If a report via Kathy Duva is to be believed, Al Haymon may soon be truly changing the boxing landscape, and not just by signing a bunch of fighters in his increasingly confusing role as manager (?) / adviser (?) / promoter (?), or by strongarming premium cable networks.
Duva says that Haymon has a deal with NBC for 24 fight dates, offering NBC around $20 million total. At least four dates, it is said, would be prime time network events, with one coming the week after the Super Bowl.
That said, at $20 million total for 24 dates, it's worth wondering how many actual big fights can be made. On paper, it would seem as though the vast majority of that money would have to go toward the four or so big primetime events, while the rest of the shows would be lower-level, probably most of them on NBC Sports.
That's not the full budget for the shows, of course, but that's what Haymon would pay NBC to air the fights. The question then is, without Showtime or HBO paying the premium for the fights, where does the money end up coming in? Marquee advertisers might be hard to find. Gate revenues aren't going to cover much most of the time. There are other streams of revenue, but right now that would be the biggest question I have.
All said, though, that's not really a bad thing, other than this could be a knockout blow to Showtime Sports in the boxing world. Floyd Mayweather still has two fights left on his deal with Showtime and CBS Sports, but we're already seeing a domino effect from Richard Schaefer's departure at Golden Boy Promotions, as Oscar De La Hoya has taken Bernard Hopkins back to HBO for a fight with Sergey Kovalev, and Canelo Alvarez recently signed a long-term deal with HBO, too.
Showtime's only two fight cards scheduled for the remainder of 2014 are a pair of also-ran events on October 4 and November 1, promoted by second-tier companies. Haymon has some fighters on those cards, but they're not in particularly interesting fights, which has, of course, long been the main criticism levied against Al Haymon and his fighters, dating well back to when HBO was still doing business with Haymon.
Here's what Duva said:
"He's promised NBC that he's going to take his fighters off premium cable...he's going to put Showtime and HBO out of the puzzle and he's going to do away with pay-per-view and create an over-the-top network."
Showtime may indeed be in trouble with this news, unless something else opens up for them (and it likely would, somehow), but it's hard to see what serious impact this has on HBO Sports, at least in the short-term. HBO, as mentioned, does not work with Al Haymon unless the situation is dire and Andre Ward needs an opponent. The bulk of HBO's business is done with Bob Arum's Top Rank, a promotional company that doesn't work with Haymon unless it's something like Vanes Martirosyan-Erislandy Lara, a fight unattractive to TV that went to purse bid and got stuck on an undercard.
With Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy seemingly migrating back to HBO to work with Top Rank down the road for some big fights, HBO's foundation looks strong heading into 2015. Showtime is another story, as beyond Floyd Mayweather and the Mayweather Promotions fighters, it's totally up in the air right now who they have to work with, who will be fighting on their network. The Haymon/NBC talk makes that even more of a mystery, because it immediately would impact them, if what we're hearing is the real deal.
Of course, this will take time to shake itself out, but the Haymon/NBC rumors have been going around for months now, and it sounds like all we're really lacking is an official announcement. If it all works out, big-time boxing could be back on network TV sometime in 2015, and if that proves profitable for everyone, we could indeed see a migration back to the networks and away from premium cable and pay-per-view.
My gut feeling, for whatever it's worth (not a lot, even though my gut is huge), is that boxing has become such a niche sport that it's going to take some serious effort, maybe more than a collective group will be willing to put in. It will take someone like Al Haymon with the money and the fighters, but also promoters (since Haymon is not officially a promoter) working with him, and then a patient TV partner. Boxing has so devalued itself for so long, crushingly abusing its own image constantly for decades now, that it's not going to be the easiest sell to bring people back. Just saying "we're on network TV now!" doesn't guarantee eyeballs, and thus, revenue and money to keep the whole thing moving forward.
It's all a lot more complicated than just "boxing is back on network TV!" But if this happens, it'll be interesting at the very least. And like Duva, all any of us could really do is hope Haymon and NBC don't blow it, and that everyone finds the magic to make it work, because it could revitalize the sport if everyone gets it right.