Boxing along with the rest of the sports world came to an abrupt halt last March when the Covid-19 virus shutdown the world. As it pertains to boxing in America many fight cards were postponed or outright cancelled for good. As far as combat sports go the UFC return the quickest with Top Rank Boxing going every Tuesday and Thursday in early June on ESPN. The Top Rank cards were for the most part underwhelming and some of it beyond a few highlights was downright terrible. Given the situation and Bob Arum pulling the trigger to return earlier than others, you have to take the good with the bad, and the good was really good once the fall season rolled around. Yes much of the ESPN content was subpar in the summer but there is no debate on which platform performed the best to close the year it was Top Rank.
Showtime released a pretty solid schedule all things considered with a large rollout starting in August going all the way to December. Covid-19 played a part in Showtime limping to the finish line down the stretch of the year but all and all not a whole bunch to complain about. It took DAZN a little while to get there engine started in the second half of 2020 but so far in 2021 the 1st quarter belongs to DAZN for putting on the best fights out of the big 3. Rumors continue to swirl for a little while now that Showtime will announce their late spring and summer lineup. This segue’s us to Fox Sports which has been clearly lackluster especially in their main events.
Fox returned in early August with a main event that was good enough on the mid-level to be passable with Jamal James fighting Thomas Dulorme. The next two main events had Shawn Porter and Erislandy Lara in tune up type fights. The last main event of their return to close the summer was another mid-level bout in Ugas vs. Ramos, a decent bout that promised an entertaining style on paper. Although Covid-19 may have affected one of the two remaining Fox cards, the main events were walk over opponents for Luis Ortiz and David Morrell Jr. Say what you want about Caleb Plant vs. Caleb Truax as a main event to start 2021 to be fair the Ring Magazine had Truax in their top-10. Anthony Dirrell fighting to a draw in a closer then expected bout against Kryone Davis could be more a product of a long layoff for Dirrell.
The two FOX main events on their current schedule is Tony Harrison returning versus fringe welterweight contender Bryant Perrella, the other is Erislandy Lara vs. Thomas ‘Cornflake’ LaManna. Long story short the schedule has been significantly different from what we got December 2018 to March 2020. To top it off Andy Ruiz is facing Cris Arreola not in what would be an action fight for the casuals on FOX, instead a PPV. They did drop the price tag 25 dollars to 50 and the undercard has a chance to give bang for the buck when paired with some weak undercards over say the last decade. Still though this is not an acceptable main event and don’t get me wrong if Luis Ortiz was subbed in for Arreola I would be singing a different tune. So what gives? Where’s the beef in the Fox schedule? Let’s talk about a variety of contributing factors as this boxing podcaster tries to make sense of the situation.
Besides the ho-hum fight schedule, minor rumors were spread across boxing twitter of the PBC being all but done with their Fox deal. The smoke created online probably started with a Rick Glazer tweet claiming this is a contract year meaning the final year of the PBC/FOX arrangement. This could be the last year in reality but as far as contract length per press releases technically the Showtime deal was 3 years and the Fox was 4. Regardless, that tweet like many other coming from his account is misleading even if it turns out that Fox is planning to dump Al Haymon’s content. A contract year generally means the last year of a contract in the sports world which is incorrect. It would be taken differently if in fact he added that to the twitter post. The first article this boxing head saw was on RingTV.com then a few others followed claiming the PBC was done at Fox with a possibility of moving to CBS was the another rumor from a YouTube channel. It should be noted the RingTV article stated it wasn’t CBS.
A move from Fox to CBS would be tremendous but very unlikely given that network is the “#1” rated free channel but the rumor maybe came from Showtime being owned by Viacom/CBS. The only way I could see that deal taking place would be a limited amount of bouts on CBS while the majority moving on the CBS Sports Network and the new streaming service Paramount+. Anyway let’s go over some of the possible issues that could be preventing Fox from delivering quality fights in the main event Saturday night cards.
Cleary budget cuts play a role as we’ve seen Fox’s shoulder programming cut including their PBC show and most of their Fight Camp series. It seems as though the budget per card has come down since their return as well. So budget cuts play a role as does Fox’s other more expensive and higher rated content like the MLB. Major League Baseball had a shortened season in 2020 which explains why the Fox would have some I-owe-you so to speak. Starting May 22nd the MLB is slated in primetime on FOX all the way straight through to July 17. So unless Fox’s plan is to use the MLB as a lead-in for the PBC, there won’t be Fox cards in June or July on Saturday night anyway. It could be they plan to give PBC another night in June or July. Theoretically the lead in doesn’t make sense because of the hour earlier local news in 20+ markets on FOX. I guess we could reach an say it would be set up like Saturday live in some markets like here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, so the local news can still be broadcasted and the fights would start after the MLB game and local news.
My best guess is they won’t have a primetime card in June or July on Saturday’s. Maybe late July and August will look similar to 2020 with 4 cards covering a 4 to 6 weeks timeframe. If that’s the case then we will know more about what level of fights we get and have a slightly better idea where the budget stands. Also, where are the FS1 cards I see some folks asking about and that‘s a legit question given none have been announced as of yet in 2021. If the PBC doesn’t double up every month on FS1 this summer that fill add even more smoke to this possible fire. It would be great if they found a way to use the MLB on FS1 as lead-ins to PBC cards as they have done from time to time in recent past.
Something to keep in mind when judging television ratings and PPV revenue is how much per year does this current PBC actually cost Fox. We do know the cost is much lower than Fox’s UFC agreement and that deal did not include a split of the PPV’s. On boxing twitter and in large segments of the media folks really love to crap on ratings and PPV buys without talking about important details of the deal. For instance many of the Fox PPV’s reported have done in the 250,000 to 350,000 range. Of course we don’t really know the exact numbers, the question is how happy is Fox with the bottom line. In their quarter and annual reports available to the public Fox mentions PPV’s as part of their increased revenues which tells us they are at least somewhat happy. Also, with a rumored 60-40 cut now with the cable operators up from the traditional 50-50 split, along with a reported 10-12% orders coming from the FOX app meaning they don’t have to give up anything to the those PPV’s platforms helps increase the overall revenue.
Many media members and fans aren’t happy with Fox doing PPV’s but we really didn’t hear this level of complaint when HBO was doing anywhere from 4 to 6 some years over 10 of them and it wasn’t considered horrible numbers to do around 300K. Usually it came down to how good the matchup was as far as criticism. For instance, normally you didn’t see the media asking why Pacquiao/Thurman or Spence/Porter on PPV. I understand the argument of them putting their best product on PPV but wasn’t that what most of us were asking for instead of the run of the mill opponents to milk the buys? Pay-per-view exists like it or not and we should expect and demand the best product but the PBC’s foot seems to get held over the fire whether they follow that sentiment or not.
Maybe the loss in revenue from an ear-marked trilogy between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury cut into their budget for normal cards on FOX and FS1? Time will tell if FOX Sports has decided to go another route and end their partnership with Al Haymon. I for one will not throw dirt on the grave of the PBC until I see the dead body in the casket. Let’s be honest after about 6 months or so, many of the top level and part-time media members were telling us the PBC was dead when the best matchups went back to Showtime and then Al Haymon got a network deal.
Written by Chris Carlson Host/Producer of The Rope A Dope Radio Podcast Available at www.blogtalkradio.com/ropeadoperadio & Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio