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Showtime, CBS Pound Out Boxing Deal

Fully maximizing the exposure of several high-profile heavyweight-boxing events, as well as taking advantage of new synergies, Showtime Networks Inc. has reached a delayed-broadcast agreement with CBS Corp. for distribution of four June fight telecasts.

Showtime has also reached a cable and direct-broadcast satellite deal to offer its June 10 Evander Holyfield-John Ruiz bout via pay-per-view to non-Showtime subscribers.

Showtime executives hope both deals will provide additional awareness of the fighters, which could lead to a lucrative PPV event later this year.

In the first programming alliance between Viacom Inc. and CBS since the close of their merger last month, CBS will rebroadcast Showtime's four June heavyweight-fight cards-featuring such top draws as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield-on consecutive weekend dates July 9, 16 and 22, CBS Sports president Sean McManus said.

The CBS Presents Showtime Championship Boxing shows mark the first time the network has aired boxing in three years.

"CBS Sports is delighted to once again feature the best of boxing on our network,"

McManus said. "This collaboration is just one of many that will result from the partnerships between the Viacom family of networks."

"Showcasing our fights on traditional network television benefits the fans, the fighters and the entire television-sports industry in that it gives us yet another platform to build future pay-per-view talent," Showtime executive vice president of corporate strategy and communications Mark Greenberg added.

It's unclear, however, when CBS will air each of the events. Showtime's boxing lineup features heavyweights David Tua versus Obed Sullivan June 3, Evander Holyfield-John Ruiz June 10, Andrew Golota-Orlin Norris June 16 and Mike Tyson-Lou Savarese June 24.

Sources said CBS would most likely combine the Tua and Golota fights on one telecast, while showcasing the Holyfield and Tyson fights on the remaining two broadcast dates.

But Showtime Sports & Event Programming senior vice president and executive producer Jay Larkin said the deal gives boxing a major boost by providing exposure to not only popular fighters like Tyson and Holyfield, but up-and-coming boxers such as Tua. "There's nothing more valuable for breathing new life into boxing than having events on over-the-air TV," he said.

Both CBS and Showtime executives characterized the deal as an experiment with no commitments for future events, but they left open the opportunity to extend the relationship beyond the July dates.

"We're certainly hoping that there will be future endeavors," Greenberg said. "It's a win-win for consumers and boxing fans, and we hope it's the beginning of opportunities for all sports."

"We have a chance to do boxing again, and with Showtime, we now have a partner that can give us that opportunity," CBS Sports senior vice president of programming Robert Correa added.

McManus said the broadcast networks have had difficulty drawing traditional advertisers to the often-controversial sport in the past. Boxing, however, is a ratings driver for the premium-cable services, and McManus said the network would be happy with a 2 to 3 rating for the shows.

One operator with knowledge of the deal said broadcast exposure of the fights would provide an opportunity for viewers to familiarize themselves with emerging fighters. That, in turn, could help the performance of future PPV events.

Further extending its reach for the fights beyond Showtime, the network has reached PPV deals with several cable and DBS distributors for its Holyfield-Ruiz fight. The PPV event-which will run simultaneously with Showtime's live telecast-will retail at a suggested price of $19.95, Greenberg said.

BET Action Pay Per View, DirecTV Inc. and TVN Entertainment Corp. will distribute the event, which Greenberg said would be targeted toward non-Showtime subscribers. "The PPV business has struggled so far this year, so this event gives some distributors a chance to generate incremental PPV revenue," Greenberg said.

The unusual move by Showtime does have precedent: SET distributed a 1997 Michael Moorer-Vaughn Bean bout simultaneously on Action and Showtime. The event generated a respectable 15,000 to 20,000 buys.

BET Action PPV president Curtis Symonds is hoping that the Holyfield-Ruiz fight-in which Holyfield will attempt to regain the heavyweight title for a record fourth time-will generate similar numbers. "We look at it as an opportunity to see what we can do with a live heavyweight-championship fight," he said.

"We have had great success in the past with Action PPV's distribution of our Michael Moorer against Vaughn Bean bout, and we are pleased to once again partner with Action PPV to feature this exciting heavyweight championship," Greenberg added.