UPDATE 2: It feels like a hangover day…
Many of us still feel the deflation from hearing that old standby HBO will exit the boxing building.
I messaged Peter Nelson last night. He answered, he sometimes does, and asked him how he's feeling, in light of the news. “All good,” he replied. I admitted that I was feeling sad. He didn't reply.
Old soldier Larry Merchant also messaged me, following my request for his take on the news: “Once upon a time we were a promising kid. Then a challenger. Then a champion. A great champion. A long-time champion. And then a has-been who finally retired. So long, champ,” Merchant said.
Online, many folks are saying that Nelson's selections in buying fights the last few years contributed mightily to the supposed perception of subscribers that they don't see boxing as a most compelling reason to subscribe. Let me add that his budget, in the neighborhood of $20 million, does hamstring an executive from going on a shopping spree for all the best groceries….
I will admit, for a few years now, I've shared off the record with people in the biz this theory: was Peter Nelson, the Harvard wunderkind in his not even late 30s being brought in because he'd be malleable if and when bigwigs sought to shut down the franchise? My invitation to Nelson to come on TALKBOX and discuss such questions stands…
Nelson also didn't answer if HBO might be open to, say, doing one PPV a year, to keep their foot in the door….
UPDATE 1: I spoke to someone intimately associated with the boxing program, to try and get a better sense of the news that HBO won't be presenting live fights after Oct. 27.
That person said that over a year ago, boxing boss Peter Nelson was looking to put together a five year plan, for the boxing program and other sports programming. His research found that boxing wasn't the draw to subscribers polled like it had been in the past.
Other fare, like the Andre the Giant doc, resounded, but those polled didn't mention boxing as a main driver as to why they do or would buy HBO. He came to understand, I was told, that other series and shows were better bets for the company. With so many other places featuring boxing, it wasn't as easy to stand out with that sport.
That boxing is in a good place cheers those at HBO who of course are bummed that after 45 years, boxing will not be part of the fabric of the cabler, I was told. The heritage of the sport was and will be respected, and a Muhammad Ali doc will be trotted out next year.
Also, Nelson is firmly in place still at that company, and Jim Lampley will stay part of the mix. Popular PR man Ray Stallone also will be staying put at the Manhattan based operation, I'm told.
“My thirty-year love affair with HBO continues, and I am motivated and prepared to support storytelling initiatives in the sports department. So I will remain in place,” said Lampley in a release which went out before 3 PM ET.
I heard from living legend George Foreman his thoughts on the announcement: “Boxing made radio, NBC Gillette, ABC's Wide World of Sports. It's amazing what we did for USA network. HBO first broadcast Foreman/Frazier. Now it’s about who do we build next…then be dropped again! Silk pajamas; does it every time. When boxers forget to stay on the road it’s a people sport. Keep matches, going forget about TV, they only come when they need you!”
Promoter Kathy Duva, an HBO disciple, who always made sure to that HBO was the cabler that made stars, weighed in:
“I really did not expect this—at least so very quickly. It’s the end of an era. But change is the only constant in life. I really don’t have any other thoughts at this point.”
You recall that last month word dripped out that HBO wouldn't put the Sergey Kovalev vs Eleider Alvarez rematch on their schedule. Not if it was in December, or stranger, not if it was kicked to the new year, when maybe more money was free.
And now we know why….
And now we know why some long time support personnel, in photography, in production, had started taking other gigs, with competitors, like DAZN.
HBO Boxing will cease to exist, word came via a NY Times story today, Thursday, as HBO boxing boss Peter Nelson told his personnel that under his reign, the sport is not profitable enough versus other programming.
Therefore, he told Wallace Matthews, HBO, which presented their first match in 1973, will not be offering regular boxing programming to subscribers.
HBO will show fights from the MSG Theater on Oct. 27, topped by a Danny Jacobs vs Sergey Derevyanchenko main event. It seems likely that will be their swan song, after presenting more than 1,000 bouts for viewing pleasure.
Jim Lampley will be retained by the network, the story said.
I messaged Lampley before the Sept. 15 Gennady Golovkin v Canelo Alvarez middleweight PPV match, asking for him to speak to rumors that HBO would perhaps ditch boxing. He declined to respond, saying that was not within his train of thought at that time.
On Wednesday, I messaged HBO PR, inviting Nelson to come on the Talkbox podcast, to attest to the well being of the program. I was thanked for the invitation, but no hint was given that the program was winding down. One day later, hammer dropped….
