We’re halfway through 2015, and it’s well on its way to being one of the biggest years for U.S. boxing viewership on the TV in some time. That’s due in no small part to the record-shattering pay-per-view buys for Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao and the return of boxing to network television via the PBC series, but the traditional giants are holding up just fine in 2015, too, as the latest HBO figures for Miguel Cotto vs Daniel Geale show.
Which is weird, because not many of this year’s boxing matches have been particularly memorable, with plenty of mismatches fully expected in advance.
According to figures released Tuesday, Cotto vs Geale drew 1.6 million viewers on average, the third highest figure for HBO this year, and slightly more than Cotto’s last fight on HBO against Delvin Rodriguez in 2013. The clubhouse leader is Canelo Alvarez vs James Kirkland, which did 2.1 million, the most for a World Championship Boxing broadcast since 2006. Number two right now is Wladimir Klitschko’s bout against Bryant Jennings, drawing slightly more than Cotto-Geale. Most of the rest of HBO’s cards have been in the 1 millionish range.
Over at Showtime, things have been a little slower as many Al Haymon-backed fights migrate to non-pay TV, but the Deontay Wilder vs Bermane Stiverne-headlined card was one of their biggest in a year or more, according to some measurements.
The first PBC on NBC card did an average of 3.4 million viewers, and while there have been some comparative dogs in there, there have been some 1.6 millions and the like for some of the broadcasts. And we all know that Mayweather vs Pacquiao did 4.4 million PPV buys.
People knew, or should’ve known, Mayweather vs Pacquiao would not produce big action. It was well-understood that Cotto vs Geale was not likely to be competitive, and while expectations were a little higher for Canelo vs Kirkland, the favorite was still a pretty big favorite. The likes of Adonis Stevenson vs Sakio Bika on PBC figured to be a mismatch, too. Nobody really expects Klitschko to be in a good fight ever, let alone a competitive one. It’s been a year with an awful lot of showcase fights. Gennady Golovkin’s bout against Willie Monroe, Jr., Cotto-Geale, Stevenson-Bika, you name it… there just haven’t been that many — any? — fights in 2015 that were universally anticipated and delivered competitive, two-way action.
In fact, when we’ve gotten enjoyable, competitive fights it’s often been an accident. A fair number of match-ups that weren’t expected to be that competitive and/or exciting have delivered surprisingly entertaining fisticuffs, like James DeGale vs Andre Dirrell or Robert Guerrero vs Aron Martinez.
Even then, we’re well into June, and what current Fight of the Year finalist would be a Fight of the Year finalist in any other year at all?
How to explain, then, why so many are watching, comparative to recent years? Some of it easy. Putting a card on a network like NBC, which has a massively larger maximum audience than HBO, means more viewers can tune in, and it only makes sense that at least sometimes, they will. Mayweather-Pacquiao was the most desired match-up of this generation for reasons separate from anticipated action.
Which reminds us that for all the talk that “fights, not fighters” should be the emphasis for networks — and no matter how much that’s how I’d prefer they do it, personally — it really is just that fans sometimes want to watch the fighters regardless of whom they face. That can erode, to be sure, when it comes to fighters who constantly duck their top challenges or are never challenged through no fault of their own. But sometimes the erosion never happens, like with Mayweather and Klitschko. It’s a bad lesson to take away from this, because it’s incentive for networks to put on mismatches. But then, if eyes are tuning in, maybe the customer IS getting what he wants, and that’s good, no matter how much we think we want something different than that guy.
And as we’ve said many times in this space, no amount of us pining for “boring” fighters to be vanquished from the airwaves can be reconciled with the fact that some of those same “boring” fighters are generating higher ratings than “exciting” fighters. Different strokes for different folks. It’s a real thing.
Which gets us to another possible, related explanation. Maybe, just maybe, Mayweather vs Pacquiao helped boxing rather than hurt it. Gasp! There was a boring boxing match that a ton of people watched, and they want to watch more boxing now? Inconceivable! And while it sounded kind of like wishful thinking with HBO and Showtime executives were saying that they thought the PBC series would be a rising tide that would lift all boats, maybe that’s come true, too.
That said, would it probably help with the ratings if there were more competitive, exciting fights in the back half of 2015 than boring mismatches? Yes, yes, yes. So, dear Cotto and dear Canelo, get into the ring for the biggest potential blockbuster remaining on the slate this year. Sergey Kovalev and Stevenson, stop dithering and get your asses moving toward one of the best matches boxing can make. Golovkin and Carl Froch, quit playing footsie and start doing against each other what you do so well: power punching.
We’ve got the ratings. Now we want the memories, too.
(Photo: Cotto, right, Geale, left; Ed Mulholland, Getty Images)