As first reported by Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports, HBO has announced that it will no longer do business with Golden Boy Promotions. Needless to say, this is huge announcement that will have massive ramifications on the business end of the sport and how fans will be able to view fights on television. Remember, it was only four and a half short years ago that the Golden Boy himself, Oscar de la Hoya, fought Manny Pacquiao on HBO Pay-Per-View which began an exclusive output deal between HBO and Golden Boy. Those days are long gone now.
Although this was a huge announcement, it cannot be said to be completely unexpected. A huge sea change occurred in premium network boxing when HBO hired the then head of Showtime Boxing, Ken Hershman, to replace Ross Greenberg as the head of HBO Sports. In turn, Showtime hired former Golden Boy attorney, Stephen Espinoza, to head its boxing department. Since Espinoza was hired, Golden Boy began moving its fighters from HBO to Showtime. Some examples of Golden Boy fighters who fought on HBO before moving to Showtime include Amir Khan, Danny Garcia and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Indeed, since airing the Top Rank promoted rematch between Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez in March, 2012, all of the major fights aired on “Showtime Championship Boxing” and “Showtime Boxing Special Edition” and a good number of the fights on “Shobox: The New Generation” have been purchased by Showtime from Golden Boy.
Despite having all of the dates on Showtime, Golden Boy continued to sell fights to HBO. These fights included multiple Adrien Broner showcases, two Bernard Hopkins bouts and Robert Guerrero – Andre Berto slugfest. Regardless, Hershman said in a statement today, “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.” Interestingly, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told Dan Rafael of ESPN that today was the first time in 4-5 months that he spoke to Hershman.
In all reality, HBO’s announcement simply cements the premium network boxing landscape as it has existed since the beginning of 2012: Showtime will be airing only Golden Boy cards (and possibly some Gary Shaw promoted “Shobox” cards) and HBO will air fights purchased mostly from Top Rank but also from Lou DiBella (promoter of Sergio Martinez), Dan Goosen (promoter of Andre Ward and Chris Arreola), K2 Promotions (promoter of Gennady Golovkin), Canadian promoters (who handle Jean Pascal, Lucian Bute and other developing attractions) and some overseas promoters (namely Matchroom Sport which handles Carl Froch and Ricky Burns). Additionally, this divide will further prevent any Golden Boy fighter from facing a Top Rank fighter. This is because in addition to the promotional companies being unable to do business with each other, the fighters will be tied to either HBO or Showtime which will not want “their” fighter to fight on the other network.
Going forward, it appears that the networks have set agendas. Clearly, Showtime will move forward with trying to arrange a super-fight between Floyd Mayweather and Canelo while also trying to develop other Golden Boy fighters into pay-per-view attractions. HBO, it appears, is changing course from trying to develop Broner into the next superstar. In fact, Hershman said the network will not be purchasing Broner’s next fight (rumored to be against WBA welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi) unless he changes promoters. Rather, HBO will focus on making pay-per-view rematches between Juan Manuel Marquez and Pacquiao and Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. while continuing to develop stars such as Ward, Golovkin, Nonito Donaire, Brandon Riso, and, fresh off of his fight-of-the-year candidate, Tim Bradley.
The thing to watch in the months coming forward is if the premium network landscape will cause fighters to change promoters. Kevin Iole reports that Broner’s contract is up shortly and rapper turned promoter, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, is allegedly trying to sign him (Schaefer denies this claim). Although the gap has been lessened substantially since Espinoza took over, HBO is still the number one network for boxing with bigger ratings and paying higher licensing fees. Could that influence Broner’s decision on his next promoter? Additionally, both Golden Boy and Top Rank have a virtual lock on certain weight classes… does a fighter need to choose a promoter based on what division he seeks to compete in? Finally, where do Al Haymon promoted fighters such as Gary Russell, JR. who are not signed with a promoter fit in. Haymon usually works with Golden Boy on their fights but if HBO is interested in them would he work with another promoter to get them on HBO. If he does, they will likely have to be in tougher fights than Haymon usually makes. If not, is he doing his fighters a disservice?
Most importantly, it remains to be seen how this will effect the fans. HBO just aired a wonderful Top Rank bout this past weekend and will air the rematch of the awesome Rios – Mike Alvarado brawl on March 30, 2013. While Showtime has aired some Golden Boy fights of questionable quality this year (see: Lucas Matthyese in a mismatch against Mike Dallas, Jr., Richie Abril – Sharif Bogere and Ishe Smith – Cornelius Bundrage), upcoming fights include good looking matchups such as Canelo against Austin Trout and the potential Lamont Peterson – Matthyse fight. That said, if each network has only one major promoter they do business with, past experience has shown that the quality of fights is usually not that good. Thus, Hershman’s announcement is a major shakeup to boxing… whether that is for good or bad will be established in the coming months.