By: Sean Crose
HBO has finally come clean and has admitted it’s out of the live boxing business. “Peter Nelson, the 37-year-old executive vice president of HBO Sports, made the announcement that the new network was dropping boxing Thursday morning in a meeting with the HBO Boxing production staff,” writes the New York Times. “This is not a subjective decision,” Nelson is quoted as saying. “Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO.”
Many saw the move coming. HBO, once the crown jewel of boxing broadcasts, had severely lessened its broadcast of live fights in recent times. What’s more, the biggest names in the business were no longer involved with the network for the most part. Several years ago, HBO’s decision to step away from the sweet science would have been devastating to the sport. With boxing now being aired on many different outlets, however, the impact of HBOs decision may not be particularly significant. For instance, Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing, once a loyal partner with HBO, moved on to a lucrative deal with ESPN long before the announcement of HBOs departure from boxing was made.
What’s more, promoters like England’s Eddie Hearn have moved onto streaming platforms to show their wares. ESPN, and HBO rival Showtime are also in the streaming business when it comes to live boxing – though not exclusively. Add that to the fact that Premiere Boxing Champions, home to some of the most popular fighters in the world, deals mainly with Showtime and Fox Sports rather than HBO, and news of HBO’s break with boxing can be seen more as a formality than as a ground shaking event for the sport. As the Times states: “The decision (of HBO) cuts against a recent influx of investors and broadcasters into boxing, and amid a much wider availability of fights on a variety of digital platforms.”
To men like Hearn, who is hoping to usurp the old guard of the fight game with the streaming service DAZN in the United States, HBO’s decision might even come as something of a small relief. “I think it’s a great time for boxing and to be a fight fan,” the Times quotes Hearn, who now has one less competitor to worry about, as saying.
It’s worth noting, however, that HBO had a tremendous and long term impact on the sport of boxing. Once home to the sport’s biggest names, the network covered countless championship and classic bouts over a forty-year period. No small achievement.
Official Statement from HBO
Our mission at HBO Sports is to elevate the brand. We look for television projects that are high-profile, high-access, and highly ambitious in the stories they seek to tell and the quality of production in telling them.
Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades. During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation. It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services. There is more boxing than ever being televised and distributed. In some cases, this programming is very good. But from an entertainment point of view, it’s not unique.
Going forward in 2019, we will be pivoting away from programming live boxing on HBO. As always, we will remain open to looking at events that fit our programming mix. This could include boxing, just not for the foreseeable future.
We’re deeply indebted to the many courageous fighters whose careers we were privileged to cover.
There have been hundreds of dedicated and remarkably creative men and women who have delivered the best in television production for HBO’s coverage of boxing and we are so grateful for their contributions. It has been a wonderful journey chronicling the careers and backstories of so many spectacularly talented prizefighters.
We are a storytelling platform. The future will see unscripted series, long-form documentary films, reality programming, sports journalism, event specials and more unique standout content from HBO Sports.
We are constantly evaluating our programming to determine what resonates with our subscribers. Our audience research clearly shows the type of programming our subscribers embrace. For HBO Sports, it’s programming that viewers can’t find elsewhere.
In keeping with this mission, we’ve accelerated our commitment to storytelling. This has produced landmark shows like “Andre the Giant,” which is the most viewed sports documentary ever on HBO; the acclaimed NFL reality franchise “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cleveland Browns,” which delivered double-digit viewership gains from a year ago; “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” the gold standard in sports journalism on television; the powerful docu-series “Being Serena” that chronicled the comeback of tennis icon Serena Williams; and the acclaimed unfiltered talk series “The Shop” featuring LeBron James.
This fall, HBO Sports will present an edition of “24/7” highlighting the upcoming Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match play plus engaging documentary films like “Student Athlete” and “Momentum Generation” brought to us by accomplished filmmakers. In 2019, we will have the innovative multi-part documentary presentation “What’s My Name|Muhammad Ali” from director Antoine Fuqua in conjunction with executive producers LeBron James and Maverick Carter of SpringHill Entertainment.
Other new ventures will be announced in the weeks ahead as HBO Sports continues to explore new frontiers in sports programming.