PBC entered the fray in 2015 and the hope was that more eyeballs would come to the sport. That has not proved true; HBO gains on average some 800,000 views of their fights and intriguing PPV matches can gain over 1 million buys. But the cost of putting on a boxing show is not money well spent, is the thinking now. This comes as HBO has been taken over by the people who run ATT, by coincidence or not.
Lou Dibella came to the boxing department after school, undergrad and law. He found family there and was hurting at the news. I asked him his thoughts: “I'm sitting shiva,” said the NY based promoter, who spent two decades helping run the boxing program. “Not going to lie and say that there isn’t a degree of personal pain. Hurts to watch a proud franchise, an historic legacy and the one-time biggest brand in boxing crumble by its own hand and decision-making.”
Former HBO PPV guru Mark Taffet, who spent three decades at the cabler, now managing Clarissa Shields and promoting MMA, was asked his thoughts on HBO's retirement from the sweet science. He declined to comment.
Promoter Bob Arum came on TALKBOX podcast two weeks ago and predicted HBO would soon be out of business. he was proved prescient. HBO is done, Bob, I messaged him. “Figures,” he responded.
Ken Hershman ran the boxing side after coming over from Showtime, and presided before Nelson, after Ross Greenburg.
Here is the release which went out while Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was addressing a Senate committee as part of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings to determine whether Judge Kavanaugh would ascend to a Supreme Court seat:
“Our mission at HBO Sports is to elevate the brand. We look for television projects that are high-profile, high-access, and highly ambitious in the stories they seek to tell and the quality of production in telling them.
Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades. During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation. It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services. There is more boxing than ever being televised and distributed. In some cases, this programming is very good. But from an entertainment point of view, it's not unique.
Going forward in 2019, we will be pivoting away from programming live boxing on HBO. As always, we will remain open to looking at events that fit our programming mix. This could include boxing, just not for the foreseeable future.
We're deeply indebted to the many courageous fighters whose careers we were privileged to cover.
There have been hundreds of dedicated and remarkably creative men and women who have delivered the best in television production for HBO’s coverage of boxing and we are so grateful for their contributions. It has been a wonderful journey chronicling the careers and backstories of so many spectacularly talented prizefighters.
We are a storytelling platform. The future will see unscripted series, long-form documentary films, reality programming, sports journalism, event specials and more unique standout content from HBO Sports.
We are constantly evaluating our programming to determine what resonates with our subscribers. Our audience research clearly shows the type of programming our subscribers embrace. For HBO Sports, it's programming that viewers can’t find elsewhere.
In keeping with this mission, we’ve accelerated our commitment to storytelling. This has produced landmark shows like “Andre the Giant,” which is the most viewed sports documentary ever on HBO; the acclaimed NFL reality franchise “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cleveland Browns,” which delivered double-digit viewership gains from a year ago; “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” the gold standard in sports journalism on television; the powerful docu-series “Being Serena” that chronicled the comeback of tennis icon Serena Williams; and the acclaimed unfiltered talk series “The Shop” featuring LeBron James.
This fall, HBO Sports will present an edition of “24/7” highlighting the upcoming Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match play plus engaging documentary films like “Student Athlete” and “Momentum Generation” brought to us by accomplished filmmakers. In 2019, we will have the innovative multi-part documentary presentation “What’s My Name|Muhammad Ali” from director Antoine Fuqua in conjunction with executive producers LeBron James and Maverick Carter of SpringHill Entertainment.
Other new ventures will be announced in the weeks ahead as HBO Sports continues to explore new frontiers in sports programming.”
HBO Boxing Fight Facts
First telecast — Jan. 22, 1973, Frazier vs. Foreman, Kingston, Jamaica.
Total number of fights on HBO – 1,111
Years televising Boxing – 45
Boxing After Dark debut – February 3, 1996
(Main event: Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Kennedy McKinney, Inglewood, CA)
Boxers with most appearances on HBO:
Roy Jones Jr. 32
Oscar de la Hoya 32
Shane Mosley 27
Floyd Mayweather 27
Manny Pacquiao 24
Miguel Cotto 24
Lennox Lewis 23
Bernard Hopkins 23
Wladimir Klitschko 22
Arturo Gatti 21
Pernell Whitaker 19
Marco Antonio Barrera 19
Mike Tyson 17