HBO Boxing Budget On “E?”

There have been indicators here and there that HBO’s budget for boxing has been a little thin, but Maxboxing’s Steve Kim spells it out in this column:

..I’ve been told by more than one source in the industry that HBO’s remaining budget is relatively miniscule and they really don’t have that many dates left for the rest of 2009 (didn’t it just turn June?)…

Then, Kim puts it all in context:

…[It] means a couple of things from this vantage point: first, Showtime, which has been laying low recently, is in a pretty good position the rest of the calendar year to pick up some solid fights for a decent price tag. Secondly, fighters who are looking to perform a second and third team [sic?] this year better have promoters who are willing to be creative and look for opportunities to get them assignments, above and beyond just begging HBO for dates. In other words, they need to be promoters.

Also, they have to be realistic about the money that is available to them at this point in time.As for those small pay-per-view shows (or big ones for that matter) that all of you hate, well, it might be the only avenue in which to see many of your favorite fighters the rest of the year.

hbo.jpgOne has to wonder how this came to be, if true, and I don’t doubt that it is. HBO just turned down Wladimir Klitschko-Ruslan Chageav for the legitimate heavyweight championship of the world June 20, and on some levels, the move is totally defensible. There’s approximately a 100 percent chance that fight sucks, and haven’t we all be complaining about HBO televising Klitschko fights that suck? But the explicit reason HBO gave for saying “no” is that it wanted to save money for later in the year in case the Klitschko-David Haye fight returns, a fight that is a more appealing style clash. HBO has also said “no” to a few other fights fans were wanting, explicitly for money reasons, among them Tomasz Adamek-Bernard Hopkins for the cruiserweight championship (HBO has said it would prefer to broadcast that fight in 2010 because of the strain it would put on the 2009 budget). Therefore, the budget woes appear very real, and its effect is tangible — we, the HBO subscribers who are boxing fans, don’t get to see some fights we might like to see.

I think we all know HBO has been airing more desirable fights in 2009, at more reasonable prices than in the past, and they’re too be commended for it. But how could they have dug themselves a hole like this, this fast? I think you have to look at some fights for which they paid far too much, for starters. HBO may have improved in budget management, but it hasn’t been perfect, that’s for sure.

The network shelled out $6.5 million combined for the Paul Williams-Winky Wright middleweight clash and the rematch between light heavyweights Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver. Williams-Wright was worth broadcasting, but not at that price — reportedly, Wright had HBO over the barrel for that bout since they’d promised him some dates and kept pushing him back — and Dawson-Tarver II wasn’t worth broadcasting at all, but HBO apparently felt (wrongly) that it was the only way to get Dawson to move from Showtime to HBO. Then, the network shelled out a reported $15 million to lure Floyd Mayweather, Jr. back into the ring in a fight on July 18 that most consider a mismatch against Juan Manuel Marquez. I don’t deny the economic value Mayweather brings to the sport, but is it $15 million worth for this one fight, more than the network has paid any fighter this year? Especially when $200,000 more could have made Yuriorkis Gamboa-Celestino Caballero at featherweight happen (Showtime passed on the fight over that disputed gulf in price)? And these are just the cases we know about.

The economy is no doubt to blame for some of this. But poor planning by HBO and some poor decisions on how it spent its money also appear to account for a good deal of it.

My hope is that the first option — Showtime picking up more fights, boxers adjusting their expectations for how much money they deserve — is the way things go because of HBO’s budget hole, because I’m not crazy about spending an extra $50 or $100 a month as a result of Wright and Mayweather getting overpaid.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.