Starting in 2019, HBO won’t be in the boxing business anymore. That’ll mean fights in the future will be up for grabs by a bevy of competing services.
The New York Times reported that HBO Executive Vice President Peter Nelson met with the HBO Boxing production staff today to inform them of the decision. The only person expected to be retained is play-by-play man Jim Lampley. Nelson recently said there wasn’t a significant audience for the sport anymore, at least on HBO. The press release echoed that sentiment in expectedly vague terms:
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. 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.
Going forward in 2019, we will be pivoting away from programming live boxing on HBO. As always, we will remain open to looking at events that fit our programming mix. This could include boxing, just not for the foreseeable future.
A slew of competitors, primarily streaming services, will vie for matches in the future. DAZN, owned by Perform Group, costs $9.99 a month and was just introduced to the United States earlier this month. More familiar names, like ESPN’s ESPN+ and Showtime, will also look to host fights, and Fox Sports this month signed a four-year deal with Premier Boxing Champions.
For HBO, which broadcast its first fight way back in 1973 (George Foreman TKOing Joe Frazier in the second round; it was only on the ABC rebroadcast of that fight where Howard Cosell would give his famous call), boxing just doesn’t do big business anymore. According to the Times, at its height, big HBO fights could draw 5 million viewers, or a third of the network’s total subscribers. Despite the subscriber base nearly tripling since then, HBO’s most-watched fight in 2018 drew only 1.3 million viewers.
“This is not a subjective decision,” Nelson said in a recent interview. “Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO.”
HBO’s final televised fight will be Daniel Jacobs vs. Sergiy Derevyanchenko on Oct. 27.