Boxing is back on network TV and at least one promoter –Main Event boss Kathy Duva– is excited as she has ever been about boxing.
Two of Main Event’s top fighters, heavyweights Tomasz “Goral” Adamek and Steve “USS” Cunningham, will square off on Saturday evening at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pa. live on NBC.
No, that is not a misprint. NBC will broadcast a live boxing match for the first time since 2003. This is considered a milestone in a sport that most believed would be joined at the hip with cable television forever. Getting boxing back on network TV was no easy task, Duva told Newsday.
Said Duva: “Our problems have always been sponsorship. Demographics, when the fight ends, how many commercials will be shown...We have an older audience, which is always a problem with sponsors. Once those beliefs set in, it’s hard to change people’s minds.”
Duva convinced NBC’s parent company Comcast, which purchased the network last year, that its bottom line would be substantial if they invest in the sport and help build fighters.
“You are now owned by Comcast,” Duva said she told NBC during negotiations. “If [a customer] has Comcast cable and pays $50 for a pay-per-view fight, Comcast will get $25.”
So instead of pitching the idea to companies for major sponsorship dollars, Duva figured Comcast could use some of its money to support the shows on NBC.
For Duva’s idea to work, fighters need to be seen by the general public. Duva is convinced if boxers are seen on network TV enough times, the public will become enamored enough follow their careers. And when the fighters are ready for pay-per-view, fans will pay for the fights and Comcast will cash in.
“You just have to find one guy to emerge,” said Duva.
She referred to former greats like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis who all made their starts in boxing on network TV and eventually became pay-per-view stars.
If Duva is successful turning a fighter or two into a household name, boxing on network TV could become a permanent fixture. “Comcast has up to 25 percent of the cable customers in this country,” said Duva. “They’ll have more pay-per-view sales than any cable company.”
Proof that boxing could still be a viable entity was on display on Saturday with the CBS broadcast of the championship bantamweight bout between Leo Santa Cruz and Alberto Guevara.
Neither fighter is a household name, but the match drew a 1.3 rating and a 3 share, according to overnight Neilsen ratings. That means about 1.5 million households tuned into the fight. Duva cited many reasons why the CBS show was successful.
“You can be sitting in a bar or sitting in an airport and see free boxing on TV,” she said. “Now the bars won’t have to pay extra like they do for pay-per-view shows.”
Staging the fights on Saturday afternoons is also important because it can draw a younger audience. Duva said younger people are more interested in going out on Saturday nights rather than staying home and watching TV. Potential sponsors will be drawn to younger audiences.
Duva stopped short of guaranteeing anything and said the boxing shows sitll must produce excitement for things to work. Main Event signed a two-year deal with NBC for its shows to appear on NBC Sports Network. How many of Duva's shows make to network TV remains to be seen, but she's concinved things are headed in the right direction.
"This could be the start," said Duva. "We're really revved up here."