the days of Hopkins-Kovalev are over. Regular HBO boxing has now largely become the equivalent of those old Saturday afternoon network broadcasts. And HBO worthy fights? Well, you’re going to have to pay extra to watch them now. Let this sink in for a beat. HBO is now airing tuneups. HBO quality fights, which used to come with your monthly HBO fees, will now cost you more. Aggravated? If you’re a fight fan, you should be. It’s worth wondering why this is happening, though – and what it means for the future.
According to promoter Bob Arum, HBO has been tightening its boxing budget. In other words, it doesn’t have the money to pay for the kinds of fights it used to. A brief glance at reports of HBO’s overall finances indicate the network is doing well, though it’s not uncommon for a successful company to cut the budgets of particular departments, even while the money is coming in. Is the “word on the street” regarding budget cuts true, though? If so, why has boxing been singled out? And why isn’t HBO commenting on the matter in a manner satisfactory to its fans?
What’s curious here is how this will all play out. Will fans quietly acquiesce to this recent turn of events, as boxing fans are apt to do? Or will pay per view numbers for regular HBO quality fights be so abysmal that attention (to paraphrase Arthur Miller) will have to be paid in HBO’s corner offices? Even more importantly, will HBO start losing those subscribers who pay monthly fees solely to watch the fights? It’s worth wondering how many tune ups are worth a monthly fee. HBO may have to worry about money, but so do boxing fans.
Will there come a point, then, when fans decide it’s not worth parting with some of their hard earned income solely for the pleasure of watching fights like last March’s Luis Ortiz-Tony Thompson heavyweight matchup? If so, that might not bode well for HBO. While it’s true the network has its issues to deal with, that’s ultimately not the problem of fans. The cable business is a service industry. And if the customer isn’t happy…