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Bringing Boxing Back Into the TV Fold

Boxing promotion company Premier Boxing Champions is betting fans will continue to watch fights on traditional television, even as some prominent cable networks exit the ring and digital competitors such as DAZN and ESPN+ look to siphon away aficionados of the sweet science.

Showtime has set a pay-per-view bout pitting Manny Pacquiao against Adrian Broner for Jan. 16

Showtime has set a pay-per-view bout pitting Manny Pacquiao against Adrian Broner for Jan. 16

PBC — which arguably features the sport’s most attractive stable of champions and contenders, including welterweights Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter and middleweights Anthony Dirrell and Jermall and Jermell Charlo — will offer a multitude of championship boxing matches on pay TV, premium cable and pay-per-view in an effort to expose the sport to a large swath of viewers.

PBC has distribution deals in place with premium service Showtime, along with broadcast network Fox and its sister cable network FS1, to offer more than 10 live boxing cards in the first three months of 2019 alone. Most of those fights will air on Fox and FS1 as part of PBC’s recently announced four-year deal with Fox Sports.

In addition, Showtime and Fox will both step into the pay-per-view arena during the first quarter in an effort to maximize revenue opportunities featuring some of boxing’s biggest attractions. Showtime last week said it would distribute a Jan. 16 welterweight championship fight between champion Manny Pacquiao and former champion Adrien Broner.

As the next crop of fighters matures and becomes more well-known among sports fans, there will be more opportunities to develop marquee PPV events in the future, Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza said. However, he wouldn’t say if the network is looking at any other PPV fights beyond Pac-quiao-Broner and the Dec. 1 Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury event.

The PBC-Fox deal allows for four to six PPV events a year, including the March 16 welterweight championship fight between current titleholder Errol Spence Jr. and four-division world champion Mikey Garcia, which gives the parties flexibility to offer PBC’s best fights on traditional television.

Tim Smith, vice president of communications for Heymon Sports (which owns PBC) said Fox’s aggressive approach to televising boxing will help re-energize the sport. “It [the Fox Sports deal] is a game-changer for the sport,” he said. “Boxing is a star-driven business, and network telecasts in the past are how you got the Sugar Ray Leonards, Marvin Haglers and Roberto Durans to become superstars.”

The PBC/Fox Sports/Showtime first-quarter 2019 push into televised boxing comes as digital OTT services such as DAZN and ESPN+ continue to secure rights to marquee fighters that formerly fought on traditional television.

DAZN, which launched this past September, has already streamed several high-profile boxing matches, including the Sept. 22 Anthony Joshua-Alexander Povetkin heavyweight championship fight. The OTT service will also stream a Dec. 15 fight between middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez and Rocky Fielding — the first of 11 straight Alvarez fights the $4.99-per-month service will offer.

Most of Alvarez’s previous fights have been distributed by HBO or on a PPV basis.

ESPN+ will feature 12 exclusive primetime boxing events from boxing promoter Top Rank Inc. in 2019 as part of an exclusive, seven-year agreement between the two parties. It also comes as boxing mainstay HBO pulls out of the fight game after 45 years, due in part to increased competition for TV rights.

Outlets Grow for Boxing

While the upstart digital networks are formidable competitors in the sport, Showtime’s Espinoza said there’s room for numerous distributors of boxing content. “There was a lot of surprise and disappointment surrounding HBO’s exit, but from a pure numerical standpoint, there are more entities and players in boxing and more boxing being made available to consumers,” he said. “In general, that’s a good thing.”

PBC’s Smith said the Fox deal would provide marketing opportunities for the fighters on high-profile sports events like Fox’s National Football League telecasts. “If you look at the quality of boxers that we have, it’s very attractive, and now you’re going to see those guys showcased in potentially 120 million Fox broadcasting homes,” Smith said.

Fox Sports National Networks president Mark Silverman added the new deal will put Fox Sports in the middle of the boxing ring. “We’re thrilled to have Premier Boxing Champions’ brightest stars coming to Fox Sports, reaching the biggest audiences on broadcast television,” he said.