Despite split with Golden Boy, HBO still dominates cable ratings in big boxing year

Yahoo Sports

By many standards, 2013 was a disastrous year for the boxing program on HBO Sports. In February, boxing's biggest star, Floyd Mayweather Jr., bolted HBO to sign a massive, six-fight, 30-month contract with rival Showtime.

After HBO subsequently announced it would no longer do business with Golden Boy Promotions, HBO lost both Bernard Hopkins and Adrien Broner. In 2012 while fighting on HBO, Hopkins attracted the second-largest audience to a bout on cable and Broner drew the fourth-largest.

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Both men finished the year fighting on Showtime, with Broner headlining a card on the network in San Antonio next week against Marcos Maidana.

[Also: Shawn Porter ready for his shot at IBF welterweight champ Devon Alexander ]

Because of Mayweather, Showtime took over as the sport's leading pay-per-view distributor, selling more than three million units spanning Mayweather's two fights in 2013. HBO offered two pay-per-view bouts, featuring Timothy Bradley over Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao over Brandon Rios, which combined didn't reach 900,000.

But the year didn't wind up as badly for HBO as that narrative would suggest. HBO remained the leading network in terms of ratings for boxing on cable TV by a wide margin in 2013. HBO-televised bouts accounted for 19 of the top 20 and 21 of the top 25 most-watched cable fights in 2013.

That does not include pay-per-view replays and is limited to the rating for the live, first-time airing of the bouts. The rating used is also the average for the fight (not the broadcast) and does not include the peak number.

Because of HBO's decision to end its relationship with Golden Boy after Mayweather went to Showtime, the promoter wasn't forced to split its talent between the rival premium cable networks. Instead, Golden Boy put its top fighters exclusively onto Showtime in the year's final 10 months.

That led to deeper and more compelling shows on Showtime than in the past, while it also forced HBO to develop new stars to replace those it lost to Showtime.

It worked out fabulously for the boxing fan on both ends, as 2013 turned out to be arguably the best year of the 2000s with three live cards – Saturday and Dec. 14 on Showtime and Saturday on HBO – remaining to be aired.

Stephen Espinoza, the general manager and executive vice president of Showtime Sports, agreed that having access to all of Golden Boy's top fights turned out to be a boon for Showtime.

"HBO effectively removed itself from competition for what I feel is the deepest talent pool of any promoter, so that's part of [our success]," Espinoza said. "But you're also seeing a different type of commitment from both the promoter and the network. Even if Golden Boy isn't in business with HBO, they don't have to match their fighters tough and they don't have to do real matchups on the [Showtime] Extreme shows, but they do.

"They consistently did both. They didn't have to do [Danny] Garcia versus [Lucas] Matthysse [on the Mayweather-Alvarez undercard], but they did. They don't have to put on competitive fights for the hardcore fans on the Extreme shows, but they do. That's a commitment there. But it's also a similar commitment from the network side.

"We didn't have to put the level of resources, both production and otherwise, to do tripleheaders and quadrupleheaders that we did. We didn't have to add the resources to commit a couple of hours on Extreme. But it's something we believe our subscribers want and boxing fans want, so we did that."

Faced with a far more formidable foe than it saw in the past, HBO was forced to respond, and to its credit, it did.

HBO needed to develop attractions to replace the fighters it lost to Showtime. Had HBO continued to work with Golden Boy, it is likely that HBO would have aired Broner several times – Broner was calling himself "Mr. HBO" as 2013 dawned – as well as Garcia and perhaps even Hopkins.

But when those fighters moved with Golden Boy to Showtime, HBO essentially replaced them with Adonis Stevenson, Sergey Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin.

All three have been big hits on HBO and look to be among the standard bearers for the network going forward.

Golovkin's Nov. 2 bout with Curtis Stevens stands as the year's third-most watched cable bout, with 1.4 million viewers. Stevenson's knockout of Tony Bellew on Nov. 30 was the fifth-most viewed bout on cable, with 1.3 million viewers. And Kovalev's second-round destruction of Ismayl Sillakh on the Stevenson-Bellew undercard is the eighth-most watched bout on cable, also at 1.3 million.

Showtime, though, had an extraordinary year with boxing in 2013 by any measure and came to be viewed by some as the network of choice.

