What Caused HBO’s Downfall
By: Kirk Jackson
By now it’s become public knowledge; the end of an era within sports broadcasting is to take place end of the year with the announcement of the departure of boxing coverage from the HBO network.
Initially reported by the New York Times and later confirmed by an HBO executive, HBO is officially leaving boxing after 45 years.
HBO Sports Executive Vice President Peter Nelson announced HBO was dropping boxing at the end of the year in a meeting held with the HBO Boxing production staff.
“This is not a subjective decision,” Nelson said to the New York Times. “Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO.”
There are several reasons responsible; analyzing the collapse of what was formerly one of HBO’s premier and profitable fixtures across their network. This particular article will cover the main reasons for HBO’s descent into boxing exodus.
The main reason, which has a snowball effect, tying into other reasons why HBO continued their downward spiral into mediocrity, was the transitional change of executive brass within the network and the subtraction of Floyd Mayweather and Al Haymon.
In 2013, Mayweather ended his 14 year relationship with the network and bolted towards greener pastures with Showtime, signing a six-fight deal worth more than $200 million dollars.
HBO could not entice their cash cow with a respective offer in spite of Mayweather’s dominance and financial impact across the landscape of the business. Mayweather’s nine pay-per-view fights on HBO PPV events generated 9.6 million buys and $543 million in television revenue, according to the network.
The new executive regime controlling boxing programing at HBO was heavily involved in the decision allowing Mayweather to leave HBO for Showtime and furthermore, banned all Haymon-advised and managed fighters from the network due to massive “Philosophical differences.”
“In order to achieve our goal of the best fighters in the most compelling matchups, we’ve decided to focus our efforts and resources on those strategic relationships where we better share common goals and business philosophies,” said an HBO Sports executive in light of Mayweather and Haymon’s depature from HBO.
What HBO failed to realize, the long-term significance and damage losing not only boxing’s biggest star, but one of the biggest stars across all of sports and entertainment.
With losing Mayweather and Haymon, both often criticized across several media outlets in spite of their individual and collective success across various platforms, HBO lost the ability to consistently produce high quality fight cards and individual must see match-ups.
To expand on the bad match-ups narrative, HBO wanted to rely and build up other fighters to fill Mayweather’s void but due to the departure of Mayweather, Haymon and Haymon’s fighters, lacked the resources to do so.
“There’s always a fight or fighters that slip through your fingers. But I don’t view (losing) Floyd as a negative. It led to a lot of positive things for other athletes and fights, and we didn’t lose tons of money, and we got the biggest fight of all time anyway,” said an HBO executive.
Relying on Top Rank promotions talent and other fighters outside that promotional company such as Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Andre Ward, Roman Gonzalez, Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, Tim Bradley and Manny Pacquiao could not fill the void left by the aforementioned Mayweather.
There were good match-ups in spots, whether it was across HBO’s Boxing After Dark programming, regular HBO Championship Boxing or Pay-Per-View, some of which profitable for the company.
Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley II were good match-ups and lucrative for the company.
But other bouts such as Terence Crawford vs. Viktor Postol and Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs were not profitable for HBO, while others such as Canelo Alvarez vs. Julio César Chávez Jr., Canelo Alvarez vs. Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Ríos were complete mismatches.
Some bouts were a combination of both; Canelo Alvarez vs. Liam Smith, Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux and Manny Pacquiao vs. Chris Algieri.
In addition to the issues regarding match-ups and PPV cards, HBO faced declining ratings over the last few years.
Their recent Super Fly 3 tripleheader – which took place on September 8 – peaked at 349,000 viewers, making it one of the lowest-rated live televised event in the network’s history.
HBO’s two biggest stars, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, became network free agents after their recent HBO Pay-Per-View rematch last month in Las Vegas.
Fast forward to a few years removed from losing Mayweather, HBO also had to deal with the departure of Top Rank, effectively removing Lomachenko, Crawford and others, HBO now faced greater competition with ESPN. Top Rank left HBO for an exclusive long term deal with ESPN.
In addition to Top Rank leaving, fighters the network invested in as the future of the company started losing. Roman Gonzalez, Sergey Kovalev, Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire among others, suffered key defeats.
The fighters HBO hyped up, seemingly got “Exposed” or suffered defeats when the lights were shinning brightest.
HBO wanted to feature more fighters from Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. They were moving away from the American fighters garnering success in years past; certainly did not want to promote African American fighters and that was evidenced by their moves.
And while things were changing for HBO in the wrong direction, Showtime significantly expanded their boxing coverage, adding top fighters like Deontay Wilder, Errol Spence and Mikey Garcia.
Again speaking of Haymon, the architect of Premier Boxing Champions, boasting a massive stable of over 100 contracted fighters, also signed multi-year deals with FOX and Showtime to provide boxing content on a regular basis.
Promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom has also arrived with new streaming service DAZN; nearly every boxer is his stable – including several that were featured on HBO – will be exclusively featured on the network.
As mentioned earlier, ESPN will broadcast fighters from Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions.
Declining ratings, change of “Philosophy” change of executive personnel, modification of fighter rosters, and the loss of super star talent all attributed to the overall deterioration of boxing on HBO. Not to mention the cutting of budget to allocate funds towards other programming such as Game of Thrones for example.
What coincided and even outmatched the product inside the ring was the commentary and analysis outside the ring.
Actual fighters and trainers such as Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins, Andre Ward, Lennox Lewis, George Foreman and the late Emanuel Steward offered stimulating insight and were great additions to the telecast.
But often times, their thought-provoking perspective was overshadowed by egregious, insulting commentary from Larry Merchant, Max Kellerman and Jim Lampley.
One of boxing’s most prominent trainers noticed the biased commentary from the HBO team. Head trainer of Golovkin (one of HBO’s featured fighters) Abel Sanchez even claimed he never pays attention to the HBO on-air crew – Jim Lampley, Harold Lederman and especially Kellerman.
“You know what, I don’t watch the HBO guys because all 3 of them are biased. Max Kellerman is in a world of his own, watching something other people aren’t watching, so I don’t really watch them. He’s by far one of the most biased commentators on TV,” Sanchez stated during an interview session on Reddit.
Whether it was openly insulting religions, comparing complexions, open bias, projecting false narratives, or just overall ineptitude, this combustive clan showcased it all consistently.
It was that same bias that turned knowledgeable viewers of the sport off and in many cases prompted viewers to watch fights on mute if they watch at all. It was that same commentary, bias and disrespect that turned Mayweather away and into another network. Which effectively signaled the beginning of the end.
The fall of HBO was self-inflicted, life goes on and the network will survive in spite of losing a legendary fixture of their programming.
But most important, with the growth and expansion of boxing across various platforms, boxing keeps swinging and will continue to fight onto the next round.