With CBS and ABC renewing commitments to the sport, boxing is trying to make a big comeback in a small way on network television.
“That’s the battle we’re always fighting,” said CBS Sports programming vice president Rob Correa. “Do you want the marquee fighter in a one-sided fight, or the lesser-known fighter in a more competitive fight.”
For sure, broadcast networks usually aren’t going to get two big names in a great fight. They just can’t pay like the casinos, and they just can’t make the kind of money from advertising that pay-per-view makes from home sales.
On Monday, CBS announced an eight-fight series sponsored by Budweiser. CBS’ first show features former world champion Buster Douglas on the afternoon of Sunday, March 30.
“Fortunately we have a sponsor this year, which we didn’t have last year,” Correa said.
At the same time, ABC has vowed to show at least 10 fights on its “Wide World of Sports” anthology as it flashes a little of the footwork that helped make the anthology so popular in the first place.
“We got away from it a little in the past three years,” said ABC boxing analyst Alex Wallau.
ABC will televise its first boxing show on Saturday, featuring two lesser-known fighters, WBC lightweight champion Jean-Baptiste Mendy against Steve Johnston of Denver. With Sugar Ray Leonard making his comeback the same day in Atlantic City, ABC also plans to showcase two of his greatest fights of the past - against Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns.
Why the interest in boxing again?
As popular as figure skating has become, it doesn’t deliver the young, male demographic that boxing traditionally provides advertisers like Budweiser.
With the possible exception of Tonya Harding, figure skaters don’t do well with the beer-guzzling set.
“It’s an audience that’s become increasing hardly to reach,” Wallau said, “and that’s a good analysis of why this is happening.”
As the network that introduced American audiences to Leonard, Hagler, Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, Oscar De La Hoya and many of the other greats, ABC’s return to boxing seems particularly appropriate. Wide World did just three boxing shows last year.
“We’ve just had an awful lot of boxing tradition on Wide World, and it’s great to be getting back to our roots,” Wallau said.
Either network should be happy with ratings in the mid-2s to low 3s.
Actor-comedian Jon Stewart, syndicated sports writer Mike Lupica and ESPN’s Fabulous Sports Babe will trade barbs March 12 on the first installment of Comedy Central’s “Town Hall” series, entitled “What’s Wrong With Sports In America?” Put your money on the Sports Babe. She could take out a whole room, just buying a vowel… . ABC and ESPN, both owned by Disney, continue to strengthen their corporate ties. On Saturday, March 1, ABC will rebroadcast the ESPY Awards, which aired originally on ESPN on Feb. 10.
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