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- Fred Garvin

The End Of Showtime Boxing?

Recently the world of boxing gossip was set ablaze by renewed whispers that the parent company of Showtime, Paramount Global, was going to end the networks involvement in boxing which started 37 years ago. Normally if you were a well-adjusted human being you would be saying, "Who cares? It's boxing, networks come and go and always have.". But of course we exist in an era where a certain subset of barnacles on the hull of boxing have been waiting for years to finally revel in the end of Showtime Boxing. Why some of them might have even been waiting thirty years to declare victory from their hovels of sadness. Now what would drive a group of so-called boxing fans to revel in the end of an outlet? I mean, it's not like we are talking about DAZN here!

What Are They Saying?

Recently I had the good fortune to get a media pass for the week to cover the Canelo Alvarez vs Jermell Charlo fight (shoutout Hustler magazine). I wasn't in Vegas but for twenty-four hours before I had the inside line on both rumours that were swirling around the boxing world. What started off the gossip happened prior to the fight week events when people employed by BoxingScene were running around in a panic telling everyone, "You didn't hear it from me but..." Paramount had supposedly made the decision to end Showtime Boxing and the people heading up BoxingScene were sweating because if Paramount was out of boxing, they would likely axe their support of BoxingScene.

Then Wednesday after the media press conference, I was told that PBC had made a deal with Amazon Prime and that they were taking as many parts of the Showtime Boxing crew as they could. It amused me that Chris Mannix didn't report this until a week later and he wasn't even in Vegas to cover the Canelo fight. So this mighty figure of the boxing world was reporting on a third-hand rumour that I knew before him. And if you doubt me, why you can always ask anyone who has access to the Sunday Puncher Discord channel because I told all the kids the inside scoop. It's only $1 a month to learn information before the boxing luminaries deliver it. Sign up today!

There are two ways to think of this information; Either I am the greatest investigative journalist in boxing history that I can get two ground breaking scoops when I was doing nothing but playing video poker; or if I was able to hear these tales while making no effort to find out what was going on, perhaps that should make one question the legitimacy of these reports.

As I was armed and ready with this massive news, I decided to reach out to one of my lone sources that actually has ties to top-level information. And what I learned was not much different than what Stephen Espinoza told the Boxing News.. Except where the Boxing News came away with this idea that the decision has been made. I know that Paramount Global has not made a decision. And if they do decide to end things, it will not be like HBO's exit that started with ending Inside the NFL and then boxing but keeping around Real Sports and a documentary division. If Paramount exits it will be killing off the entire sports division. Not a condemnation on Showtime Boxing but a result of the ill-fated merger between Viacom and CBS/Showtime. The reason why Espinoza did not rule an exit of boxing from Showtime is because he does not know what the people at the top of the company will decide. No one really does as Paramount Global scrambles to shore up their balance sheet.

What is Paramount Global?

Once upon a time there was a man named Sumner Redstone. He owned Viacom, which made movies but also owned properties like MTV and Comedy Central. Near the turn of the millennium he bought CBS/Showtime. But because the stock price suffered he split the companies apart while Redstone retained 80% of the voting shares in CBS/Showtime through the Redstone family company, National Amusements. This led to a financial boon as both companies rebounded on this decision.

Les Moonves had first gone to CBS in 1995. First as President and eventually the CEO and Chairman. He came from Warner Bros.Television where he had greenlighted two massive hits for NBC in Friends and ER. Les was not a one (or two) hit pony though. Under his guidance CBS went from last place in the ratings to having six of the top ten shows on network television by 2005. Moonves also was a major proponent of live sports and he brought the NFL back to CBS after a four year absence. It was this belief in live sports that eventually allowed Showtime to surpass HBO as the major cable boxing platform.

But through the years, Sumner Redstone's daughter,Shari, was always trying to get Viacom to merge once again with CBS/Showtime. As Sumner aged, Shari gained control over his accounts and set forth in motion the plan to takeover CBS/Showtime that had previously stalled several times throughout the years. Les Moonves opposed the deal as he was not only unwilling to give up his control but he had no faith in the executives at Viacom given their poor track record in maintaining and creating properties.

