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After 45 years in the ring, HBO is bailing on boxing.
The premium network will no longer carry live and pay-per-view fights. HBO Sports president Peter Nelson broke the news, which had been rumored for weeks, to the network’s boxing production staff on Thursday morning. Later in the afternoon, HBO put out a statement explaining the decision, which largely came down to the proliferation of the sport on myriad platforms, including on ESPN as well as its OTT service.
“Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades. During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation. It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services,” read the statement. “There is more boxing than ever being televised and distributed. In some cases, this programming is very good. But from an entertainment point of view, it’s not unique.”
The decision means that HBO also will jettison the shoulder programming that surrounded the fights and will no longer need the services of several of its boxing commentators, including Harold Lederman and former boxers Roy Jones Jr. and Andre Ward. Max Kellerman, the ESPN host who appeared with Jim Lampley on the network’s boxing programming, is also expected to wrap up his duties at HBO. Lampley, however, is expected to remain.
The network’s first fight was the 1973 heavyweight bout between George Foreman and Joe Frazier, which Foreman won with a knockout. The last bout is likely to be a middleweight title fight at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27.
But HBO Sports has been pivoting away from boxing for some time; the budget for the sport has been reduced at the pay network. And the major fighters they had left – including Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, who is promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy – had recently revealed that their deals with HBO had ended. Meanwhile, Showtime, which like HBO has a long tradition in the sport, has emerged as the No. 1 TV destination for boxing with a large roster of stars.
At the same time, HBO has invested in sports-themed storytelling such as this fall’s edition of 24/7 highlighting the upcoming Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match play; LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s upcoming Student Athlete, which bows Tuesday; and the two-part Muhammad Ali documentary set for 2019.
Meanwhile, Fox recently finalized a four-year deal to carry Al Haymon’s Premiere Boxing Champions on the broadcast network and FS1. (Haymon also extended his Showtime deal for another three years.) And last summer, ESPN announced a seven-year deal with Bob Arum and Todd duBoef’s Top Rank.
“We are a storytelling platform,” continued the HBO statement. “The future will see unscripted series, long-form documentary films, reality programming, sports journalism, event specials and more unique standout content from HBO Sports.”
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