HBO has announced it will drop live boxing from its programming calendar after 45 years and 1000+ fights, following its October 27 card (featuring Daniel Jacobs); declining ratings (their Sept. 8 card was the lowest rated in network history) and increased competition (both from within the sport and MMA) were catalysts in the network’s decision. HBO Sports VP Peter Nelson said, “this is not a subjective decision. Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO.” HBO Sports will continue to produce “unscripted series (think: The Shop), long-form documentary films (think: Andre the Giant), reality programming (think: Being Serena, Hard Knocks), sports journalism.”
Howie Long-Short: For all the increased exposure that DAZN and ESPN+ bring to the sport, DAZN’s entry into the U.S. market and ESPN’s introduction of the live streaming platform have significantly raised the costs associated with carrying fights. HBO decided it would rather spend on developing original programming (think: Game of Thrones), than compete with DAZN, ESPN+, Showtime and Fox Sports for fights; Nelson added, “from an entertainment POV, it’s not unique. There’s plenty of boxing out there.”
Boxing’s impact on HBO’s success as a network is undeniable. By the early 90’s, fights on the network were attracting 1/3 of the company’s +/- 15-million-person subscription base. That percentage declined to +/- 2% (820,000 of the company’s +/- 40 million subscribers) ’18, which explains why boxing is no longer a profitable endeavor for Home Box Office.
There’s no doubt that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner (HBO’s parent company) expedited the network’s decision to drop boxing, “once the merger went through, there was pressure on HBO to overhaul its model with a great focus on profits.”
Speaking of which, T issued its first earnings report (Q2) with the Time Warner properties under its umbrella. The WarnerMedia division (former Time Warner assets) reported a +7% YoY revenue increase to $7.8 billion (HBO “delivered strong subscriber revenue growth”), $1.1 billion of which was included in AT&T’s consolidated results; accounting for the 16 days between closing and the end of the quarter. The news wasn’t all positive though, cord cutting and the shift to internet video had AT&T’s Entertainment division (think: DirecTV) reporting a -8% YoY decline (to $11.7 billion). Earnings rose 15% YoY (to $.91/share), but the mixed results had share prices falling -4.5% on the news; they’ve since recovered and will open at $33.58 on Monday 10.1.
Fan Marino: HBO’s impact on the sport should not be underestimated. The premium cable network offered boxing a platform at a time when broadcast television was unwilling to assume the risk of carrying fights (see: ’82 death of Duk Koo Kim from injuries sustained during a nationally televised fight), but before PPV truly took off (’91); and the network remained the sport’s premier network through the 2000s.
While the network had been surpassed by Showtime in recent years, it had Canelo Alvarez/Gennady Golvkin II on HBO PPV on September 15th, which did 1.1 million buys. Those 2 fighters, the marquee names within the HBO stable, will become free-agents permitted to sign with another network (or streaming service).
Fun Fact: HBO’s first card (’73) concluded with George Foreman knocking out heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Here’s the footage!
Interested in Sports Business? Sign-up for our free daily email newsletter list, here!