Moonves was defiant that he would block the merger and he had the backing of the CBS board and major pension funds. In May of 2018, CBS moved to dilute National Amusements voting power down to twenty percent. However, just a few months later, Rowan Farrow released a story alleging sexual assault allegations against Les Moonves,who eventually stepped down from the network, and subsequently the move to block National Amusements was defeated and eventually ViacomCBS was formed.

Interestingly, many financial pundits before the merger declared that Les Moonves was in the wrong and that the merger should proceed for the benefit of shareholders. Except to this point, Moonves appears to have been correct. ViacomCBS was the initial name of the company which then changed to Paramount Global. These are the signs of decisions being done on the fly as Paramount+, their streaming division, would then incorporate the Showtime service with the brilliantly named Paramount+ with Showtime. Paramount Global, earlier this year, also reported earnings that saw the company lose hundreds of millions of dollars and proceeded to cut twenty-five percent of their workforce as well as ending many projects.

Reductions in budgets is nothing new for companies nor for boxing entities. DAZN held a press conference to announce their one billion dollar investment in the sport of boxing with an eight year commitment. And it is obvious that they scaled that back in several areas. Yet when Eddie Hearn announced proudly that DAZN and Matchroom had decided to sign a "new" three year extension, no one in the world of boxing punditry stopped to say, "Wait a minute, you just announced that you have a extension taking you to the original end date you announced in 2018. But with no financial terms this time.". Many were all too happy to just trumpet this extension without comment or question.. The same applies to Top Rank boxing. Their original deal with ESPN called for 54 events a year between ESPN and ESPN+. That output was drastically scaled back without a mention. Not even Bob Iger's mention of wanting to sell part of the entirety of ESPN has led to any speculation as to the survival of Top Rank Boxing.

Yet for some reason, outlets and pundits still think it's worthy to run with any story regarding Showtime Boxing's demise. Why is this the case? Well I believe I might just have the answer.

The Backstory

So to provide the history to those who probably were not even watching boxing at the time, we will take a quick trip to the past. All the way back to the year of our Lord, Nico Ali Walsh, 2011. The world of boxing was still in the throes of actually caring about stories in the ongoing saga between the stalled (some say nonexistent) talks between Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao. And a plucky young scamp named Thomas Hauser was still writing his tales about the continued decline in HBO's investment in boxing. Why things got so bad as far as what HBO was willing to put up for money that Bob Arum took Manny Pacquiao over to Showtime to do the fight against Shane Mosley.

The Pacquiao vs Mosley fight ended up costing longtime HBO President of Sports, Ross Greenburg, his job and things would just get weirder. As I have previously written about, September of 2011 would see HBO trot out Max Kellerman to proclaim that Al Haymon was to blame for all of HBO's woes. It definitely was not HBO cutting the boxing budget to well under $40 million while their parent company at the time, Time-Warner, posted an annual profit of $2.9 billion which was a bit more than ten percent above the previous year's profit of $2.6 billion.

And the ride was not over! Ken Hershman who had been at Showtime for a period of years that I'm too lazy to look up right now, quit his job to start at HBO beginning in 2012. And this is where our story starts to point to the modern age. Hang in there, it is coming! For CBS/Showtime hired Stephen Espinoza to run not only the boxing but the sports division and related entities. And the wackiness continued. Golden Boy Promotions started to migrate over to Showtime who made the outrageous move of... paying for fights.

So Showtime, who had always been perceived as the runner-up in the cable boxing race, suddenly started to seize the moment by getting more aggressive. Showtime started to become the home of more Golden Boy Promotions fights. Of course the boxing punditry would guffaw that this was only because of the prior relationship between Stephen Espinoza and Oscar De La Hoya. A relationship that dated back to when Oscar was a client of Stephen's at the law firm where Espinoza was a partner.

