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31 JULY 2014

 

HBO and the State of Boxing – Part Three




By Thomas Hauser

“One of the things I hear all the time now,” says Ross Greenburg, “is that everyone’s problems seem to be HBO’s fault. That’s getting tiring for us. Most of what happens in boxing is beyond our control.”

One of boxing’s problems in 2010 is that the top promoters are fighting each other more often than the top fighters are fighting each other. The issues that HBO faces today are playing out against an increasingly ugly war between Golden Boy and Top Rank.

When Don King and Bob Arum ruled the roost, they disliked each other just as much as Richard Schaefer and Arum dislike each other. But the big fights between their fighters got made.

Pat English (who has served as counsel for Main Events since the 1980s) notes, “When Main Events promoted Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Lennox Lewis, and others, we didn’t have insurmountable problems making fights with other promoters. What has changed is that, in those days, promoters were promoters and knew how to build fighters and had to work together. Now most promoters are little more than packagers looking for a date and a big license fee from HBO, and HBO has trouble brokering the big fights.”

Top Rank has been criticized for refusing to put its big money-makers in against fighters controlled by competing promoters. To a degree, that’s true. But Arum tried to make Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr earlier this year. He co-promoted an April 17th fight in which Kelly Pavlik lost the middleweight championship to Sergio Martinez (a Lou DiBella fighter). On June 26th, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr (a potential cash cow for Arum) fought John Duddy (a promotional free agent). On November 6th, Juan Manuel Lopez (one of Top Rank’s most promising young stars) will risk his elite status against Rafael Marquez (promoted by Gary Shaw).

Meanwhile, Arum and Schaefer have been sniping at each other for years. Their war escalated in late-2009, when Golden Boy supported the Mayweather camp in propagating the view that Pacquiao (Top Rank’s flagship fighter) uses illegal performance enhancing drugs. It heated up even more this July, when the latest round of negotiations for Pacquiao-Mayweather collapsed.

On July 19th, Leonard Ellerbe (Mayweather’s friend and business manager) took issue with Arum’s statements to the media regarding the failure of negotiations for the fight and declared, “Here are the facts. Al Haymon [who manages Mayweather], Richard Schaefer [who promoted Mayweather’s most recent fights], and myself speak to each other on a regular basis. The truth is, no negotiations have ever taken place.”

Four days later, Schaefer told Robert Morales, “You read the statement from Leonard, and I stand behind that statement. It’s unfortunate Arum feels like that. But I tell you what; I would make myself available for a lie-detector test and let’s see who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. If I say I stand behind Leonard’s statement, it’s because it’s the truth.”

That dialogue was troubling to Ross Greenburg, who recently told this writer, “Those talks were a difficult time for me. I was talking with Al Haymon, who was Floyd’s representative, and I was talking with Arum, who was representing Pacquiao. I thought that everyone was negotiating in good faith, and then what happened happened.”

On July 26th, Greenburg issued a statement of his own that acknowledged, “It’s unfortunate that [Pacquiao-Mayweather] won’t happen in 2010. I had been negotiating with a representative from each side since May 2nd, carefully trying to put the fight together.”

That same day, Schaefer countered, saying, “I find it extremely unprofessional that the president of HBO Sports would issue this statement before this weekend’s Golden Boy fights [Marquez-Diaz II]. My entire focus this week is on this pay-per-view card on HBO, and they would be well-served to do the same thing. I fully stand behind the statement I made. I have not negotiated with Ross and I am not aware of any negotiations that have taken place. If Ross or Arum wants to go through a lie detector test, we can arrange that. I can only tell you, I have regular contact with Al and Leonard and there were no negotiations going on. I don’t know exactly what Ross is referring to or what he is talking about.”

For good measure, Schaefer added, “Arum should just get a life and stop attacking me on a non-stop basis. This is really childish."

Dry wit that he is; Top Rank president Todd DuBoef countered, “Richard has always wanted to one-up Bob. Now he has: ‘Yesterday, I was lying. Today, I’m lying.’”

Arum saw less humor in the situation. Among the observations he offered were:

* “Richard Schaefer has prostituted himself to a place where he has almost no credibility. He has demonstrated a total lack of pride. He has demeaned himself to such an extent that he has to feel ashamed of himself.”

* “Schaefer and Haymon and Ellerbe cling to the Mayweather boat because that’s the source of their riches. For Schaefer to be part of this drinking the Kool Aid is really pathetic. Doesn’t he have any pride?"

* “Schaefer saying the things he’s saying might play well to the crazies, but it totally destroys his credibility with anyone who has a brain. And I’ll tell you something else. This could put real strain on the relationship between HBO and Golden Boy. First, Ross was burned by the output deal. Then Schaefer was totally powerless to deliver on what would have been the biggest fight in years. And now he makes that horrible insulting statement suggesting that Ross take a lie detector test.”

In late September, Golden Boy fired back with a lawsuit in federal court in Nevada, alleging that Top Rank, Arum, and David Lopez (Top Rank’s chief financial officer) are liable to Golden Boy for US$3,000,000-to-$5,000,000 in damages for racketeering and fraud. The suit is based on a June 2007 settlement between the warring promoters that provides (1) Top Rank retains promotional rights to Pacquiao; (2) Golden Boy is to receive a percentage of the promotional profits from Pacquiao’s fights; and (3) When Pacquiao fights an opponent promoted by Golden Boy, Golden Boy is the lead promoter and in charge of the accounting process.

