Showtime exits boxing after 37 years

Hagler could take it just as well as he dished it out. Photo: THE RING

It was difficult news to hear and connected like a gut punch. Though it had been rumored for months, no one was willing to believe it until the news finally came out Tuesday that Showtime Sports and Showtime Boxing, one of boxing’s media giants, will, regrettably, no longer exist after 37 years.

The news did not come as much of a shock to the boxing world, since it’s been out there for some time, but it was made official when Paramount Global, Showtime’s parent company, announced through a statement, “As we evolve our strategy to more efficiently allocate resources and align our content offering across the business, we’ve made the difficult decision not to move forward with boxing and other content produced by the SHOWTIME sports team. SHOWTIME will continue to air and support the remaining 2023 boxing slate and honor obligations through the end of the year. We want to express our deepest gratitude to our employees who have contributed to this award-winning sports programming over multiple decades.”

The news comes in the wake of possibly Showtime’s greatest year in the sport.

Stephen Espinoza, who was about to enter his 12th year in November as President of Showtime Sports, told RingTV earlier this year no year may equal 2023 for both Showtime and for Premier Boxing Champions with the fights that have been made and those that are scheduled to take place in the remainder of 2023.

The Paramount decision not only effects Showtime boxing, but Showtime Sports and the superlative team of Showtime Senior Vice President and Executive Producer David Dinkins Jr., Hall of Famer Al Bernstein, Showtime Senior Vice President Gordon Hall, Showtime Vice President of Sports & Event Marketing Sheila Mills, public relations guru Chris DeBlasio, Hall of Famer Jim Gray and Hall of Fame broadcaster Steve Farhood.

Al Haymon’s powerful Premier Boxing Champions had an exclusive deal with Showtime since 2013 and provided such fights as the Tank Davis-Ryan Garcia crossover megafight on April 22 in a PBC event on Showtime pay-per-view, which attracted a sellout crowd at the T-Mobile Arena and drew over a reported 1.2 million buys.

On Tuesday, Paramount president/CEO Chris McCarthy sent a letter to employes companywide that Showtime would not longer produce boxing or Bellator MMA on the network. In an email forwarded to RingTV.com, McCarthy explained, “As we continue to dedicate a larger percentage of our resources toward premium scripted series that drive subscribers for us in both Pay TV and SVOD, SHOWTIME will not be moving forward with boxing or other content produced by the SHOWTIME Sports and Event Program Team. The company’s decision isn’t a reflection of the work the team and our partners have done, rather a reality of the world evolving and our shifting content priorities.”

Showtime has televised 748 live boxing shows, and around 2,000 bouts. The first Showtime boxing event was on March 10, 1986, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas between world middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler and John “The Beast” Mugabi, in what historically proved to be Hagler’s last victory, since his next fight was against Ray Leonard on April 6, 1987.

Amazon has been one of the rumored landing places for PBC, but there could other possibilities in the works.

Showtime Boxing will still broadcast its Nov. 25 fight in Las Vegas between David Benavidez and Demetrius Andrade, and December 9th at the MGM that still needs to be determined who is fighting.

Espinoza released a statement obtained by RingTV.com that stated: “It is with profound disappointment that I shared this morning’s news that the company has decided to shut down Showtime Sports at the end of this year.

“For over 37 years, Showtime Sports and Event Programming has occupied an important position in the sports media ecosystem, delivering premium storytelling, bold and provocative documentaries, thoughtful analysis and discussion, and, of course, outstanding live production of the biggest combat sports events in history. We have helped illuminate the intersection of sports, culture and society, and we have boldly and unapologetically explored stories and themes that others couldn’t or wouldn’t. And we have done it all with the highest standards of care and quality.

“The company’s decision is not a reflection of the work we have done in recent years, nor of our long and proud history. It is not an indictment on the value we have delivered to this network for 37 years, nor, in particular, in 2023. Unfortunately, in a rapidly evolving media marketplace, the company has had to make difficult choices allocating resources, resetting priorities and reshaping its content offering.

“While today’s news is certainly difficult and disappointing, it is entirely out of our control. So, as we have done when faced with similar challenges in the past, we will control the things that we can control. We will continue to deliver on our promise to subscribers and our content partners for the remainder of the year; namely, to continue to deliver the highest quality, industry-leading boxing programming that has established us as the unequivocal No. 1 destination for the sport worldwide and to finish what we started in 2023, perhaps the best year in our department’s history.

“From Emmy Award-winning documentaries to the three highest-grossing pay-per-view events in television history, I am extremely proud of our content and our events – but I am far more proud of our people. Your diligence, dedication and passion have inspired me every day, and it is those qualities that will be the enduring legacy of Showtime Sports.”

Showtime leaves boxing almost exactly five years after HBO exited the sport in December 2018, after 45 years of boxing programming. It’s Showtime that produced the infamous “Bite Fight” between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield on June 28, 1997, for the WBA title in Las Vegas, and it was a Showtime that was the network of choice for Floyd Mayweather.

Canelo Alvarez, a future Hall of Famer and the current face of boxing, signed a three-fight with PBC with the expectation that his fights would be shown on Showtime.

“A lot of people are scrambling right now,” said a well-placed boxing source who asked not to be identified. “Everyone knew it was coming. I don’t think they believed it until it actually happened. Well, it happened. Who knows where boxing goes from here?”

It’s a question many boxing people are trying to figure out.

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Follow @JSantoliquito

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