HBO Boxing did not take this incursion by Showtime lying down. They responded to the competition by... signing Thomas Hauser as a consultant for a rumoured one hundred thousand dollars a year. It was not Hauser who revealed or even disclosed this arrangement to the readers of his columns but Kevin Iole. You see, while Hauser has this reputation amongst writers and other rubes of being some thoughtful commentator on the sport. He is really what people from my parts describe as, "A bit of a jerkoff". For most of his articles, even to this day, are based in attacking the enemies of his friends under the guise of "caring about the sport.". This is who HBO now had helping them make their decisions.

Even with all these moves, the final shoe still had not dropped in the boxing outlet wars. For in February 2013, CBS/Showtime made their biggest move yet when they announced they had entered into a deal with Floyd Mayweather in what was billed as the biggest deal in sports at that time. The reaction from many in the boxing media was as if they had just walked in on dad with the babysitter. The outrage was extreme with luminaries such as Jim Lampley proclaiming that there was no way Floyd would ever fulfill the contract. Others would start to write articles about the earnings of CBS/Showtime hoping to find some sign that signing Floyd was a mistake. Unfortunately for them, Floyd was often cited in the earnings reports of this time as being a driver for revenue growth in the cable division.

This hatred took on even uglier shades but most never even realized how close this deal was to never happening. Despite renaming himself "Money", when Floyd was approached with the deal by Espinoza, Floyd was not going to take it because he felt a loyalty to HBO. As related to this writer by Mr. Espinoza himself, Stephen just asked Floyd to think about the deal and then gave Floyd his personal number and told Floyd to contact him anytime if he had questions. It was this gesture and the subsequent conversations that convinced Floyd that Showtime would be the right place for him to continue his career. The reason I bring this up is that up to that point, no executive in boxing had ever offered Floyd their personal number.

Just take a moment to consider that bit of history. Despite Floyd producing the biggest pay-per-view fight in boxing history in his fight against Oscar De La Hoya as well as being the very reason why HBO created their multi-award winning series 24/7, to HBO Floyd remained just minor talent. Talent which they would even allow their executives and commentary team to routinely criticize or even challenge to a fight.

So What Is Going To Happen?

As mentioned before, a decision has not been made on the fate of Showtime Boxing. The main threat remains that the people now in charge of Paramount Global were not the ones who built the programming of CBS/Showtime. And as has been played out time and time again in the corporate merger world, when people are looking to cut costs the first things they look at are the projects they had nothing to do with creating. Even though the current CEO, Bob Bakish, has expressed his interest in retaining sports content that thought might only begin and end with the major properties like the NFL.

When it comes to the future of PBC boxing, there will always be an outlet looking to promote boxing. There's even the chance that the rumoured Amazon Prime deal is nothing more than what PBC did when they made a deal with FOX Sports. In this world that sees a lot of churn that follows people only interested in a specific series, boxing presents itself as a good value addition when paired with a roadmap of fights. Another allure of the sport is its ability to attract the celebrities and influencers that companies most desire in this internet age. Instead of spending millions of dollars on campaigns that might garner no return you can have a celebrity endorsement for the night with little more than a ticket and some VIP pampering. This is the value that an executive like Espinoza understands, one only needs to look at the current furor over Taylor Swift appearing the the Kansas City Chiefs games to see how organic celebrity appearances can spread interest to demographics that companies crave. We as fans can only hope that Paramount Global sees this as well.

Now as for those that will delight if Showtime Boxing does end, their existence is easily explained in the end. HBO silenced their highest profile critic in Thomas Hauser with a hefty payoff. Others have gotten jobs at outlets like The Ring or ESPN for doing little more than attacking PBC and Showtime. Evan Korn parlayed a life doing nothing but cosigning Steve Kim's anti-PBC tweets into a career at Top Rank boxing.

The model of Showtime and PBC especially threatens their very way of life. For Al Haymon has never cared about using money that could go to fighters to line the pockets of people who bring nothing to an event. But in reality, the impact that the naysayers have on the actual boxing product does not exist. Despite years of attacks, Showtime and PBC produced three twenty million dollar gates in 2023. A feat never before achieved. That's one hell of a way to fail.