He was a Showtime guy who was handed the reins to the HBO boxing vessel, and for four years, most interesting and often tumultuous ones within the sweet science realm, Ken Hershman navigated the ups and downs and all arounds with competence.
Come the open of 2015, though, HBO boxing and sports will have a new top dog, with word coming on Friday, Oct. 30 that Hershman is leaving the cabler.
Exactly why hasn't been made public; an HBO release doesn't give much in the way of specifics, beyond pointing out some of the upsides to the Hershman tenure.
I reached out to the executive, and Hershman responded in jocular fashion.
“I thought he did a great job!” he said, tongue in cheek, in response to a Tweet I put out there, asking, “Thoughts on the stint? Who could replace him?”
In my interactions with him, he's always been polite and typically he's offered up some personal philosophy along with information. There will be ups and downs, he'd say, and things will play out a certain way, and I won't get too heated, too caught up in the drama, because a clear head is a wiser state of being in the long run.
If you had to point to one signature status which will perhaps stand out when boiling down his time at the rudder, it would be the fact that Floyd Mayweather completed a six fight deal with rival Showtime after HBO had chosen not to be top bidder when their contract with “Money” ended. Thus, it was Showtime and CBS on the hook for the richest individual money deal ever afforded to an athlete, and the possible upsides, and inevitable stresses and headaches that come with doing business with the braggadocious P4P ace, now “retired.” When Hershman leaves his office for the last time, fighters associated with HBO, contracted to them, will not include Mayweather, but will include surging Eastern Euro power-hitters Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, and Canelo Alvarez…they represent new blood, and figure to have long strings of action left within them. But none have come within sniffing distance of Mayweathers' ability to attract money.
Also, Hershman looked to diversify, choosing to do business with an assortment of promoters: Top Rank, and Golden Boy (sans Richard Schaefer), and Main Events and K2 and now Roc Nation are seen as HBO-compatible, while Al Haymon product is not. That choice is still playing out and it's being decided if that's the wise play.
But of course, there will be no shortage of opinions on the job Hershman did. As a fight fan, I'm always wanting the best fighting the best, and sometimes we get that from all, really, powers that be at all the bigwig content providers, but too often we don't. Too often, fight fans are presented “exhibitions,” matches that are basically foregone conclusions as to who will win, and this is done in order to build athletes into “name” attractions. There were times when I like to think if I were in the Hershman chair, and signing that check, I would have pressed harder to have more pick 'em fights on my air. Could he have played more harder ball with some promoters? Maybe so…
Theories will abound why now….why is he choosing to move on. Has he broken bread with Haymon and might he be joining Team Al after December ends? Doubtful, very doubtful; can't see those two getting onto a similar let alone the same page. I think it possible Hershman exits the fight game sphere; he seems to like and respect the sport, but it's not in his blood like other more addicted types.
You have to know that his job is pretty much a 24-7 one, and the burnout factor, especially for someone who is married, with kids they might like to interact with, is considerable. I saw Hershman Monday, at a screening for the new HBO Kareem Abdul Jabbar; he looked in fine form at Time Warner Center, no illness weighing him down or anything. Maybe he had his fill of those midnight phone calls from this manager or that promoter, needing to process some deal point or another, home/work balance be damned.
Some will assume that he's being pushed out. This is quite often the case when people leave high profile, well paying jobs, all of us know this. We see wording oftentimes that people are leaving to “spend more time with family.” Well, they didn't take such a coveted position because they prize quality home time over anything else; but maybe he is wanting a better balance.
Detractors will cite some stats and say that the HBO boxing franchise is on the wane. Terence Crawford fought in a main event and the numbers from the whole show were not as robust as in 2014, they'll note; the 795,000 watchers were 24% lower than from an HBO 2014 show. Then again, in 2015, World Championship Boxing main events in prime time are up 14% in viewership vs. 2014. Also, the Canelo-James Kirkland, Wladimir Klitschko-Bryant Jennings, Miguel Cotto-Daniel Geale bouts all were watched by more people than any premium cable bout put together in 2014.
So, we look forward…who will plop their bout in the Hershman chair, and put their POV stamp on the HBO boxing brand? Could young VP Peter Nelson get a title upgrade? I messaged him and hadn't heard back. You'll note that Hershman is an attorney by trade, a reality he shares with the guy running Showtimes' boxing business, Stephen Espinoza. It might be an indictment of the sport and the wider world that maybe being a lawyer is seen as an overwhelming attribute for whoever, or maybe we get a more hardcore “boxing” guy to gain steering status.
Readers, feel free to offer your take on this development, what it might mean for HBO boxing, any theories on the new chief…
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Here is the release HBO sent out announcing the surprise shift:
Ken Hershman Announces Decision to Step Down as President of HBO Sports® at the End of 2015
Oct. 30, 2015 — Ken Hershman, who has led HBO Sports since 2012, will step down from his current role as President of the division at the end of the year. The announcement was made today by HBO.
Hershman, who will remain in his role through the end of December, will work with Mike Lombardo, President, HBO Programming, on a smooth transition of the leadership role in the sports division.
“Ken’s dedication and commitment to our sports division is deeply appreciated,” said Lombardo. “His approach to rebuilding our boxing franchise was strategic and creative which led HBO Sports to great success. All of us here are grateful and proud of the success Ken and the HBO Sports team have had over the past four years in delivering unparalleled sports programming to our subscribers. We wish him all the best in his next challenge.”
With nearly a quarter-century of television experience, Hershman departs HBO with the sports division enjoying a record-setting year.
“I am particularly proud of what I accomplished and believe now is the perfect time to hand over the reins to someone new,” said Hershman. “I’ve had the distinct privilege of having been involved in many of boxing’s biggest and most thrilling moments, including the Mike Tyson era, creating the Super Six Tournament, and, staging the biggest pay-per-view event of all-time this past May in Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. I have also had the privilege to steward over some of the best sports shows on television, including 24/7, Real Sports and Hard Knocks, and to work with some of the best talent in television, both behind and in front of the camera.”
“HBO Sports is well positioned for the future, especially in the boxing arena, with nine of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the sport today, including the world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Miguel Cotto, Andre Ward, Terence Crawford and many others. I cannot wait to watch these great fighters exhibit their skills, but from the vantage point of a passionate boxing fan,” said Hershman.
Hershman joined HBO from Showtime, where he had been Executive Vice President, General Manager, Showtime Sports & Event Programming since October 2003. He developed the innovative “Super Six World Boxing Classic” and spearheaded the acquisition of the NFL franchise “Inside the NFL,” which won the Sports Emmy for Outstanding Studio Show in its first year under Hershman’s administration.
Hershman joined Showtime in July 1992 as Counsel, and was elevated to a senior programming role in January 2001. Prior to Showtime, Hershman was an associate at the law firm of Shearman & Sterling in their Corporate Finance group. Hershman is a graduate of the Fordham University School of Law, where he was a member of the International Law Journal and received his B.A. degree With Distinction from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. in 1985.