Boxing: A FTA Network Televised Comeback?

The following takes place between 1300 – 1400 on Wednesday Jan 14.

Well given the events originated in the US, that should be 2100 – 2200, Tuesday Jan 13, New York time.

Something more than fey speculation and fevered anticipation could be entertained, about – the long spoken of in dark corners by fans – boxing’s version of ‘He Who Must Not Be Named … Unless he is being thanked’.

Going commercial again has long been signified by the cognoscenti, as boxing’s return to the ‘big time’. No few doyens of boxing coverage have allowed themselves to grow moist & misty-eyed, over decades old now, reminiscences from when the word ‘network’ meant more to boxing insiders than the definition of various promoters’ tentacular reach.

And now the man anointed as boxing’s Dark Lord by those hushed whispers in corners, Al Haymon, is set to make that network dream a consistent reality.

That’s not to say boxing has been completely absent from network TV, since the migration to premium cable began in the late 70’s, until it became more or less a permanent move by the late 80’s. All the networks – with NBC being the most industrious over the last decade – have toyed with intermittent boxing coverage.

However, after having travelled further than most along the path of the ‘Born Again Fistian’, NBC will unveil the finished product of one aspect of that belief less than 24 hours from now.

On the one hand boxing tragics such as myself, look forward to what is an immense undertaking with fevered anticipation. On the other hand, given fighters’ signed by Mr. Haymon recent track record of risible matchmaking, we jaundicely opine how appropriate it is, that this massive reconfiguration of the sport’s televised landscape is ultimately the result of a ‘timebuy’.

In otherwords, Mr. Haymon and his investors are paying NBC from their significant warchest of funds, to televise their product. You don’t need me to tell you that the paradigm for televising sports is normally the other way around.

Here in Australia we are fresh off our first two ever, billion dollar deals to televise our leading sports, AFL & NRL. We are now beginning to consider just how far up we will go, with the new AFL executive turning its sights on the new rights deal, due imminently.

Conversely, in a transparent bid for wholesale control, Mr. Haymon and his group are at least partially eschewing the current comfortable arrangement with various cable providers, of sometimes exorbitant licence-fees being paid BY TV to show promoters’ boxing product.

All for the sake of game-changing? Or, will there be dragon-sized surprises still to come from the impending announcement?

Either way, no matter how blithely some have been discussing the ‘timebuy’ in the regular boxing media, the recent signing barrage of over 120 confirmed clients points to one thing. This is a highly irregular attempt to create a large enough sample, within the infamously fractured boxing promotional landscape. One that will be tightly regulated by one entity. The one Al Haymon controls.

In my more and more invested opinion, it is the sheer size of this move which gives it such a dichotomous potential. Mr. Haymon’s group controls so many fighters that there is a definite way to emulate, the perceived consistent higher competitiveness of matchmaking within the often used analogous combat sport promotion, Mixed Martial Arts’ (MMA) UFC. Perhaps with a pay model fairer towards the fighters than the UFC is speculated to have implemented.

On the other hand, the fear here is that instead, the worst practices of boxing, especially with respect to matchmaking will echo and amplify 2014 – acknowledged almost universally as a singularly terrible year.

The one ray of hope being that in building its stable, the Haymon Group was playing tight and folding until it could impose control of the stakes. Having now done that, with tomorrow’s pending announcement imminent, perhaps the apron strings will be loosened in house, presaging a matchmaking free-for-all.

While that may be apropos of a concerted effort, to build a substantial viewer base on network TV’s much broader platform. Something far more likely is early gems giving way to fool’s gold, not long after to be followed by a reprise of 2014.

The time that has been bought will tell as boxing returns somewhat to its roots, once again to fly commercial … sort of.


  1. I grew up watching boxing on free TV. The big fights were televised in the seventies and eighties.
    I watched fights like Roberto Duran v Sugar Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes v Gerry Cooney, Tim Witherspoon v James Bonecrusher Smith and a host of heavyweight fights.
    Saw most of Jeff Fenech’s early fights and Barry Michael defeating Lester Ellis.
    Saw Mike Tyson stop Trevor Berbick and win on points against Bonecrusher Smith and Tony Tucker.
    Then, in 1987, boxing disappeared into the pubs and to pay TV.
    I’d like to see free to air boxing on TV again.

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