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HBO, Showtime heading for boxing showdown on March 3

It doesn’t help fans, it doesn’t help media, it doesn’t help the fights. So why do we still see head-to-head boxing cards?

Sergey Kovalev v Vyacheslav Shabranskyy Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

On March 3, it looks like we will have boxing at Madison Square Garden, and on HBO…and at Barclays Center, from a card portions of which will be featured selectively on Showtime.

I make no secret, I don’t think this sort of scheduling benefits fans OR media, and thus, the sport as a whole.

But, I don’t pretend to speak for all fans or all media. Certainly, from my viewpoint, would I rather that the powers that be that decide these things choose to allow rivals to carve out their space and then receive the same space in return? Yes indeed, because on the night of March 3, unless Elon Musk or someone comes up with a game-changer invention right quick, I will not be splitting myself into two versions, and hitting both arenas. I will have to be in Manhattan, or Brooklyn.

And fans…depending on the timing of the cards, quite likely they will have to juggling dueling streams of content. There will be channel flipping…or maybe DVR taping, and avoiding social media, so they can watch one channel’s fare and then the other ones,’ without having the results leaked to them.

Not ideal…

I asked Bob Arum, in the business since 1966, about this practice, about the cablers scheduling on the same night. Could he offer some clarity on why programmers do this, from his point of view?

“Ego? I have no fucking idea. It is absolute stupidity,” Arum told me. “Once boxing again becomes vigorous occasionally there will be dueling dates, because there are only so many dates on the calendar, but that’s not the case now. Peter Nelson at HBO deliberately counter programmed us twice after we announced dates,” Arum declared.

“I think now Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza is countering Nelson, and that’s not good for either of them. Between the two of those channels there’s not a hell of lot of watchers! They are fragmenting a small audience. Showtime and HBO have small audiences. It hardly affected us, with the big mega-phone, with ESPN. (Arum is referring to the night of Dec. 9, when HBO had an Orland Salido v Mickey Roman topped offering the same night as ESPN’s Top Rank offering, with a Vasyl Lomachenko v. Guillermo Rigondeaux mainer. The ESPN show unfolded in NY, the HBO one in Cali.)

“HBO and Showtime are not sports networks, they have much smaller megaphones but they do have great entertainment, but (having counter-programming dueling dates) makes for a squeaky megaphone. The press is not robust. What the fuck are they doing counter programming for?”

I reached out to the HBO people to ask about their take on counter programming and to Showtime, and neither outlet responded with material for an on the record explanation. I also asked the New York State Athletic Commission about the March 3 situation, which will have NYSAC stretched thin, having to staff events in Brooklyn and Manhattan. We will get back to you on that, a spokesman told me.

So, it’s looking like many media will be forced to chose to cover a card topped by Deontay Wilder v Luis Ortiz at Barclays Center or the one in Manhattan, with Sergey Kovalev topping the slate, against under-double-dog Igor Mihalkin, supported by a Dmitriy Bivol-Sullivan Barrera semifinal. HBO hasn’t put out their start time for March 3, or the length of their window. Showtime hasn’t officially announced the March 3 event.

I do recall that Kathy Duva, on the night of Sergey Kovalev’s win over Vyachesalv Shabranskyy, November 25th, said that she wanted Krusher to return to the Garden March 3, so she stuck her flag in the ground that early, for the record.

As for the NYSAC, we can speculate that they are eager to have these big-time events in the region, and figured if they put their foot down and said only one card can unfurl that night in NY, then NY would have lost out to Vegas or Cali…and this dueling dates, bi-borough setup was preferable to that.

And, since Showtime hasn’t made it official yet, I suppose all this might be much ado about nothing. But regardless of whether we see another counter programming mashup March 3, here’s hoping the suits decide that it is wiser and preferable to give each other room to work, because that will result in more eyeballs added to the mix, ultimately.

Anyway…chalk it up to boxing being boxing, I guess.

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