Although HBO did not include Haymon by name last week when it announced it had severed ties with De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions over a string of disputes involving mismatches, financial dustups and GBP’s decision to take Amir Khan, Danny Garcia and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez across the street to Showtime, sources familiar with HBO’s position said Haymon is also on notice that his fighters are no longer welcome on boxing’s cable giant.
Although the last straw was Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s decision to sign a six-fight, 21⁄2-year deal with Showtime to appear exclusively on its pay-per-view arm for a guaranteed minimum of $30 million a fight regardless of how successfully any particular show sells, those sources insisted HBO’s decision was not in reaction to Mayweather jumping ship but had been building for nearly a year before HBO Sports president Ken Hershman, who formerly ran Showtime’s sports programming, pulled the plug.
“Hershman was tired of seeing Golden Boy keep taking young fighters who were launched into stardom on HBO over to Showtime every time there was a dispute over opponents or money,” an industry source said. “This wasn’t a reaction to Mayweather. Mayweather listens to Haymon, not Golden Boy and he’s a pay-per-view star. He doesn’t affect anyone’s TV budget. The others did.”
The beginning of the end came last Sept. 15 when HBO was committed to a pay-per-view middleweight title fight between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on the same weekend Golden Boy wanted to headline Alvarez.
HBO offered to televise him a week later, but Schaefer took him to Showtime and went against Martinez-Chavez, which did 450,000 buys. It was a move that did boxing fans no good but Showtime said last week its broadcast of Alvarez vs. Josesito Lopez broke a viewership record for boxing on Showtime with 1.04 million viewers of the live main event. Alvarez-Lopez also drew the largest Hispanic audience for an individual bout on Showtime in four years.
HBO countered that in 2012 its average audience for its popular “World Championship Boxing” series was 1.2 million viewers compared to 511,000 on Showtime. HBO presently has an estimated 29 million subscribers, Showtime 22 million.
Hershman has yet to speak publicly about the move, but he issued a statement: “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.”
He made clear that no longer included Golden Boy, to which De La Hoya tweeted “Game On!” Perhaps so, but will it be a game with a smaller viewership for his company’s product?
Sources at HBO insist Khan’s viewership has shrunk 52 percent since moving to Showtime, Garcia is off 35 percent and Alvarez is 23 percent from their HBO peaks. Showtime countered that from 2011-’12 the average viewership for “Showtime Championship Boxing” was up 32 percent and it believes that trend will continue now that it has exclusive use of Golden Boy’s large stable. It has also expanded its budget and will use all of its platforms, including CBS, to promote upcoming boxing programming.
“They have the deepest list of the world’s best boxers,” said Showtime Sports executive vice-president and general manager Stephen Espinoza, formerly GBP’s lead attorney. “We believe our viewers will benefit from that relationship.
“Having said that it doesn’t mean we will televise whatever Golden Boy tries to sell us. My responsibility is not to help build Golden Boy’s business. My responsibility is to help build Showtime’s business.”
The validity of that statement will become clear one way or the other over the next year, but it is undeniable that the majority of Showtime’s recent programming featured GBP fighters, a trend that is likely to increase. That Haymon has also been quietly kicked to the curb adds to the drama.
Rising star Adrien Broner continued last week to call himself “Mr. HBO Boxing” even though he is managed by Haymon and will not appear on HBO again as long as that relationship exists. How will Broner react? More importantly, can Showtime absorb all the dates Golden Boy previously had with HBO?
This latest shakeup, while different, is not without precedent. Some 20 years ago promoter Don King took Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and others from HBO to Showtime. It looked like a godsend for Showtime, but HBO continued to attract bigger audiences and retained its position as boxing’s premier network. Time will tell if history repeats itself.
Regardless, HBO’s decision has created a border war that could benefit boxing if it develops new talent, but could just as easily wound both its signature sport’s franchise and Golden Boy as well.