Boxing Monthly Mailbox: HBO, Groves and PPV
Welcome to the Boxing Monthly Mailbox! Every two weeks, writer Tom Craze and BM online editor Luke G. Williams will answer a selection of readers' queries, comments and questions. Today we're talking HBO, George Groves and the ever thorny question of pay-per-view...
What do you make of HBO’s decision to pull out of boxing? - James, via email
Tom Craze: As a UK viewer, some might have been tempted to greet the news with a shrug of the shoulders, but truthfully - for fans of the sport everywhere - the withdrawal of a network once synonymous with their boxing coverage is as significant as it is symbolic.
While in recent years its commentary team has been (perhaps unfairly) criticised, for many the HBO production - truck and all - will always go hand in hand with bleary-eyed 5am viewings of some of boxing’s greatest nights. For a long time, there was nothing quite like it, nor anything that came close.
The broadcast landscape, though - particularly in the US - has never been so competitive. Showtime’s willingness to compete with the deep pockets of ESPN and DAZN, together with a thin HBO roster likely to have been left thinner after several key contracts ran their course, meant the writing was likely on the wall for some time.
Luke G. Williams: I slightly diverge from Tom’s view here in that I don’t view HBO’s departure as all that significant. In an ever changing broadcast environment there are always going to be casualties, and HBO hadn’t seemed all that interested in boxing for a while. ESPN, Showtime and DAZN (in that order) are now the big players and I would rather see HBO out of the boxing business completely than merely paying lip service to its glorious past connection with pugilism.
I don’t think boxing loses anything as a consequence of HBO's departure - indeed one less major broadcaster around to complicate unification fights between boxers with rival networks is probably a good thing, as it's one less obstacle in the way of brokering big fights.
Speaking from a more personal perspective, though, I’m definitely sad to see them go though. A lot of my early boxing memories were shaped by HBO’s then ground breaking and unrivalled coverage and I’ve got a lot of time for Jim Lampley and Harold Lederman. However the failure of HBO's coverage to evolve in an era increasingly focused on the internet and streaming means the end was probably inevitable.
As Larry Merchant so accurately put it, HBO had lately moved from being a “long-time champion” to a “has-been”.
2. Is George Groves finished? Richard, via email
Tom Craze: No, I don’t think so. He was, at the very least, competitive with Smith for the most part of last Saturday’s WBSS Final, but was ultimately outgunned by a bigger, stronger man.
It wasn’t long ago, though, that Groves put on arguably the performance of the 168lbs tournament in his outclassing of Eubank Jr. Assuming the shoulder’s not still an issue - and he said it wasn’t a factor against Smith - there are still some good fights at super-middleweight for Groves, and he’s good enough to go into them as a live underdog at the very worst.
Luke G. Williams: I wouldn’t say he’s finished, but last week’s bludgeoning finish by Callum Smith has undoubtedly shortened his career. Groves is on the downward slope now, although he is still a top five super middle as things stand. Right now a DeGale showdown looks like his best option to me - even if the victor will prove to merely be the man who has deteriorated least.
I despair at the number of pay-per-view shows. How do you assess the state of boxing and pay-per-view? Graham, via email
Tom Craze: Similar to the above point about the broadcast situation in the States, TV fans in the UK have never been asked to reach for their wallets so frequently as they are today.
I think most will accept, grudgingly or otherwise, that sometimes PPV is necessary to make the very biggest fights. The issue for some, as far as I can tell, is when fights that would once have popped up on standard satellite - or even terrestrial - are tabbed as a paid extra.
Simply put, supply and demand will always shape the market. Plenty of critics would tell you until they’re blue in the face that Dillian Whyte simply isn’t a PPV fighter. That he headlined in July, as the A-side, a show that sold north of 400,000 buys tells you otherwise.
The entries into the PPV market of both BT Sport and ITV Box Office sitting alongside long-term PPV player Sky Sports, complicate matters, particularly at the back end of the year when many will be already thinking about their Christmas present funds.
Chances are, PPV won’t be going anywhere any time soon. The biggest threat to the medium is streaming, but without DAZN or ESPN entering the fray, that’s a distant speck on the horizon for now.
The hope is, of course, for sense to prevail - and the good news is that we’re seeing a spate of very good fights being made.
The bad is that boxing - always fairly proficient at shooting itself in the foot - risks alienating some viewers who simply can’t front all the PPV fees at a time when otherwise the sport is booming.
Luke G. Williams: I agree with you Graham and I'd also concur with everything Tom says above.
It's the way the market is going and it is not going to stop or change.
However, I would add that if boxing is going to be stuck behind a paywall of some sort - and let's face it, any hopes the sport will return to terrestrial TV in any significant form are futile - then I would prefer to be able to pay for the events I want to watch when I want to watch them, rather than pay for some form of monthly package. In this respect, I find NOW TV - where you can purchase short-term online access to Sky Sports - a very useful service.
By the same token, I can't believe that certain PPV events aren't available as a one-time online purchase to non-subscribers - Joshua vs Povetkin and Canelo vs GGG 2 spring to mind.
Rather than the sometimes confusing way things are now, with a dizzying array of subscription packages each with their own labyrinthine terms and conditions, I would prefer to buy and watch single boxing events online when and where I want to see them and never have to subscribe to anything.
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