At first glance, you probably reacted to the news that Floyd Mayweather jumped ship from HBO to Showtime with a dropped jaw, and the thought that the departure would be received at HBO with as much joy as a kick in the groin.
I tried to get a sense of how the suits at HBO were dealing with the news when I saw Ken Hershman, Kery Davis and Mark Taffet at a Feb. 21 press conference in NYC to hype the April 13 HBO face-off between Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux. I was busy trying to report on the PED kerfuffle, so I didn't try to get a deeper sense if the Mayweather news had left the HBO crew stunned or demoralized.
But from what I gathered, in a couple brief feel-em-out chats, the mood over there was along the lines of, We have done boxing at the highest of levels for four-plus decades, and that will continue.
On Wednesday, I sat down and chatted with Davis, the senior vice president of programming at HBO sports, to talk about their upcoming slate and also get a better sense of what the Floyd leap means down the line.
Down the line is a key phrase there.
“We made a very aggressive offer to retain Floyd,” he told me after the presser to hype the Saturday Barclays Center card, topped by Bernard Hopkins-Tavoris Cloud, ended.
And, did any part of him take it personally that the man who debuted with HBO in 1997 didn't finish his career with that longterm partner?
“If Floyd were 30, I would have maybe looked for the relationship to mean more in negotiations, but he's 36, looking for a deal to end his career,” Davis said. “And I don't begrudge him that. But I think you judge a contract like that at the end of the deal.”
Fair point. Floyd and Al Haymon snagged a six fight deal, over 30 months, the terms of which were not released. But it is believed that “Money” could be guaranteed over $220 million for this package. At that Donaire-Rigo presser, I asked Bob Arum what the ramification to the deal were, and he recommended we hold off till things play out. At the time, I pushed back lightly, asking Bob for at least a prediction. He didn't bite… but he and Davis have a point when counseling us to take the long view.
Yes, Showtime snagged the marquee guy in the game. But for how long will Floyd stay the marquee guy? Will he resist the inevitable decline at the cruel hands of the sands of time? Can he be like a Bernard Hopkins, and be close to the athlete he is now almost three years down the road? Or will he prove the rule, not the exception? We can't and won't know until 30 months have elapsed.
I started to see the deal in a slightly different way. What if Floyd jumped the shark–not that anyone is saying they've seen hints of that, by the way–but what if he started to become injury prone, and then the new deal puts HBO in a bind along the lines of what the MLB Yankees are dealing with? The Yanks are due to pay A-Rod $114 million over the next five years. He signed a 10 year, $275 million deal back in 2007, when he was 32 years old. And then came speedbumps…a 2009 admission that he used PEDs…injuries…a severe dropoff in production. I'm not and Davis didn't portray Mayweather and A-Rod as twins, by the way, but any negotiator has to consider how age could potentially impact terms which seem acceptable now, but might not be so favorable down the line.
Davis seems to be looking at the development along the lines of how part of me reacted to it, as a fan. Competition is a good thing. The Floyd move means HBO will be focusing more on live events, off PPV, like the Hopkins-Cloud event, like the Tim Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov scrap (on March 16 in Cali), and the much anticipated Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado rematch March 30, in Vegas. “Our job is to make sure the HBO schedule is the best it can be,” Davis told me. “This will give us the opportunity to bring more big events live on HBO.”
Anyone that has lived and had life kick their teeth in a couple times knows it is wisest, if possible, to view trying times, periods of transition, as an opportunity. It seems like HBO sports is in that mode. “Yes, we're still here, we still have 'A' level stars, and we're looking at fights like Pacquiao-Marquez, Martinez and Chavez Jr. , and we have Andre Ward, and Donaire, and Brandon Rios. And we're not going to be out of the pay per view business,” Davis said.
Davis is keen to see Tim Bradley step it up on March 16, in his first outing since he was awarded a decision over The Congressman. “I think that's a very, very difficult fight,” he said. “We'll see how Bradley is against Provodnikov, after almost a year off. He comes in with something to prove, and can use a win as a steppingstone to a huge fight.”
Arresting challenges, like the trek to Macau to put on the card topped by the Chinese two-time gold medallist Zou Shiming, Rocky Martinez, and Brian Viloria, will be helpful as the company enters this new phase. “That's opening up a brand new market, potentially a billion boxing fans,” Davis said of the Asian event. “To be part of something like that is pretty historic.” There will be no time to sulk, if that is ever a temptation, or lament. Work is there to be done, and there is a vacuum to fill. The task is to fill the vacuum with sturdier material than was present before.
Just a week later, after the Macau slate which runs on HBO2, HBO offers that face-off between the pound for pound ace Donaire and Rigo, who himself might be a top twenty pound for pounder, though he still has some catching up to do as pro to meet his amateur acclaim. “I think that's two of the best fighters in the sport of boxing, period,” Davis said. “Add the element of Radio City Music Hall, and that crystallizes the fact that we're thinking outside the box, looking to expand the brand of boxing.”
Expand indeed. Frequent flyer miles will be adding up when World Championship Boxing makes the long trek to Argentina for the April 27 face-off between WBC middleweight champ Sergio Martinez and Brit Martin Murray, who is 25-0 but hasn't been in with anyone near the class of Sergio.
Davis made the case that HBO's track record should be respected, that their cards averaged about 1.2 million viewers an event, versus around half a million plus for their main competitor. He ticked off the names of Ward, Donaire, Martinez, Marquez, Chavez Jr, Gennady Golovkin and Brandon Rios, and said, “We're proud of the lineup of stars we have.”
I inquired whether rising star Adrien Broner would stay within the HBO fold, as we've seen him in the crowd at shows broadcast by Showtime recently. Davis said he didn't want to get deep into that subject, as Broner and the network are talking about a longterm HBO contract.
My takeaway: HBO could well emerge from this period in better shape than they were in last month. Yes, they incur a revenue hit from the Floyd-PPV exit, there's no spinning that. (Though I think sometimes we tend to forget that HBO doesn't make out like a bandit from Floyd PPV events; ample money flows to the boxers, the promoter, marketing costs a load and the platform providers, the cable and satellite companies, eat a big chunk of the pie.) But if the Floyd move forces them to get a bit more creative, use talents and brain-storming that they maybe haven't had to use while enjoying the services of “Money,” if the Showtime grab means more energy and focus is expended on finding and refining next generation stars, then in 30 months, we all might be looking at the Floyd deal, and the state of boxing at HBO, in a totally different light.