NBC announced on Wednesday a new boxing series that will include bouts on prime time, broadcast network TV, a staple of sports television in the 20th century that had vanished in recent decades.
The series, called "Premier Boxing Champions" -- "PBC on NBC" for short -- will premiere March 7 and be seen on five Saturday nights on NBC, six Saturday afternoons on NBC and nine Saturday nights on NBCSN.
The financial risks for NBC are minimal because Haymon Boxing, which is run by the powerful, media-shy manager/adviser Al Haymon, will pay NBC to carry the bouts, most of which will feature Haymon-affiliated fighters.
The New York Times reported Haymon will pay at least $20 million annually for the privilege.
Still, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said the network has much at stake, too, in seeing that the cards are a success.
"We have invested our airtime and reputation and our marketing and our promotion and our production and all of those things," he said. "But we're not paying [Haymon], per se, for the fights."
Haymon's most prominent boxer, Floyd Mayweather Jr., will remain exclusively on pay-per-view. The NBC bouts will showcase lesser names, but ones that all concerned hope will command the respect and interest of fans.
The co-main events for the March 7 card, which will be on NBC, are Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner vs. John Molina Jr.
The featured bout on the next NBC prime time show April 11 will be Danny Garcia vs. Lamont Peterson.
Sugar Ray Leonard, NBC's lead analyst, said the young fighters on the shows will benefit from exposure the way he did early in his career when his amateur bouts primarily were seen on broadcast television.
"Without question this will help," Leonard said during a media event to announce the deal at Studio 8H of 30 Rockefeller Center, home of "Saturday Night Live." Joining Leonard for the festivities were fellow former boxing greats Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran, as well as the six boxers featured on the March 7 and April 11 cards.
"These kids up here can fight, but you've never heard of their names," Leonard said. "They're not household names. Joe Frazier or Ken Norton, you can ask a person who is not a boxing fan at all, do you know Joe Frazier, and she has heard the name.
"This is kind of that escalator that's going to provide them with notoriety."
Leonard said the style of the telecasts will help introduce viewers to less-familiar boxers.
"The key to this thing is that we're going behind the scenes and talking to these people, because fans have to have a vested interest," he said. "That's what works. When you give that to them I think that becomes the magic . . . I think the exposure these guys will receive is priceless."
Al Michaels will serve as host for the shows, but NBC has not yet announced its blow-by-blow announcer.
Before making the announcement, NBC showed reporters a video highlighting its history with the sport, dating to the first televised bout ever, between Max Baer and Lou Nova on June 1, 1939.
NBC's most recent prime time bout was between Larry Holmes and Carl "The Truth" Williams on May 20, 1985.
Boxing has been considered a no-go for prime time broadcast TV in recent decades because of its dwindling fan base and shady reputation -- not to mention concerns over the sport's effect on fighters' health.
But NBC decided to give it a whirl, in part because of the attractive deal offered by Haymon and in part because Saturday nights have become a desert for broadcast TV aside from live sports such as NASCAR and college football.
"If you look at what's on on Saturday nights," Lazarus said, "I don't want to besmirch our own network, but all the networks do it. It's typically either a rerun of something from the week or a newsmagazine.
"So it's sort of available space . . . There is an appetite for event programming on Saturday nights."
Said Jon Miller, NBC Sports and NBCSN president of programming, "I think if you put the right fights on, with the right competitive fighters and it's produced well and it's produced the way we produce our other programming I think people will enjoy it. I think these are major-league fights.
"I think people are ready to see good, quality boxing and that's what we're going to give them."
One reason boxing has become a less attractive TV product is the assumption that some advertisers do not want to be associated with it. Miller said he thinks they will come aboard.
"I think that advertisers will support it if they know it's produced well, if they know the fights are competitive and I think we're going to give them that," he said.
Boxing has suffered countless ills, but in recent years one has been disappointment that Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have not met in the ring. The two sides continue to mull a bout this spring.
"Even though Pacquiao has lost, it's still a highly anticipated match," Leonard said. "If it happens, it's going to break all records. It's going to be crazy. I'm such a boxing fan and such an advocate for the sport, when these fights don't take place it irritates me."
Lazarus was asked about working with Haymon, a controversial figure in the sport.
"I don't believe there's anyone in the sport that's not controversial," he said, adding he is not concerned about Haymon. "We've done our due diligence on the type of person he is."
NBC pulled out all stops for its introductory news conference, which featured an array of high-ranking executives and a mock boxing ring where SNL's "Weekend Update" set is placed during shows.
It also announced that Hans Zimmer, one of the world's most prominent composers for film, contributed music for the series.
Lamont Jones, Haymon Boxing's vice president for operations, said the company advises or manages 150 fighters, but that if necessary to create compelling bouts, it will use fighters from outside its circle, too.
Jones said it was important to open with particularly strong matches for the March 7 and April 11 cards.
"My personal view is that when a customer walks into the grocery store and sees one steak that has USDA on it and one steak that doesn't, the customer might be more likely to buy that USDA product," he said.
"We want the fans to feel the same way about PBC. We want them to know when they tune in for a PBC telecast they're going to get high-quality action."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a statement to mark the occasion that Leonard read aloud:
"Boxing fans everywhere should welcome efforts, such as the initiative announced today, that are aimed at restoring the popularity and dignity of this great sport. As a longtime fan and one-time competitor in the 'sweet science,' it has always been important to me that boxing reflect the principle of integrity and adhere to the standards expected of professional sports.
"I am hopeful that the efforts announced today will improve the quality of the sport, the safety of its great athletes, and the outlook for the future of boxing for fans across the country."