Back in 2018, a major shift took place in the sport of Boxing with the introduction of both ESPN+ and DAZN here in the United States. Two digital subscription sports streaming networks that vowed to change the dynamic in how not just Boxing, but sports as a whole was viewed and consumed by introducing reasonably priced subscription-based options as opposed to pay-per-view. While initially met with criticism and mocking laughter from some in the Boxing establishment and even some fans that doubted the significance of such a model, it was not long after both networks launched that one of the longtime power players in the sport HBO announced they would cease broadcasting Boxing at the conclusion of that year.
For some this was truly an unthinkable event that truly signaled the end of an era in not just Boxing, but in sports when HBO officially took its final bow in December 2018 bringing an end to forty-five years of broadcasting Boxing, but also for a significant period of time throughout the network’s history other sports as well including, the Wimbledon tennis tournament, bowling, MLB baseball, swimming, among others throughout its decades on the air. Though primarily known for its Boxing coverage, in the years since HBO bowed out of the sport, its sports division has continued to exist with magazine style programming such as Real Sports and talk shows including ones hosted by the legendary Bob Costas. Nevertheless, it was truly an end of an era and a significant acknowledgement as to where technology was heading. A subject that this observer has written extensively about over the last decade.
Still, despite that clear evidence as well as one of the major networks in Boxing choosing to exit the sport, plus the success the streaming networks like DAZN and ESPN+ were able to have in bringing Boxing to a subscription-based model along with other sports, there were still some players in the sport, promoters, fighters, and yes networks that fought against this change rather than embrace what might have been. One of those players was premium cable network Showtime, ironically, one of HBO’s main competitors both in the premium cable/satellite network space in regard to general entertainment, but for thirty-two years of HBO’s forty-five year run as the one time “Network of Champions," it's main competitor in Boxing as well.
Showtime first entered the Boxing ring in 1986, serving as the official rebroadcast network for then Undisputed Middleweight world champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s title defense against John “The Beast" Mugabi from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV, which was originally shown on closed circuit television and pay-per-view throughout the United States. Although its entry into the sport was in fact a taped replay using the same broadcast done by the legendary Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy, which was used for the closed circuit and pay-per-view broadcast, the March 1986 delayed broadcast served as the launching point for what became Showtime Sports.
With Boxing as it's centerpiece not only did Showtime Boxing grow in the years that followed, but it's sports division grew to include PKA/ISKA Kickboxing, Toughman contests, and from the late 2000’s on the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with various promotions staging events under Showtime’s banner. As far as Boxing, numerous stars of the sport from the 1980’s and 1990’s appeared on the network at one time or another including the aforementioned Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Terry Norris, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson among the near four decade list of greats that have competed under Showtime’s banner.
In an ironic way the 1990’s saw both HBO and Showtime parallel each other in terms of their Boxing coverage. 1991 was one such year where each network made the move from competing for rebroadcast rights to the select few events that were broadcast on pay-per-view at the time, in addition to what each network produced in terms of their Boxing programming, both would make the move to producing the live broadcasts of what remained at the time select and occasional pay-per-view events within a month of each other in March and April of that year. While I could spend countless hours talking about the differences, what was good, what was bad, and all in between not only about price points for those events back then and the era in general, the one thing that seemed consistent at least for several years after each ventured into pay-per-view, was that it was to be reserved only for the true special events and prices points also remained reasonable for consumers, all while the bulk of each network’s Boxing coverage remained on their respective networks and also featured star fighters competing in well matched bouts on a regular basis.
Over time however, the standard of putting the best product on for subscribers of each network in terms of consistently putting on competitive fights began to change and more and more, fights thought to be of significant interest were moved away from airing live on the networks to pay-per-view. Such a change in philosophy though it may have seemed as though would be beneficial for the networks over time became the catalyst for their demise. HBO was the first to fall as in 2018 as part of a significant corporate restructuring under it's then new owner AT&T, would bow out of Boxing, but not before the budget for Boxing programming in the years prior to that decision was significantly reduced and most of what was left was saved for, you guessed it, Pay-Per-View.
As HBO’s exit took place in December 2018, now in December 2023 almost exactly five years to the day of it's rival’s farewell to the sport, now Showtime prepares for its final bow with a three fight card at the Armory in Minneapolis, MN on December 16th. Much in the same way the two networks paralleled each other during their peak in the sport, Showtime’s exit from Boxing also is similar to that of HBO’s in that gradually over time the majority of Showtime's Boxing content was moved from the network to pay-per-view and even as those events under performed in the last several years with rare exceptions, there was a refusal to adapt by the executives at Showtime Sports, similar in some ways as how those executives at HBO for years tried to put on a spin that relying heavily on the pay-per-view model would have no serious repercussions for the network. Only adding to the similarity of how the two networks exited Boxing, Showtime's exit, comes as its parent company Paramount Global has undergone a major restructuring, no doubt in response to the decline of the cable/satellite industry. This has included folding Showtime’s streaming platform into Paramount’s flagship streaming network platform Paramount+, where much of the company's resources are being focused on moving forward.
