ESPN is dipping its toe into the boxing waters, and that can only be a good thing for the sport. Having significant bouts on ESPN's main channel will give boxing the kind of visibility it hasn't had in years.
Or, we should say, potential visibility.
That's because the first ESPN boxing card was an unmitigated disaster ratings-wise. The heavyweight title fight between IBF/WBA/WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko and challenger Alex Leapai from Germany on April 26 attracted just 468,000 viewers.
The card began at 5 p.m. ET and attracted nearly a million fewer viewers than ESPN typically averages in that time slot. ESPN's normal rating at 5 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon is 1.4 million.
This is likely for several reasons, including a distinct lack of marketing effort and virtually no media coverage in the U.S.
Klitschko's promotional company, K2, did little outreach with the U.S. media, and didn't even bother to do a conference call to help bring awareness to the bout. It was a minor league operation and all but totally ignored the U.S. market that Klitschko himself says he wants to tap.
ESPN has another heavyweight title fight next week, when it will air the WBC heavyweight title bout between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola in prime time from Los Angeles on May 10. Of course, it will be competing with NBA and NHL playoffs, a UFC card on Fox Sports 1 and Major League Baseball. Given that Stiverne is largely an unknown and Arreola hasn't been in the spotlight for a while, it's questionable how well the show will perform.
Hopefully, it will do better than the Klitschko-Leapai fight did, because it would be great for the sport if ESPN kept an interest in big-time or even quasi-big-time fights.