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HBO Is Leaving The Boxing Business

After 45 years of covering our beloved sport, HBO has decided to hang up its gloves.

By Dean Goulding   - @intuboxing

Since 1973, when it covered George Foreman's shock knockout victory over heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in Jamaica (a bout that would pave the way to possibly the most famous fight in history, the "Rumble in the Jungle"), HBO has been a mainstay in the sport of boxing.The network has covered countless marquee bouts including the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Gennady Golovkin, and Canelo Álvarez, to name a few.

But the network has decided that after 2018, its coverage of boxing will end. The decision was announced on Thursday morning by executive vice president of HBO Sports, Peter Nelson, in a meeting with the HBO production staff, which includes familiar faces such as those of blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley, analyst Max Kellerman, scorer Harold Lederman and former world champions Roy Jones Jr, Andre Ward and occasionally Bernard Hopkins. Of that group, Lampley is reportedly the only announcer that will be retained by HBO.

So, why has a network that has worked tirelessly over the better part of the last five decades to become one of the foremost broadcasters in boxing suddenly decided to quit the sport? In short, boxing isn't the draw it used to be, at least for HBO. In a recent interview, Nelson stated:

"This is not a subjective decision. Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO."

But while viewers may now be tuning in to HBO to watch the scripted battles of Game of Thrones rather than the real-life clashes of pugilism, the same can't be said for all networks. Boxing has been inundated with investment and a wider range of coverage across both TV and the internet of late.

For example, earlier this month, Fox inked a deal with Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions, giving Haymon an annual budget of $60million a year, on top of the $60million already provided by Showtime, which has also confirmed it will commit to a "more robust schedule for 2019" after presenting 22 fight nights this year.

Then there's the new network DAZN (pronounced "Da-Zone") jostling for a position in the US market and looking to become the "Netflix of sport" and the new "home of boxing". DAZN recently announced boxing's first ever $1billion deal, a joint venture with Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Boxing, which will allow Matchroom Boxing USA to promote 16 fights per year in the US for the next eight years. On top of that, DAZN will also stream the 16 fight nights promoted by Matchroom in the UK.

With Netflix and music-streaming service Spotify racking up over 130million subscribers and 83million subscribers respectively, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that boxing, and perhaps sport coverage in general, could follow suit; and perhaps it should, given fight fans can expect to pay up to $100 for a PPV event. DAZN could well be at the forefront of that paradigm shift if it can offer PPV-level events within the price of its $9.99 monthly subscription fee in the US.

And finally, looking at more established networks, back in August, ESPN signed a deal with Bob Arum's Top Rank to present 54 boxing shows on its various outlets, including its own popular subscription-based streaming service: ESPN+.

HBO's boxing arm will no doubt be missed by many, be they fans of its in-depth documentaries, those enthralling episodes of 24/7 in the build-up to major fights or its coverage of the fights themselves. Hopefully, those other networks can not only fill the hole left by a stalwart of the sport that's entertained fans for 45 years, but bring boxing back into the mainstream by providing some much needed innovation.

HBO has issued a statement explaining its decision, shown below.

“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.”