In 2012, only two Showtime fights (Miguel Cotto-Austin Trout and Canelo Alvarez-Josesito Lopez) drew 1 million or more viewers.

In 2013, that figure jumped to four. Broner-Paulie Malignaggi on June 22 drew 1.3 million, placing it sixth for the year to this point and making it the second most-viewed Showtime bout, behind only Cotto-Trout, since 2004, when Nielsen began individually measuring multiplex channels.

Showtime also exceeded 1 million viewers with Alvarez-Trout (1.1 million, 20th for the year); Hopkins-Karo Murat (1 million, 23rd for the year); and Peter Quillin-Gabriel Rosado (1.0 million, 25th for the year).

Both networks put on a string outstanding fights. Among those that have to be considered for the 2013 Fight of the Year are a slew of matches that aired on either HBO or Showtime. Among those are HBO's Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov; Rios-Mike Alvarado II; Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler II and Alvarado-Provodnikov.

Showtime offered Fight of the Year candidates such as Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa; Mickey Bey-John Molina; Maidana-Josesito Lopez; Andre Berto-Jesus Soto Karass and Keith Thurman-Diego Chaves.

"What I'm most proud of is that we've been able to present a sustained, continuous effort with competitive fights from top to bottom on each card," Espinoza said.

Ultimately, what this is all about is one simple fact: For years, boxing fans have craved competitive, action bouts between the best fighters.

In 2013, promoters and the two premium cable networks delivered those kinds of matches and, not surprisingly, the fans responded by tuning in.

Hopefully, it's only a harbinger of things to come.

When 2013 is officially committed to the history books, it won't be remembered from a boxing standpoint as HBO's year or Showtime's year.

Instead, 2013 will be remembered as The Year of the Fan, when the boxing fans finally got the fights they most wanted to see on a weekly basis.

Clearly, that's a trend worth continuing.

Top 25 cable bouts in 2013
1. Miguel Cotto-Delvin Rodriguez: 1.6 million
HBO, Oct. 5
2. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Bryan Vera: 1.4 million
HBO, Sept. 28
3. Gennady Golovkin-Curtis Stevens: 1.4 million
HBO, Nov. 2
4. Adrien Broner-Gavin Rees: 1.4 million
HBO, Feb. 16
5. Adonis Stevenson-Tony Bellew: 1.3. million
HBO, Nov. 30
6. Paul Malignaggi-Adrien Broner: 1.3 million
Showtime, June 22
7. Mikey Garcia-Juan Manuel Lopez: 1.3 million
HBO, June 15
8. Sergey Kovalev-Ismayl Sillakh: 1.3 million
HBO, Nov. 30
9. Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov: 1.2 million
HBO, March 16
10. Bernard Hopkins-Tavoris Cloud: 1.2 million
HBO, March 9
11. Andre Ward-Edwin Rodriguez: 1.2 million
HBO, Nov. 16
12. Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado II: 1.2 million
HBO, March 30
13. Mike Alvarado-Ruslan Provodnikov: 1.2 million
HBO, Oct. 19
14. Adonis Stevenson-Tavoris Cloud: 1.2 million
HBO, Sept. 28
15. Nonito Donaire-Guillermo Rigondeaux: 1.1 million
HBO, April 13
16. Mikey Garcia-Rocky Martinez: 1.1 million
HBO, Nov. 9
17. Bud Crawford-Andrey Klimov: 1.1 million
HBO, Oct. 5
18. Bud Crawford-Alejandro Sanabria: 1.1 million
HBO, June 15
19. Gennady Golovkin-Matthew Macklin: 1.1 million
HBO, June 29
20. Canelo Alvarez-Austin Trout: 1.1 million
Showtime, April 20
21. Nonito Donaire-Vic Darchinyan II: 1.0 million
HBO, Nov. 9
22. Chad Dawson-Adonis Stevenson: 1.0 million
HBO, June 8
23. Bernard Hopkins-Karo Murat: 1.0 million
Showtime, Oct. 26
24. Sakio Bika-Nikola Sjekloca: 1.0 million
HBO, Feb. 16
25. Peter Quillin-Gabriel Rosado: 1.0 million
Showtime, Oct. 26
Source: Nielsen Media Research




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