In the interest of honesty with the reader, I would be lying if I were to say that I had not heard ramblings for the better part of a year, long before Paramount officially announced their intention to discontinue Boxing programming under the Showtime banner. I will also go a step further in saying that I have spent the last several years both in private conversations as well as in my coverage of the sport, suggesting that a way to move away from the pay-per-view model at least as far as Showtime/Paramount was concerned would have been to add Boxing under the Showtime name to Paramount+ along with numerous other exclusive sports that is available on the digital streaming network.
While it appears that we will never see live Boxing on Paramount+ under the Showtime Boxing on Paramount+ name and even though there is plenty of blame to go around, and justifiably so, for the respective network executives refusing to adapt to a changing technological landscape, choosing to try and minimize the growth of digital subscription-based streaming in the sport, refusing to hold promoters who insist on the pay-per-view model to a standard to ensure the network was not only making a profit on those events, but to such a degree, where the network’s parent company would be more willing to invest in the sport long-term and continuing to go down an outdated path in terms of using a model that has been increasingly rejected by consumers, I find myself feeling saddened to see this happening yet again in our sport.
Although I have earned a reputation over almost three decades as someone who is objective, will speak out in defense of the sport, call it like I see it, and bring attention to things, which I feel do more harm to Boxing then it benefits it, like the pay-per-view model, it is never good for any sport when a network walks away from it regardless of the reasoning. Especially networks like HBO and now Showtime that each had decades of success in the sport and were also considered the industry leaders.
The sport’s detractors will certainly paint a narrative to suit their purpose/agenda that Showtime’s exit is a sign of declining interest. In reality, it is more a reflection of bad business decisions as well as lack of accountability that has led to this point. It should also serve as a wakeup call to those networks, particularly in the streaming space where Boxing television, at least in the United States appears to be heading exclusively for in 2024, that you cannot attempt to serve two masters in trying to establish a sensible subscription-based model and still try to maintain a model that is overpriced and simply outdated such as pay-per-view.
Fortunately for me, but perhaps unfortunate for some who may want to forget out of convenience, I was fortunate to be around when pay-per-view was used sparingly and I am also unfortunately old enough to remember when networks like Showtime and HBO pledged to only use the model on a case by case basis. While that may have worked for a time, particularly in decades past where price points were more consumer-friendly, gradually a shift took place in the sport where pay-per-view became a requirement for some promoters and even fighters.
When that happened it set a trap for both networks in that the emphasis became more on the pay-per-view model and increasingly less on what each network put out for their subscribers. With the pay-per-view model being used more and more and price points only continuing to increase, it should be logical to anyone who is objective as to why both networks eventually lost money on Boxing and also why the continued use and overuse of it turns consumers off. The truly sad thing is for both Showtime and HBO before them, it did not have to end the way that it did for one and will for the other.
Nevertheless, the final Boxing telecast on Showtime will feature undefeated Super-Middleweight contender David Morrell in the final fight in the history of Showtime Boxing and final production of Showtime Sports as well. While I mean no disrespect to Morrell or his opponent Sena Agbeko as their bout does appear as though it will be competitive on paper, with all due respect, their bout is overshadowed by the significance of a chapter in Boxing history coming to an end. While Showtime will forever have an illustrious legacy for providing the Boxing fan with numerous memories through the years as well as providing a much needed platform for up and coming fighters not only on its flagship Showtime Championship Boxing series, but also their critically acclaimed ShoBox:The New Generation series, in addition to the many world championship fights that have aired on Showtime over the last thirty-seven years.
Criticism aside, there is no disputing Showtime’s place in Boxing history, unfortunately there is no positive spin one can put on this. It's truly the end of an era, and one that makes one thing crystal clear, Boxing and to be more specific “The Business of Boxing," needs to change.
" And That's The Boxing Truth. “
Showtime Boxing: The Finale takes place on Saturday, December 16th at the Minneapolis Armory in Minneapolis, MN. The card can be seen in the United States on the Showtime cable network on cable/satellite and streaming in the Showtime tab on digital subscription streaming network Paramount+ beginning at 9PM ET/6PM PT. Check your local listings for time and channel in your area. For more information about Paramount+ and to subscribe please visit: www.ParamountPlus.com.
(*Check your local listings internationally.*)
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