End of an era: HBO announces it is leaving boxing

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson (R), shown with Spike Lee, is one of many stars in boxing who appeared on HBO. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson (R), shown with Spike Lee, is one of many stars in boxing who appeared on HBO. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

HBO, the network that once billed itself as “the heart and soul of boxing,” announced on Thursday that it is leaving the boxing business. The story was first reported by The New York Times.

It was not an entirely unexpected decision, as HBO Sports had been far less aggressive in recent years in bidding for fights, and other outlets began spending money on boxing. In the last year, ESPN and Fox both have announced long-term commitments to boxing on television, while ESPN has also added an online streaming service that includes a significant amount of boxing coverage.

Another streaming service, DAZN, debuted in the U.S. last week with Anthony Joshua’s seventh-round stoppage of Alexander Povetkin in their IBF-WBA-WBO heavyweight title fight, and is heavily invested in the sport. And HBO’s long-time rival, Showtime, has recently made a partnership with the Premier Boxing Champions, headed by Al Haymon.

HBO released a statement Thursday announcing its departure:

Our mission at HBO Sports is to elevate the brand. We look for television projects that are high-profile, high-access, and highly ambitious in the stories they seek to tell and the quality of production in telling them.

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.

We’re deeply indebted to the many courageous fighters whose careers we were privileged to cover.

There have been hundreds of dedicated and remarkably creative men and women who have delivered the best in television production for HBO’s coverage of boxing and we are so grateful for their contributions.  It has been a wonderful journey chronicling the careers and backstories of so many spectacularly talented prizefighters.

We are a storytelling platform. The future will see unscripted series, long-form documentary films, reality programming, sports journalism, event specials and more unique standout content from HBO Sports.

We are constantly evaluating our programming to determine what resonates with our subscribers.  Our audience research clearly shows the type of programming our subscribers embrace. For HBO Sports, it’s programming that viewers can’t find elsewhere.

In keeping with this mission, we’ve accelerated our commitment to storytelling.  This has produced landmark shows like “Andre the Giant,” which is the most viewed sports documentary ever on HBO; the acclaimed NFL reality franchise “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cleveland Browns,” which delivered double-digit viewership gains from a year ago; “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” the gold standard in sports journalism on television; the powerful docu-series “Being Serena” that chronicled the comeback of tennis icon Serena Williams; and the acclaimed unfiltered talk series “The Shop” featuring LeBron James.

This fall, HBO Sports will present an edition of “24/7” highlighting the upcoming Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match play plus engaging documentary films like “Student Athlete” and “Momentum Generation” brought to us by accomplished filmmakers. In 2019, we will have the innovative multi-part documentary presentation “What’s My Name|Muhammad Ali” from director Antoine Fuqua in conjunction with executive producers LeBron James and Maverick Carter of SpringHill Entertainment.

Other new ventures will be announced in the weeks ahead as HBO Sports continues to explore new frontiers in sports programming.

HBO was a little known outlet that mostly aired reruns of movies when it got into boxing by televising the historic 1973 heavyweight title fight between Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Frazier was the undefeated champion, only 22 months removed from his epic victory over Muhammad Ali, but Foreman knocked Frazier down six times and stopped him in the second round.

From that, it developed into the most powerful force in boxing, airing the most significant fights and the sport’s biggest stars.

The last show on its schedule is an Oct. 27 bout for the vacant IBF middleweight title between Daniel Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

HBO’s Larry Merchant interviews Floyd Mayweather Jr. after he defeated Miguel Cotto in 2012 in Las Vegas. Merchant and Mayweather were long-time staples of HBO boxing. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
HBO’s Larry Merchant interviews Floyd Mayweather Jr. after he defeated Miguel Cotto in 2012 in Las Vegas. Merchant and Mayweather were long-time staples of HBO boxing. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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