Boxing and network television had a messy divorce in the early 1980s, ending a long and fruitful relationship and leaving fight fans scrambling to see the best fighters compete.
For nearly three decades, the sport has been a cable staple, but almost invisible on the networks.
Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum's most fervent wish is to return the sport to network television before he leaves the game.
Arum, 79, believes the deal that he reached with Showtime and CBS to promote, produce and distribute the May 7 pay-per-view bout between pound-for-pound champion Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley may be the first step down that path.
"I would want for nothing more than for my legacy to be that I brought boxing back to network television," Arum said. "For me, that would supersede any extra money we'd make on this event. More than anything, I want people to say that Bob Arum was able to get it done and get boxing back on network television."
Showtime has largely been out of the pay-per-view business in recent years and hasn't done a pay-per-view bout since Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo II in 2005. As a result, when Arum announced the deal for Pacquiao to fight Mosley, it was assumed that it would wind up on HBO Pay-Per-View.
Pacquiao has averaged over 1 million sales per fight in each of his last five fights on HBO Pay-Per-View and has become, along with rival Floyd Mayweather Jr., the biggest attraction in the sport. By putting many of the promotional materials for the fight on CBS, Arum will reach an audience of 115 million television households.
Arum, who considers CBS Corp. president and CEO Les Moonves a friend, said it has not been determined exactly how CBS will be involved. But similar to what HBO did with its "24/7" series, Showtime is going to produce a four-part series that will follow the fighters on the buildup to the match that it calls Fight Camp 360. The episodes, Arum said, will air live on CBS first and then on Showtime, except for the final one. That one, which will run through the weigh-in, will be on Showtime live first and then will be repeated on May 7, the day of the fight, on CBS.
There have been reports that the CBS Morning Show would be based in Las Vegas the week of the fight, but Arum said that is premature.
"We're working with CBS to see which assets will be available, but I have a firm commitment from Les Moonves that he will lend his full support to this project," Arum said.
One of the problems boxing has faced in a bid to get back on network television, Arum said, has been finding sponsors. And because it has been so long since it has been on the networks, Arum said advertising salespeople no longer know how to sell it.
He insisted there is no philosophical argument against boxing at any of the networks, but particularly not at CBS, which has aired several mixed martial arts events over the past few years. Duk Koo Kim died from injuries he sustained in a 1982 fight with Ray Mancini in a bout from Las Vegas that was broadcast live on CBS, but Arum said the networks have no moral issues with the sport.
"There is no objection to boxing except for the sense that they believe it is not saleable," Arum said. "In other words, they can't get sponsor support. The reason they can't get it is that it's like a Catch 22. The reason they can't get sponsor support is because nobody in the networks knows how to sell it because they haven't sold it in so long. It's almost like a self-fulfilling kind of thing.
"Hopefully, we'll be able here to disprove that, because I believe we'll get great sponsor support for the Fight Camp 360. That will, I think, reinvigorate them and if there is money, the sales staff gets greedy. Everybody gets greedy."
Arum said he thinks the additional exposure the fight will garner because of its spots on CBS will improve the pay-per-view performance. He is not, though, expecting to have difficulty working with HBO and said he'd consider going back to HBO if it would make one of its sister networks like TBS or TNT available in a similar manner.
He said Top Rank has been talking with Moonves and CBS for more than two years about such a deal.
He is hopeful that it will change the landscape of boxing in a positive way.
"There are a lot of great things going on in this sport, but it's like we have a great product and no place to show it off," Arum said. "(Network executives) have no innate objection to boxing and they know it gets good ratings compared to other sports, but they believe they can't get sponsor support.
"But if through this fight, with Manny Pacquiao, we can do that and convince them that boxing can be a viable concern on network television, then think of what we've done. We haven't only benefitted Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley and the people involved in this one fight. We've done something for the entire industry. That's the kind of thing I've been trying to do for years now and I'm excited that we're one step closer."
- Manny Pacquiao
- Bob Arum
- Shane Mosley