Greenburg out as president of HBO Sports
Unable to absorb the body blows he was receiving from critics any longer, Ross Greenburg took his 51 Sports Emmy Awards and eight Peabody Awards and opted to end his run at HBO.
The 56-year-old Greenburg said Sunday that he will tender his resignation as president of HBO Sports on Monday, ending 33 years of service with the premium cable network, the last 10-plus as head of its sports division.
He had been under fire from boxing promoters, most frequently Top Rank’s Bob Arum, as well as many critics for what was perceived to be a poor track record of buying fights and showing favoritism to certain promoters and managers.
The handwriting seemed to be on the wall for Greenburg when Arum took Manny Pacquiao, one of the sport’s two biggest draws, to rival Showtime for his May fight with Shane Mosley.
Greenburg, though, insisted he is leaving of his own accord and was not pushed out. He said he simply became weary of the backbiting and the contentious negotiations with many of the promoters, most of whom were angry about his close relationship with Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions.
“I started to feel like a ticket agent at the airport when all the flights had been canceled with a lot of angry passengers in front of me looking to get on a plane and go home,” Greenburg said.
He had his share of successes, putting together the 2007 match between De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr., which set a pay-per-view record with 2.45 million sales, as well as playing a role in the making of the long-anticipated 2002 heavyweight title match between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. Ultimately, though, there were far too many tepid fight cards, and promoters felt Greenburg looked down his nose instead of working with them to boost the business.
A brilliant documentarian, Greenburg’s work received great critical acclaim. He founded Real Sports in 1995, the network’s highly successful magazine show that did some groundbreaking stories. He also created the 24-7 documentary series in 2007 which made Mayweather a star and helped to increase pay-per-view revenues on the fights it documented were among the show’s highlights.
But there were a number of high-profile flops, including the Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander super lightweight title unification bout in January. The bout was a disaster in the ring, and Greenburg came under intense criticism for not only the high purses he paid both fighters but also for guaranteeing them each return bouts on HBO for more than $1 million apiece in order to take the fight with each other.
The critics feasted upon that, pointing out that smaller rival Showtime was landing far superior fights for far less money.
Showtime began making headway on HBO Sports six-to-seven years ago when it opted to adopt a “great fights, no rights” policy and walked away from the long-term guaranteed contracts for boxers that were the norm in the industry at the time. That led Showtime to land many epic bouts, none of which was better than Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I in 2005, at a bargain-basement price compared to what HBO Sports was paying.
Greenburg conceded on Sunday that it “hurt, a lot,” to lose Pacquiao to Showtime earlier this year. Unable to work out a deal with Greenburg for a May fight with Shane Mosley, Arum and his stepson, Top Rank president Todd duBoef, took the Pacquiao-Mosley fight to Showtime.
Arum was lauded for the revolutionary deal, which took advantage of the vast audience of CBS to help promote the fight. The bout did a shade under 1.4 million sales on pay-per-view, and had been the type of bout that for the last 15 years had gone to HBO almost without fail.
Greenburg said losing Pacquiao was one of his two regrets upon leaving along with not being able to make a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. He denied losing Pacquiao led to his undoing.
“I am not going to renew my contract and I’ll resign (on Monday),” Greenburg said. “To be honest, and you’ll have to take my word for this, I reached this conclusion three or four months ago, in March. I had just finally had enough of negotiating in the boxing business. I really, really enjoy it and I feel like boxing is in my blood and I feel like I’ve spent the last 33 years kind of taking the sport in a new and different direction.
“Boxing is a mean-spirited business. It got to be exhausting, very tiring. Obviously, we lost some fighters. Tyson went to Showtime, (Julio Cesar) Chavez, (Evander) Holyfield, and we lost certain fights to other networks. Most of them, though, came back. We lost our share, but won way more than our share, I’d say, but to some people, it was never enough and I just got tired of the constant grind.”
He said he has five movie projects he’s going to work on, and said he’s going to “see if anyone wants a piece of my creative brain” in terms of developing documentary-style programming.
Though he did far more for HBO Sports than just bring it championship boxing matches, the harsh reality is that he will largely be remembered for the decline in boxing ratings and interest during his tenure as president.
“We believe that Ross’ track record speaks for itself,” HBO co-President Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo, President of HBO Programming, said in a joint statement released by the network. “He has helped re-define the sports programming genre and set an extraordinary standard of excellence in the industry. We will miss his leadership, vision, creativity and passion for sports television.”
One of Greenburg’s problems was that he didn’t have a Lou DiBella at his disposal. DiBella, now one of boxing’s leading promoters, worked for Greenburg’s predecessor, Seth Abraham, and helped put together matches.
DiBella has a sixth sense for knowing which matches to make, and is the person who came up with the concept for HBO’s successful “Boxing After Dark” series.
Without someone like DiBella, who had great connections in the industry and an intimate knowledge of what would make a great match, Greenburg struggled to keep the boxing program at the level it had been during Abraham’s tenure.
Greenburg said he would recommend his successor “take a physical prior to your first day, work out a lot and stay in shape, because it’s a grind.” He said his successor will need to reinvigorate boxing because it will continue to be the network’s flagship sports offering.
“Boxing is the only live sporting event on the network and it’s been a staple all 33 years I’ve been there,” Greenburg said. “I know HBO Sports and HBO in general has every intention of keeping boxing on top of the mantle. The question is whether in the next 10 years, boxing will keep itself afloat. That’s going to be the challenge.”
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