By Sean Crose
Most people probably have no idea who Ken Hershman is, but the head of HBO’s sports division has proven himself a friend of traditional fight fans who enjoy watching good matches since he took the helm in 2012. Now, however, Hershman has announced that he’s leaving HBO for greener pastures. “I am particularly proud,” Hershman said, “of what I accomplished and believe now is the perfect time to hand over the reins to someone new.”
Hershman “departs with his network reporting that viewership is up 16% from last year for its ‘World Championship Boxing’ shows, averaging around 1.4 million viewers.” With that in mind, Hershman’s greatest accomplishment may well have been helping to orchestrate the May 2nd Mayweather-Pacquiao bout, a fight which was exceedingly hard to make happen due to promotional and network issues.
Still, Hershman is also credited with breaking HBO away from boxing guru Al Haymon who was being accused of harming the network by feeding it one sided mismatches. This, of course, helped lead to an inner-sport war of attrition which is still being raged today. It also, however, led to the HBO ‘World Championship Boxing’ broadcasts of the here and now, which – less face it – are consistently the most interesting in the business.
Before joining the HBO team, Hershman actually worked for rival Showtime. It was at HBO, however, where Hershman arguably achieved his greatest level of success. Aside from the ratings uptick, the May-Pac bout, and the break with Haymon, Hershman also helped push boxing’s new breed of Eastern European fighters into the spotlight. For both Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev, two of the most formidable fighters operating today, came into their own during Hershman’s reign.
Hershman will remain with HBO until the end of the year. His replacement has yet to be announced, but the name Peter Nelson, an HBO guy, is being bandied about. The news of Hershman’s resignation clearly took the fight world off guard, however, as many prominent outlets expressed surprise over the announcement.
Yahoo’s Kevin Iole quotes Hershman as saying HBO boxing “needed to be recalibrated when I came in and we worked hard to do that.” Now that he’s made his mark at Home Box Office, the man has declared it’s time to move on. “I think this is a responsible time,” he stated, via Yahoo, “to make a transition for the company and for me.”
In a press release Hershman said “I’ve had the distinct privilege of having been involved in many of boxing’s biggest and most thrilling moments, including the Mike Tyson era, creating the Super Six Tournament, and, staging the biggest pay-per-view event of all-time this past May in Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. I have also had the privilege to steward over some of the best sports shows on television, including 24/7, Real Sports and Hard Knocks, and to work with some of the best talent in television, both behind and in front of the camera.”
Hershman, who will remain in his role through the end of December, will work with Mike Lombardo, President, HBO Programming, on a smooth transition of the leadership role in the sports division.
“Ken’s dedication and commitment to our sports division is deeply appreciated,” said Lombardo. “His approach to rebuilding our boxing franchise was strategic and creative which led HBO Sports to great success. All of us here are grateful and proud of the success Ken and the HBO Sports team have had over the past four years in delivering unparalleled sports programming to our subscribers. We wish him all the best in his next challenge.”