Climbing Into the PPV Ring

In an effort to jump-start its pro-boxing franchise, ESPN has partnered with promotion company Main Events to develop a monthly series that is expected to punch out two pay-per-view events.

The seven-fight series, part of ESPN2’s weekly Friday Night Fights series, will begin Nov. 4 with a bout featuring World Boxing Association lightweight champion Juan Diaz, according to Main Events CEO Kathy Duva. Other fighters expected to appear during the series include up and coming contenders such as featherweight contender Ricardo “Rocky” Juarez, interim World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Kermit Cintron and heavyweight contender Dominick Guinn.

Duva said the series will help breed familiarity with the fighters and create storylines that will eventually lead to potential title fights that would air on a PPV basis.

ESPN senior vice president of interactive sales Matt Murphy said the first PPV event would probably air sometime in spring 2005. The card would be priced lower than the traditional $40 to $60 price tags commanded by recent marquee PPV boxing events, he added.

“There may be an opportunity here to expand the PPV boxing base,” Murphy said. “We’re cognizant of people’s buying habits, so we’re looking at what is the right price model.”

As with its out-of-market sports packages, ESPN will distribute the PPV events directly to operators. Murphy said ESPN will take a synergistic approach to marketing the events, using the resources of its cable network, Internet, magazine and radio network to promote upcoming boxing events.

ESPN also hopes the Main Events move will help boost Friday Night Fights, which averages a respectable 0.7 household rating and has experienced ratings increases among males 18 to 34 and 25 to 54.

“We feel we can capitalize on the popularity of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights, whose ratings were up significantly this year, by getting into boxing pay-per-view at this time,” ESPN senior vice president of programming John Wildhack said.

While ESPN, FSN and pay services Showtime and Home Box Office are consistently offering some form of boxing event, two other companies are contemplating the launch of boxing networks.

Former In Demand executive Brian Ricco is planning to launch next June a 24-hour, high-definition-based service dubbed Box TV, while boxing promoter Don King is exploring the possibility of launching a channel next year showcasing his vast library of bouts, as well as his stable of champions and contenders.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.