By Thomas Hauser of espn.com/boxing
What do Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson, George Foreman and other fighters who've captured the imagination of the American public have in common? They were introduced to the nation on free broadcast television. In the past, Ken Hershman, senior vice president and general manager of sports programming for Showtime, has reached out to Rob Correa, his counterpart at CBS Sports. (Showtime and CBS are each part of the Viacom empire.) Hershman has wanted to build some sort of synergy for boxing between the networks and until recently, his pleas fell on deaf ears. But, now they might be viewed in a different light. HBO's tilt toward Golden Boy has left other promoters feeling marginalized by the "heart and soul of boxing." Earlier in June, as reported by Dan Rafael on ESPN.com, the cable giant agreed to televise six Golden Boy fights during the last four months of 2008; three on pay-per-view and three on "regular" HBO. In three of the six bouts, the opponent is TBA. "If you like fast food and if the McDonald's in your neighborhood closes and there's a Burger King nearby, you go to Burger King," says a promoter who has done business with HBO for years. With that in mind, Hershman sees a window of opportunity to do more business for better fights. He has already had discussions with several major promoters in that regard. And there has been renewed interest at Viacom about possible synergy between CBS and Showtime for boxing programming. Traditionally, most big fights and superstar fighters have gravitated to HBO. That's because it pays the highest license fees in the sport and since the decline of Tyson, Showtime has been far less successful than HBO in marketing pay-per-view events. It's also in 12,000,000 fewer homes than HBO and has yet to develop its own version of HBO's "Countdown" and "24/7" promo shows.
-- Top Rank Promoter Bob Arum, on the benefits of boxing programming on network television
A Showtime-CBS alliance could change that equation; particularly where pay-per-view is concerned. "Think about the synergy we could have," Bob Arum said recently. "A countdown show on CBS; promos on college football and NFL telecasts." The idea appeals to Hershman, who has felt the weight of the HBO juggernaut in recent years. "I have no problem with HBO trying to protect its interests," he said in May. "But there are times when it seems as though HBO is more interested in what we're hoping to do with a fight than they are in the fight itself. As soon as I show interest in a fighter or fight, it seems to perk interest across the street." Hershman also observed, "I would think it's in the best interest of both networks to avoid counter-programming. All it does is split the audience, which is too small to begin with. But it's a strategy at HBO, and I think it's one of the most damaging things they do to the sport. They counter-programmed us seven times last year. It makes no sense to me." Even with CBS at its side, Showtime won't match HBO across the board when it comes to the size of license fees. But HBO now seems intent on signing a long-term output deal with Golden Boy. Should that happen, other promoters will have added incentive to bring fights to Showtime if Hershman can offer something more than he currently puts on the table. That's where synergy comes in. CBS is a very attractive platform for helping to build a fight and a fighter. "Boxing is handicapped because it's playing to such a small audience," says Top Rank president Todd DuBoef. "Whether it's CBS and Showtime or ABC and ESPN, if 120,000,000 homes were available to expose content, it would be magic." Ultimately, any deal on synergy will have to be approved by CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves and Showtime Chairman Matt Blanc. But as one industry executive notes, "It all comes down to Les. Showtime needs CBS on this. CBS doesn't need Showtime." It might be a pipe dream. But this is a golden opportunity for Showtime to make significant inroads in the sport of boxing. Expect a decision at Viacom sooner rather than later. April brings Steward pain
Now that Spring 2008 is over, Emanuel Steward is reflecting on what he believes is the cruelest month of the year.
Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images
"I come with news, Emanuel: Beware the month of April."
April starts with April Fools Day and then at the midway point, the IRS comes calling. Over the years, April has been particularly cruel to Steward. On April 12, 2008, Kermit Cintron (who Steward trains and manages) lost his IBF welterweight title when he was knocked out by Antonio Margarito. "But that's not the half of it," Steward says. "Tommy Hearns was knocked out by Marvin Hagler in April. Lennox Lewis was knocked out by Hasim Rahman in April. Wladimir Klitschko was knocked out by Lamon Brewster in April. Naseem Hamed lost to Marco Antonio Barrera in April. Even Hilmer Kenty lost his title to Sean O'Grady in April." "It goes on and on," Steward says. "I got to leave April alone." Thomas Hauser is the lead writer for Secondsout.com. His most recent collection of boxing columns -- "The Greatest Sport of All" -- has been published by the University of Arkansas Press. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.