OTT boom, market saturation lead HBO to end 45-year pro boxing broadcast legacy

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HBO has decided to end its legacy of 45 years of live boxing broadcast. The American television network is driven to the situation by the boom in the OTT services, which has led to a saturation point.

The decision by the HBO management will effectively bring an end to the broadcaster’s 45-year-old association with boxing that began with the first ever fight featuring George Foreman’s 1973 knockout victory over fellow heavyweight icon Joe Frazier.

HBO’s decision was fuelled by the rapidly changing sports broadcast landscape coupled with fierce competition from OTT platforms and market saturation. Pressure by Perform Group-owned OTT service DAZN has ultimately led to the ouster of HBO from the boxing rights market.

In May Perform Group had inked an eight-year $1 billion deal with Matchroom boxing to stage 16 fights a year, featuring some of the sport’s biggest stars at the best venues across America. Under the deal, DAZN became the exclusive US broadcast partner for the 16 US fight nights plus Matchroom’s existing 16 fight nights in the UK.

Matchroom’s star client Anthony Joshua launched the service in the US with his seventh-round knockout of Alexander Povetkin on 22nd September.

Also Read: Perform Group, Matchroom boxing announce $1 billion boxing deal

Pay-TV broadcasters ESPN, Showtime and Fox also have agreed major deals for premium live boxing content over the coming years. ESPN signed a 54-fight-per-year deal with Top Rank, the Nevada-based promotions company.

HBO’s viewership numbers for boxing have shrunk by a third since 2016, with internal research at the network showing that there had been a decrease in the number of fans subscribing to the broadcaster for its boxing coverage alone. The boxing events on the network have reportedly clocked in 800,000 viewers in 2018.

Peter Nelson, executive vice-president of sports at HBO, said that boxing was no longer a subscription-driver for HBO.

A statement from HBO read: “Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades. During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation. It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services. There is more boxing than ever being televised and distributed. In some cases, this programming is very good. But from an entertainment point of view, it’s not unique.”

Also Read: Anthony Joshua extend Matchroom Boxing deal, to stay with Sky Sports

“Going forward in 2019, we will be pivoting away from programming live boxing on HBO. As always, we will remain open to looking at events that fit our programming mix. This could include boxing, just not for the foreseeable future.”

Daniel Jacobs vs Sergiy Derevyanchenko middleweight title fight on October 27 at Madison Square Garden will be the last fight to be aired on HBO bringing an end to the 45-year-old association with the sport in which the broadcaster has shown a total of 1,111 fights.

Roy Jones Jr. and Oscar de la Hoya have both featured a record 32 times on the network.

Also Read: After $1bn Matchroom boxing deal, DAZN adds Bellator MMA to its portfolio