The Importance of Boxing’s Return to Network TV

Albert Baker twitter: @thealbertbaker

For decades gone by, boxing once the crowned jewel of sport in the world lay wallowing in the doldrums of niche sport status. A sport that has produced global and American icons and heroes such as Joe Louis in his harrowing two fights against Nazi Germany’s Max Schmeling for the morale of the world. The penultimate three fight trilogy of Muhammad Ali and Smokin Joe Frazier at the height of the civil rights movement. Like all legends as time passes the victors in war and business often write the history books and until now history has pushed boxing exclusively to premium cable and pay per view.

I’m not writing this article to bash the business practices of the only sport in America without one recognizable governing body. I want to highlight what boxing’s return to network television could and could not mean for the sport that us boxing heads so dearly love.

The hope is that Al Haymon (love him or hate him) is the savior of the sport. Announcing the new Premier Boxing Champions show today in New York, Al Haymon showed to be successful much risk is required. Haymon is putting his neck on the line by investing his own money into making the push onto network TV possible forking over a reported 20 million dollars for 24 fight dates on the main and cable NBC Sports network.

Haymon had an atrocious year in 2014 from a public relations stand point for reasons revealed today. Haymon refused to let fighters he represented last year fight anybody remotely dangerous to preserve his stable of an estimated 150 fighters and push them from Showtime to NBC. Angering the fans by providing a slew of mismatches such as the now infamous Garcia vs Salka fight, created an animosity from the fans directed at Haymon that made Don King look like the patron saint of boxing.

With 2014 behind him now and the deal with NBC complete, coupled with a closure to the litigation between Haymon, Golden Boy Promotions, and one time Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer; Haymon is now ready to open the gates and invite us into his version of boxing’s future.

If you build it they will come; Haymon understands that to attract a target demographic he needs to give them what they want, compelling fighters in compelling fights. Firing up the first fight card on March 7th with Keith “One Time” Thurman against Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero is a good way to start things off, both fighters are entertaining, have good personalities, and look good in front of the camera.

The first co main event will feature the brash trash talking Adrian Broner against contender John Molina Jr. Broner is a good pick for the inaugural card because he loves the camera, provides great lines for the media to quote on social media, and has a cocky demeanor that resonates with the 18-29 year old demographic which is surely a target market.

The second card in the series will feature a fight that was built for Showtime then pushed over to NBC (this article isn’t an opinion piece on business morality) following the close to the aforementioned litigation. Danny Garcia faces Lamont Peterson months after the two faced off against severely overmatched competition on Showtime months back. This is a good second foray into network televised fights because it is viewed as an even matchup that could produce fireworks.

Al Michaels and Sugar Ray Leonard were tapped to provide commentary and analyses to add credibility and name recognition to the broadcast. Former legends Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran (names that many old casual fans still recognize) were brought out to serve as an endorsement and provide a passing of the torch moment to the new fresh faces of network boxing.

The press conference to introduce the fighters and announce the return to network television was a controlled setting, allowing only “select” media in to ask questions. When a message is being driven and an image is being set controlling the message output is important, as a member of the media it angers me that only large outfits with minimal to no boxing coverage or media outfits that have only been friendly were invited, but I understand the need for it from a business standpoint.

If on the announcement day of the venture the attention were shifted to the recent litigations it would have put a sour note and created even more conversation outside of what was important “the return of boxing to network TV”.

The big question is, what if this is successful? More dollars and more demand for the sport. Imagine a huge fight not on pay per view, if a Mayweather versus Paquiao type fight in the future were hyped to the level of a Super Bowl size event with advertisements costing millions for 30 second spots. There would be more money to go around for everyone: the network, promoters, fighters, trainers. Not to mention the branding and star making ability that a network TV presence could create.

My hope is that this works, and provides the hope that kids who once walked into a boxing gym to earn their way in life had but are now finding easier success in less demanding sports such as basketball. That these same kids see the fighters in flashy advertisements and lace up the fighters sponsored gloves instead of the basketball shoe. I have a hope that what was once called the poor man’s way out can once again return to giving hope to the neighborhoods like so many I have lived in.

Boxing’s return to network TV brings hope, undoubtedly people are offended at shrewd business practices as am I. Haymons foray with NBC doesn’t mean the end of his rivals, they still control the contracts of many of the sports biggest stars. Boxing will continue to air on HBO, Showtime, and ESPN. The world will not stop turning and much of America will continue to ignore boxing. For a few minutes today I sat back and went over what this meant for boxing and came up with one conclusion.

Business competition will provide better fights and ultimately lead a demand fueled by more viewer ship which will compel promoters to make the fights that: advertisers will pay for airtime on, sponsors will pay to be a part of, and people will pay to see. It’s a win win situation for us, the boxing fans, especially Al Haymon.