This guy could be real, real good for the sport. Know his face. Mark Greenberg, of EPIX.
Something EPIX is about to happen in boxing and if it works you’ll have Mark Greenberg to thank for it.
Saturday around 6 p.m. people walking through Time Square in midtown Manhattan will look up and see WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko and challenger Odlanier Solis towering over them as they try to render each other unconscious on a massive jumbotron screen at 44th and Broadway. It is all part of a multi-platform boxing trial on the new premium channel which, if it works, will not only help expand EPIX’s visibility but also that of boxing’s.
EPIX bought the rights to the fight for $150,000 according to sources familiar with the deal and will televise it and some of the undercard beginning at 5 p.m. across multiple platforms so you can see it via pay-per-view or online at EpixHD.com, where it will be broadcast via streaming video or, if you happen to be in Manhattan, you can just walk down Broadway and look up.
“We have to adapt to the tastes of our consumers,’’ said Greenberg, who was involved in boxing at first HBO and then oversaw it for a decade at SHOWTIME when that premium cable network was televising some of Mike Tyson’s most compelling fights. From those experiences Greenberg became not only a fan of the sport but also a believer in its possibilities as part of a televised business model.
So when the opportunity came to buy the rights to a heavyweight title fight at a reasonable rate, Greenberg grabbed it and immediately searched for ways to make it available in multiple formats designed to attract both the traditional boxing fan and the younger crowd who will very likely watch the fight on streaming video rather than on a traditional television screen.
To Greenberg, where they watch is not important. That they watch is important.
“I have two sons 20 and 18 who watch a ton of sports and most of it is on the internet,’’ Greenberg said. “They’re happy to watch on the computer so we included that as part of our paradigm. You have to find a way to reach them. We think this kind of multiplatform is the way to go. You have to make your content relevant on their terms.
“Everyone hates change and that’s part of the problem in boxing. What have we really done differently in presenting boxing in the last 20, 30, years?
“I’m in awe at the number of athletes who will show up to fights. No other sport is like it. It’s 12 rounds, three minutes a round, with no substitutes and no timeouts. But that drama gets lost in a three-hour plus pay-per-view show with 35 minutes between fights. It’s boring. In this Circle of Death, attention deficit disorder world today three seconds to them is like an hour.
“A tightly knit two-hour show that brings some of the behind-the-scenes drama out is the best way to go.’’
If Greenberg keeps his new premium network in boxing – and it appears he intends to – he’ll bring a fresh approach, innovation and a dexterity of thinking about how to get the fight to his audience and the audience to his broadcast in multiple ways, some free and some not. The whole focus of his thinking is how do you do today what boxing needs most – which is to rebuild its slumping audience.
Because of his experience with heavyweight boxing, Greenberg believes, as did former HBO Sports president Seth Abraham when HBO was at its apex, that the heavyweight division is a separate sport from the rest of boxing and when healthy lifts the entire world of prize fighting to new heights.
It is what he hopes Klitschko-Solis can do for EPIX and EPIX can do for boxing.
“Heavyweights are still a unique part of the boxing franchise,’’ Greenberg said. “At the end of the day you need an intriguing match-up but for some reason the heavyweights capture a different interest level.
“I grew up watching Ali and Howard Cosell at 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. I believe that can still work. If we stay in boxing, and we will, I’ll address that. We’re hoping to create another way to present the sport. Boxing will get a boost from what we’re doing.’’
Certainly the sport could use it and the Klitschko-Solis matchup was intriguing enough for Greenberg to see it as both a worthwhile lab experiment and a jumping off spot for what he hopes – and boxing needs – will be a new destination for big fights and fight fans.
“EPIX believes The Heavyweight Championship of the World is very big and very important to the sport of boxing and its fans,” Greenberg said. “That is why we are broadcasting it live, streaming it live, and for free, and putting it on the big screen in Times Square.”
This will be the elder Klitschko’s sixth title defense and it comes against perhaps his most formidable challenger. Although Solis has been plagued with conditioning issues, he remains a fighter with a strong amateur pedigree as part of the Cuban National program, where he won the Olympic gold medal in 2004, so his skills are clear.
Although Klitschko is the favorite the undefeated Solis (17-0, 12 KO) is the kind of live underdog who could make things interesting if he can stand up to the mechanical but wearying punching power of Klitschko (41-2, 38 KO) and rise to the moment. Mark Greenberg is betting it will be that kind of fight and he’s betting even more that his growing premium cable network will find a way to get that fight to you in a format that will draw you in.
“We launched on Oct. 30, 2009 so we’ve been on air 16 months,’’ Greenberg said. “We’re still in the building part of it. Once it became public knowledge we were getting into boxing I’ve had all but one of the top promoters in my office.
“It’s a good possibility for us. We want to do some things differently, give fans more of the human side of the drama of boxing. We’re putting our network on the line.’’
And on a jumbotron live and in color above Times Square.