Al Haymon and ESPN finalized their deal. I expected this news to come out eventually - and it has. Some of you may remember me mentioning the rumors of Premier Boxing Champions finding another outlet on ESPN, to go along with NBC, CBS, and Spike TV. What I didn't expect, however, was for PBC to completely replace Friday Night Fights, which appears to be the case.
PBC will begin airing on prime time ESPN starting July 11th - with a card yet to be announced. Note that this will be on regular ESPN prime time, as opposed to Friday Night Fights which has been a fixture on ESPN2 since 1998. Of course this also means the final Friday Night Fights show will be televised on May 22nd, ending the long run for the series.
"ESPN has a long history of carrying world-class boxing events and the new 'Premier Boxing Champions' series continues our commitment to the sport with premier-level prime-time fights previously only available on premium cable networks," ESPN president John Skipper said.
Some good news is that although many of the planned PBC on ESPN cards will be televised on Saturday nights, the fall college football season (which is a Saturday staple) means that we'll start having more fights during the week - which is a welcome thing in my book.
Haymon's deal with ESPN runs two years, with at least two of the 24 cards to appear on the ABC network as well (a sister company to ESPN). Al Haymon also has an option for 6 additional cards, if he so chooses. Haymon is now clearly in the drivers seat as far as the boxing game goes. He now has three major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) under his belt to go along with ESPN and SpikeTV. Taken together, Haymon's investors have been pouring hundreds of millions into his PBC series, so clearly the investors have been more than intrigued with his business pitch. The speculative endgame of all this is that Haymon is hoping to build up a large enough audience and advertising that the big networks will realize the value of boxing to their portfolio. In doing so, they'll be willing to shell out big bucks for the rights to air his shows (as opposed to him buying airtime), somewhat analogous to the huge annual deal that UFC has with Fox.
And as much as I'll miss Friday Night Fights, the silver lining is that both Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas will continue in their roles on PBC on ESPN, so it won't be completely unfamiliar (just some more bright lights).
"It's bittersweet because 'Friday Night Fights' has been an integral part of boxing for 17 years at ESPN, but this opportunity to bring bigger and better fights to the network has been a long time coming," said ESPN's Brian Kweder, an ESPN senior director of programming and acquisitions, who is responsible for boxing at the network.
When Al Haymon stated all those years ago that he could take over boxing if he wanted to, I'm sure no one quite had this in mind...