Boxing Bunkers Down On HBO for 2009

January 19, 2009

Broadcasting and Cable has an interesting piece on the performance of boxing on PPV during 2008 and a shift over to having more, bigger fights on HBO in 2009:

In 2008, HBO Pay Per View offered eight events, bringing in $190 million in revenue based on 3.7 million buys.

But as the economy worsened, buy rates began to drop. Even midsize events that were projected at 300,000 buys were dipping below 200,000. A big December fight between PPV king Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao did garner nearly 1.3 million buys, but sponsor rebates may have padded that figure.

HBO’s shift means satellite and cable providers will have fewer pay-per-view boxing events in 2009. The network probably won’t do its first PPV bout until May, a proposed fight between fan-favorites Ricky Hatton and Pacquiao. By May of last year, HBO had already done four events.

“It’s tough to get people excited about dishing out 50 bucks every month in this economy,” Greenburg says. “Everyone overreached in 2008; there were too many pay-per-view events.”

That last quote is makes the PPV record set by the UFC in 2008 all the more impressive. You could argue that the UFC overreached in 08 just as much as the others (in regards to the number of events put on) but it paid off in spades, with a strong finish to the year in the last two events making the difference in a very good year and a great, record-breaking year.

One telling quote in the article HBO head Ross Greenburg hints at one step that can be taken to shore up boxing:

“The sport needs more eyeballs,” he says. “It’s ironic, but while in bad times you’d expect the sport to suffer, it could actually trigger the opposite effect.”

PPV and HBO by their very pay network nature are provincial, limiting entities. HBO is often used as a fall-back for cards that appear on PPV the week before, and the ideal way to get more eyeballs on the sport is to work towards a similar deal with the cards that appear on HBO. Some type of tie-in with an ESPN or maybe a over the air network week-end slot would serve that end. HBO needs to look beyond seeing itself as the only place for high end boxing, but move towards the concept of being the first, live option for boxing. This isn’t a silver bullet to solve boxing’s woes but it is one of the things that will get boxing back on track to health.

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