HBO’s 45 year relationship with the Sweet Science is now a few weeks from ending. The network announced today that they will no longer carry any boxing programming after October 27, the date of the IBF middleweight title match between Danny Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.
The news had been rumored since last year following the departure of Top Rank to ESPN. The promotion recently finalized a seven-year deal with ESPN to air 54 fights next year. Other competitors include Showtime, who’ve aired 22 live events this year. The online streaming startup DAZN showcased their biggest fight last week when unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua knocked out Alexander Povetkin. And Premier Boxing Champions, who work regularly with Showtime, also announced a multi-year deal with Fox Sports.
“Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades,” said HBO in a prepared statement. “During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation. It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services. 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.”
Boxing fans were hopeful that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, HBO’s parent company, would result in an influx of cash to fund more events. The network had scaled back heavily this year, focusing on less expensive cards like their super flyweight series. Their biggest boxing event was this month’s Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin rematch that generated 1.1 million pay-per-view buys.
However, HBO has seen stronger ratings from their new original programming, such as LeBron James’s Barbershop ensemble talk-show and the five-part Being Serena mini-series.
“We are a storytelling platform,” HBO’s statement continued. “The future will see unscripted series, long-form documentary films, reality programming, sports journalism, event specials and more unique standout content from HBO Sports.
“We are constantly evaluating our programming to determine what resonates with our subscribers. Our audience research clearly shows the type of programming our subscribers embrace. For HBO Sports, it’s programming that viewers can’t find elsewhere.”
Several HBO boxing mainstays are now free agents. Alvarez and Golovkin will have to find a new home for their remaining fights and possible rubber match. Commentators Max Kellerman, Roy Jones and Andre Ward will be let go. Jim Lampley remains with the company.
HBO began their boxing involvement in 1973 with George Foreman’s title-winning second round knockout of Joe Frazier. Since then they have aired over 1000 fights.
Calling this the end of an era almost feels trite. It doesn’t quite do justice to how important HBO has been to boxing over the last several decades. When the national television networks abandoned the sports in the 80s, it was HBO who took up the cause and promoted the sport’s biggest attractions. They chronicled Mike Tyson’s ascent up the ranks (and first upset loss), Foreman’s improbable comeback, the emergence of the smaller fighters with Naseem Hamed and countless more legendary moments.
Despite that, I’m not too broken up about the news. This year is the first time I’ve felt the overall boxing industry is taking steps to modernize the sport and reach younger demographics. Pay-per-view effectively died (and good riddance) with Mayweather-Pacquiao. Streaming platforms and steady dates to keep fan-favorites active are the ways the sport will attract news fans. On paper, the recent DAZN, ESPN and Showtime deals reflect that philosophy.
Thank you for all the memories, HBO. Enjoy your boxing retirement.