HBO vs Showtime: The Next Step for Pacquiao vs Marquez III

Both HBO and Showtime will make a push for Manny Pacquiao's next fight. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

There are only crossed T's and dotted I's left to make the November 12 fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez official, and now the biggest remaining question is whether the fight will be with HBO or Showtime pay-per-view. Showtime has turned the tide considerably in the boxing TV rivalry between the two premium networks this year, and scored big this month when their involvement with the Manny Pacquiao vs Shane Mosley fight turned out to be a big success.

Promoter Bob Arum told Lem Satterfield that both networks will have a chance to land the fight, but he does seem to be leaning toward Showtime:

"Whoever offers the best and the most assets to us in publicizing and promoting the fight, my feeling is that we will go with them. What Showtime and CBS did was to level the playing field, in effect. Because prior to the fight, there was a question as to whether or not their involvement, where they didn't know the pay per view business, would hurt the pay per view sales of the fight. But that question was answered with a resounding, 'No.'"

There have been some who have wondered whether or not the fight, which was Pacquiao's best-selling PPV ever, could have done even better with HBO and their "24/7" series backing the bout. But despite the fact that "Fight Camp 360" did poorly compared to other network TV shows, you have to look at it for what it really is. That is to say, you have to realize that doing badly on network television is still a significant bump over doing well on subscriber cable.

Let's compare the numbers between Pacquiao's last two "24/7" series on HBO and the episodes of "FC360" that aired on CBS.

In October/November 2009, HBO used the "24/7" vehicle to hype Pacquiao vs Cotto, which would up doing 1.25 million on pay-per-view. The viewer numbers for that series were 338,000; 341,000; and 424,000.

Same time period last year, "24/7" featured Pacquiao vs Margarito, which did about 1.15 million on pay-per-view. Viewer numbers for those shows was 348,000; 298,000; and 731,000.

The second episode of Fight Camp 360 that aired on CBS in prime time barely registered with a 0.3 rating, but that 0.3 rating on network television meant half hour viewer numbers of 1,290,000 and then 1,093,000. That's more people watching.

The true reality of the situation is that as enjoyable as these shows generally are to watch, I don't think they're real keys in how well a pay-per-view does. When "24/7" debuted for Oscar vs Floyd in 2007, the concept was revolutionary and the show did very well in the ratings. But since the Mayweather vs Hatton series, I think the show has in many ways run its course and has stopped attracting the curious. It's "just" a boxing show, for boxing fans. "24/7" generally draws ratings on par with a bad night for Friday Night Fights now, or in the case of the show watched by 731,000, a good night for Friday Night Fights. And if you don't buy that, here are some viewer numbers for Friday Night Fights this year that I have on hand:

Date Main Event Viewers
01-07 Ruslan Provodnikov vs Mauricio Herrera 545,000
01-14 Peter Manfredo Jr vs Daniel Edouard 788,000
01-28 Chris Arreola vs Joey Abell 734,000
02-04 Sergio Mora vs Brian Vera 611,000
02-11 Antonin Decarie vs Shamone Alvarez 475,000
02-18 Fernando Guerrero vs Derrick Findley 603,000
02-25 Juan Carlos Burgos vs Frankie Archuleta 477,000
03-04 Ismayl Sillakh vs Yordanis Despaigne 596,000
03-18 Brad Solomon vs Demetrius Hopkins 522,000
03-25 Erislandy Lara vs Carlos Molina 421,000
05-13 Kendall Holt vs Julio Diaz 347,000

Boxing TV ratings have declined pretty badly since 2007 for HBO. That's a fact. In 2007, 1.4 million watched the Joan Guzman vs Humberto Soto fight. In 2011, that would be gloated about.

But what has not really been harmed by this is major pay-per-view event boxing. Pacquiao and Mayweather fights sell, every time. What's clear now, and what really matters, is that the HBO branding is far from necessary to sell a big-time fight. Nobody really cares what network is helping promote the fight, they care about the fight itself, even when maybe they should not.

What will be a factor here is money. Top Rank and Michael Koncz can talk about the great exposure that Showtime allows with their CBS partnership and the 115 million homes and all of that, but as hugely successful as Pacquiao vs Mosley was on pay-per-view, it also wasn't so successful compared to an HBO show without CBS affiliation that the HBO funds can't make up any perceived difference that would cause them to lean toward Showtime.

What I do think helps Showtime is that they're aggressive, and without question they seem much smarter and more well-run than HBO Sports right now. Showtime is thinking outside the box a little bit, while HBO pretty much does the same things over and over and over. There is no progress at HBO, only stagnation or decline. Showtime is the brand that has been moving onward and upward over the last couple of years.

If I had to make a guess right this second, it's that Showtime will land this fight, which would mean that if Floyd Mayweather Jr. sits out the rest of 2011, HBO will have zero big-time event fights on their schedule. That's a bad thing if you work for HBO, I assume, but from the outside, things could be worse. Showtime hadn't had a big-time event fight in years, and instead they got creative with things like the Super Six World Boxing Classic, and consistently targeted a portion of the boxing audience that HBO may not ignore, but have shown large indifference toward. In simple terms, it often felt like HBO was telling the boxing audience what was best in boxing. Showtime more regularly felt like they let the audience tell them.

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