With Floyd Mayweather moving from HBO to Showtime on Tuesday, signing a record-breaking deal, Showtime Sports boss Stephen Espinoza, who took over in 2012 and has made some major power moves via his connections at Golden Boy Promotions, is confident that his team is now on par with the long-established number-one boxing network in the United States.
"People have spoken about closing the gap with HBO. I don’t think there is a gap anymore. With a due amount of modesty, I think anyone can look at this objectively and see that our programming is on par with anything that HBO is doing or better - from our established shows like Inside The NFL, which has a tremendous following, to the new shows like 60 Minutes Sports and Jim Rome on Showtime. And then with one the most famous athletes in boxing and one of most recognizable athletes in the country, I don’t think there is any argument that we’re not at least on the same level as HBO if not more."
Espinoza is right about quality, but there remains the fact that HBO simply has a bigger viewer base. That, however, is about all HBO Sports can truly say they do better at this point, and that's a real feather in the cap for Espinoza, and a major reflection of the change that has occurred at Showtime Sports.
HBO didn't stay quiet or act like the Mayweather deal didn't happen, though, and released a statement saying they'll simply "move on":
"We made an aggressive and responsible pay-per-view offer. Now we move on. We are focused on the best boxing franchise in the television business. We are proud of the roster of superstar fighters and emerging stars who are scheduled to appear on the multiple HBO television platforms this year."
If you were judging it in a black-and-white context, Showtime/CBS most likely had to "overpay" Mayweather to bring him on board, which is something we see a lot in other sports. There is an old rule in these situations that says that as soon as you think you have to do something and pay whatever cost to do so, you're setting yourself up to be disappointed, and possibly for disaster.
But while Mayweather, 36, is aging and can't reasonably be expected to fight six times in the next 30 months unless he gets weird and starts taking stay-busy fights like old-time stars did, Showtime has likely made a move that is going to pay off in the long run. He's still a hot name in the sports world, now considered without question The Man in the sport, and is the No. 1 drawing card in the pay-per-view world.
HBO is not in serious trouble or anything like that, but this does make clear that we can no longer just assume the biggest stars will always be on HBO, other than Top Rank fighters. The game changed on Tuesday, and now we wait and see what happens over the coming months and years, and just how swiftly these winds of change will ultimately blow.