No, Richard Schaefer, the Swiss-born day-to-day head of Golden Boy Promotions, didn’t do a spit-take when he got word that HBO didn’t want to buy any fights put together by his company.
“Was it a shocker? Yes and no,” the 51-year-old dealmaker told TSS in a phone chat Tuesday night. “I was not so surprised because I had no communication with (HBO boxing chief) Ken Hershman going back to November. But the way HBO went about it…It was rather strange. If I was running HBO I would just turn down offers from Golden Boy.”
So, the posting of the edict in the public square, so to speak, did take Schaefer (seen above, in a Hogan photo, listening to Bernard Hopkins in 2012) aback. But he seems to have collected himself after the momentary shock. In fact, Monday night, the day the divorce papers were delivered, he turned off his cell phone, and went to check out Golden Boy boxer Victor Ortiz on “Dancing With the Stars.”
“Victor did very well,” said Schaefer, admitting that cell phones were confiscated at the DWTS facility, so there was no temptation to text on the sly, maybe when Andy Dick was waltzing. “Victor did very well. He was in the middle of the field.”
So, it sounds like you weren’t sitting around, licking your wounds all day? “No, life goes on,” he said. “I don’t have any ill feelings. Life just goes on.”
Schaefer can be a pretty good politician when he chooses. You know how our Senators refer to each other as “my friend on the other side of the aisle,” and “my esteemed colleague” and such? Schaefer, I offer, is in that mode when he talks about there being no ill will. I mean, he might be one of the most serene execs I’ve ever come across and truly is able to shrug off any hint of animus towards Team HBO… But he does manage to muster a bit of ire on the subject of rival Bob Arum, of Top Rank, who will now be the main provider, far and away, of content for HBO. When I asked Schaefer if fans will be winners or losers in this new arrangement, if the custody arrangement will have upside for the fans, he replied, “Fans have been winning. Will they keep on winning? If I were running HBO I wouldn’t be giving over the wheel of the ship to Bob Arum.”
Regular readers know I have my romantic side; the Libra in me seeks that basically everybody get along, that we all play nice together. I asked Schaefer if he didn’t empathize with the fans who don’t care about the promotional cold war, who’s Kennedy and who’s Kruschev, and obliquely pleaded for him and Arum to make nice, so a couple no brainer fights could get made, instead of being dismissed because the promoters hate each other more than any two fighters do.
“Boxing is not a league,” Schaefer said. “Things play out publicly…You think that s–t doesn’t happen in other leagues? You think there isn’t fighting in the NFL when the owners talk about splitting revenues and Jerry Jones of the Cowboys argues for himself, because he’s selling out his stadium, against those who are not selling out? You think that s–t is not going on there? You think that’s not going on in corporate America? Of course it’s going on, but unfortunately boxing is unregulated, so everyone sees more fighting going on. Fans want fights, and who cares what Schaefer or Arum wants, make good fights.”
Good stuff, good points. Indeed, there is more transparency in the sport because you don’t have a lord high commissioner turning the screws on dissenters, tamping down discord, and an army of flacks quelling chatter. This can make boxing seem infinitely more dysfunctional than the NFL, NBA, MLB or…no, not the NHL, those clowns have had two shutdowns in the last ten years. But boxing may be no more dysfunctional than the other sports, it just plays out more publicly. Yes, the dysfunction can be glaring when you get a situation where a Top Rank guy should be fighting a Golden Boy guy (cough Donaire-Mares cough) but doesn’t because the dealmakers can’t stomach each other. But there actually aren’t THAT many fights that aren’t happening because the Hatfields and the McCoys can’t just get along long enough to hash out a deal to give the fans, who pay out of pocket way too much to follow their sport, what they damn well deserve. Also, the transparency, the lack of the centralized authority, is part of what makes the sport fun to cover and so spicy. Arum spouts off, Oscar lobs a bomb on Twitter, and there is no commissioner to call for peace and quiet. The boxing business is a most American model; everyone is freelancing, there is no central office coordinating, it can feel unstructured and chaotic. Much like a democracy, eh? Meanwhile, us keyboard tappers watch and report and analyze. And let us not forget, if the NFL teams had to negotiate with each other to determine what games would be played when, do you not think that there would be massive rumbles on a daily basis? Yes, boxing is a beast unto itself, and has a business model that is sometimes head-shaking, and infuriating, but provides no shortage of drama.
Schaefer seemed to be in a mode of acceptance Tuesday night, but fighting pride still bubbled to the surface. He said that with the Golden Boy stable, which he said draws “no argument” is the best out there, it is easy to put on compelling fights. I then threw some of the criticism that floats about at him, and asked for comment. Isn’t there a hesitance in pitting Golden Boy fighters in against each other, and could the new deal exacerbate that? “We’re putting these guys in against each other,” he said. “Canelo vs. Trout, Floyd against Guerrero…you have Garcia against Judah (Writer note: Though I don’t believe Judah is a Golden Boy fighter). I look ahead, and it’s the best schedule in existence we’ve had. I’m adding the numbers up, we’ve sold over 50,000 for these events so far. This is what fans want to see.”
And of the criticism that Al Haymon holds too much sway over Golden Boy, and that is a main reason why HBO filed those divorce papers? “That’s totally false,” Schaefer said. He brought up the argument that Haymon’s guy Andre Berto got too many “gimmes” on HBO. “Three of them were fight of the year candidates,” the promoter said. “Berto is one of the most exciting fighters on any network. To have Berto on your network is a gift. Look at the track record of the programming Al has helped HBO get in the last ten years. HBO did pretty darn well associating with Golden Boy and Al. Some people now argue that Showtime has better boxing programming, perhaps rightfully so, than HBO. So, did HBO suffer during their alignment with Golden Boy and Al? Are they better off now?”
My take: That will remain to be seen. Let’s check back in three, six, 12 months. Maybe it is better that things are out in the open, that HBO forced all cards to be put on the table. This is a new age of transparency, after all. If I write an article, and screw up a fact, or my thesis sucks, you guys will call me on it in the comment section. The interactivity forces the content provider to up their game, in theory, anyway. Now everyone knows who is aligned with who, and that makes the scorecards easier to fill out. As always, I ask for pick ’em fights, the best fighting the best. I know I won’t always get that, because these guys have to balance, as cunning capitalists, risk vs. reward, and building up attractions incrementally. I frankly think the whole lot of them can do better at doing that, across the board. As always, however, I remain optimistic, because I know there is no shortage of athletes ready, willing and able to showcase what you saw Saturday in the Provodnikov-Bradley fight: will, skill and drama, round after round.