The narrative surrounding boxing over the past 10 years is that it is a sport in decline, and clearly, HBO bought into that by electing to part ways with it. But that is not at all the approach of the other networks. Instead, ESPN and DAZN have joined Showtime in going all-in on bringing the sport back. Yesterday, FOX officially joined in by announcing several marquee matches with Al Haymon’s PBC. With all this said, in order for these networks to truly have success with in the sport’s resurgence, they must find superstars.
There are several reasons to get involved with boxing in 2018. The sport still has a dedicated niche following that will pay and consume the sport in any way they have to. That is due to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young, talented fighters such as Vasyl Lomachenko, Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., and Mikey Garcia to only name a few. The problem is none of them have the personality to be stars, therefore, they are outside the mainstream when it comes to generating buzz. It would be a shocking revelation if we found out these networks only decided to get into boxing for the hardcore fans. ESPN signed a seven-year deal with Top Rank with the goal of it being a crucial part of their new streaming service ESPN+, DAZN is spending big money on their brand including signing Canelo Alvarez to the richest sports deal of all-time, and FOX is going to produce pay per view fights with its landmark deal with PBC which has a great roster. Those agreements, without question, spell out mainstream aspirations that can only be done with superstars.
Technically, DAZN is ahead right now with rights to boxing’s biggest draw Canelo, but even they too will need more. Canelo is nowhere near the draw of the sports top stars in the past and does not have the skillset to ensure long-term success.
This problem was glaring just last week when boxing was finally making headlines once again. That was a positive, but the negative was that it was in regards to the maybe retired Floyd Mayweather fighting in Japan in a fight that may have not even have aired on any of these networks going all-in.
There is a good chance Showtime, the dean of these networks as an already established boxing brand, does cash in at some point with Mayweather again in a Manny Pacquiao rematch. If and when that happens though, it will do literally nothing for the well-being of the sport going forward.
Boxing is an individual sport that is not just star-driven, but star-reliant. In order for ESPN’s Top Rank, FOX’s new PBC deal, or for DAZN to really make a splash in bringing back boxing, it will need to be done with a Mayweather-type personality as well an in-ring game that is nearly unbeatable. That person does not currently exist or is not currently being exposed.
This is not to say that the networks will take a hit or vehemently regret these deals if no true superstar is found, but it is to say they may think twice before continuing to take the opposite approach of HBO.
Boxing is in a good place, and the newly signed deals indicate the expectation is it will need to be in a better than “good” place.