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Stephen Espinoza expects a race for TV dates and venues once lockdown ends

The Showtime executive shares his thoughts how boxing will return following a global shutdown.

Wil Esco is an assistant editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2014.

In a lengthy conversation with Fight Hub TV, Showtime Sports executive Stephen Espinoza talks about how and when boxing will be making its return and how the sport might be a little different once things get back to action. The full video feature covers a lot of topics so check out some highlighted excerpts from the conversation below...

Espinoza on when he expects boxing to come back:

“You know, anybody who says they know is not being honest. And I think anybody who says they know anything at this point definitively is probably exaggerating. There’s just so much we don’t know. I think we’re gonna find out a lot in the next two weeks with the course of the disease and how it relates to some of these states reopening.

“But in terms of sports, combat sports and boxing in particular are better positioned than most simply because it’s a smaller group of athletes taking part in it. That’s the first piece of it. And it’s not 200, 250 traveling members of a football team or a 150 of a college football team...but at the same time, it’s not NASCAR or tennis where you can sort of avoid close interaction between your athletes...

“The real question is when those of us who help organize the sport and who manage organizations — when can we sort of look in the mirror and say ‘I can comfortably recommend that everybody who works with me and freelancers and staff go out and go to an event, and I can tell them they’re safe and I can go with them and feel safe myself.’ There’s gonna be some risk going forward, we all know that. It’s not gonna be perfect.

“But I think there’s an aspect of ‘when can we ensure that the risk is minimized’ and then there’s the question of what is right for community health because one of the things unique to combat sports is you’re talking about a ringside position and two ambulances for the entire evening of the show. So that’s six, seven hours on a Saturday night. Certainly that’s not something that New York can spare right now, that’s something that a lot of states can’t spare. Some can...”

On how the business of boxing will be changed from here on:

“Well, one question is how long this goes on. We could be in a scenario where, at the extreme, maybe we’re not in front of crowds for a that regard then the sport becomes a TV sport...

“More people at home watching TVs may lead to better ratings, larger visibility for the sport. It could mean that the financial structure has to change differently because we may not be having gate revenues for some period of time...On big fight days you’re starting a card at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, you might have 10 or 12 bouts on a card. That’s not going to happen in the near future so those are going to have to be separate cards and all those may not be televised.

“So more than ever I think the mid-size and small promoters are going to be key, and those regional shows and local shows are going to be really key to continuing to get the sport going and to ramp up and get the fighters the fights that they need because you just won’t have the ability to load everything up on one big card the way we used to.”

On which fighters will get priority once boxing returns, do those who were previously scheduled get to go first?:

“For us, we had the Luis Nery fight and the David Benavidez event — were the two events that were up next. So I would say in the abstract, those would logically be the guys who are first up. Not that they’ll be the first event, but it makes sense. If you were already in training camp and had to interrupt it a couple of weeks before, you know, you probably should be first in line to get an event once things get rolling again.

“But there will be, without question, like, it’s gonna be a free-for-all because not just boxing has a lot of a backlog to make up, but every other sport as well. So there’s gonna be a race for venues, for dates, for television slots. For a sports fan it’s gonna be great because, you know, once the dam breaks you’re gonna be flooded with all these previously canceled sporting events.”

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