The thrust of the lawsuit is the allegation that, since the settlement, Top Rank has provided false accountings for Pacquiao’s fights against David Diaz, Miguel Cotto, and Joshua Clottey. Golden Boy was not involved in the promotion of those fights.

“It’s total bullshit,” Arum says of the lawsuit. “It’s a desperate act on Golden Boy’s part, and it’s going to backfire on them because, not only are they going to lose and wind up paying our attorney’s fees; it’s going to come out that Golden Boy is guilty of some of the same things they’re accusing us of.”

Golden Boy, of course, takes a contrary view. “The truth will come out in the courtroom,” says attorney Judd Burstein. “Bob Arum will be my first witness and best proof that he and the other defendants are guilty of a scheme to commit massive mail and wire fraud.”

And so it goes. Over time, the war between Top Rank and Golden Boy has become a proxy war, with other promoters quietly (and not so quietly) choosing sides. Meanwhile, the ripples emanating from their struggle are impacting on HBO and all of boxing.

“This dispute is damaging to everyone,” Greenburg says. “It really hurts the sport. Schaefer and Arum don’t have to throw dinner parties together, but they do have to find a way to promote fights together.”

Schaefer voices similar thoughts. “I am sure that Bob Arum’s feelings toward us are similar to our feelings toward him,” Richard says. “I don’t look forward to standing up on a dais with him, and I’m sure he feels the same way about me. But to make certain fights, for the good of boxing and the good of our companies, there are times when we should put our personal feelings aside and work together.”

And Arum?

“I’d rather not co-promote with Golden Boy,” Arum says. “I don’t see how it could be anything but unpleasant. And they’re so disorganized when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts work of actually promoting that working with them makes it harder to do the job right. What I’d be happy to do is enter into a provision of services contract with them where they provide a fighter, Top Rank promotes the fight, and we pay Golden Boy for providing the services of that fighter. Golden Boy enters into contracts all the time where another promoter provides the services of a fighter to Golden Boy, so they can’t complain about Top Rank wanting to do it that way.”

One assumes that Arum would co-promote with Golden Boy if that were necessary to make Pacquiao-Mayweather happen. The more intriguing question is, “What would HBO do if Floyd came back and wanted to fight someone other than Manny?”

“That would pose a problem for us,” Greenburg answers. “The fact that we couldn’t make Mayweather-Pacquiao cast a pall over the sport this year. Now we have to come to terms with the fact that the fight might not happen and move on. If Floyd came back and wanted to fight someone else, I’m not sure how we’d handle it.”

But there’s an issue at HBO that runs deeper than Pacquiao-Mayweather and the list of fights that the network will televise next year. For the first time, there are people inside HBO and the hierarchy at Time Warner (HBO’s parent company) who are asking whether HBO actually needs a sports department.

In recent years, HBO has shed several seven-figure executive contracts and encouraged some lower-level employees to accept severance packages. All of Time Warner is looking to consolidate workload and cut costs.

Greenburg’s contract expires in May 2012. If he chose to pursue other interests (such as producing feature films on a fulltime basis), that might be an opportune time to restructure.

Sources say that talk of restructuring hasn’t reached the level of strategic planning. But some key people are asking “what if?”

Most network sports departments deal with multiple sports. One of the questions being asked internally at Time Warner is, “Why does HBO have a sports department when it really deals only with boxing?”

Right now, talk of restructuring is just that. Talk. But it could become something more.

“If the past few years have taught us anything,” one insider says, “it’s that nothing in this business is inviolable or permanent. And restructuring would be easy because HBO Sports breaks down so easily into its component parts. There’s boxing, documentaries, and the magazine shows.”

Under one scenario, HBO’s Sports of the 20th Century series and other documentaries would be placed under the purview of Sheila Nevins (who has been with the network since 1979 and is now president of HBO’s documentary division). Real Sports would be phased out.

As for boxing; the Turner networks (which are part of the Time Warner empire) include inter alia TBS and TNT. TBS televised all four Major League Baseball divisional playoff series this year and the American League championship series. In May 2010, TBS and TNT acquired shared rights with CBS to the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament through 2024. TBS and TNT also televise NBA basketball, college football, NASCAR, and numerous other sports events. Turner has a huge sports production staff.

David Levy is president of Turner Sports. All sports in the Turner family of networks flow through him. There has been talk of putting HBO’s live boxing program under Levy’s guidance. The fights would still air on HBO, but acquisition and production would be under his umbrella. TBS or TNT might also televise fights to build synergy and provide a platform for young fighters.

When asked about this scenario, Bob Arum (who is not a source of the reports) says, “You’d save a fortune on salaries. You’d save a fortune on production costs. And you wouldn’t be paying for all those first-class airplane tickets and all those rooms at the Four Seasons and Beverly Wilshire hotels. Forget all the planning and scheming and machinations that these guys go through. HBO has the biggest checkbook in the industry. Promoters will be lining up to sell fights to Turner or HBO or whoever. You’re not reinventing the wheel here.”

Like the rest of the media, boxing’s media landscape is ever-changing. HBO and Time Warner have to ask, “What programming is HBO Sports currently producing for subscribers that couldn’t be produced at less cost under this new model?”

Of course, there’s another alternative.

In less than a decade, Richard Schaefer has built Golden Boy into a powerful force in the boxing industry. He understands finance and media. And he bears listening to when he says, “If you’re Time Warner and you see that ratings are down and there’s criticism about this and criticism about that, at some point you will say, ‘We really don’t need boxing.’ I can tell you from discussions I’ve had that Showtime is getting fed up with boxing too. People have to remember; HBO and Showtime don’t need boxing. It’s the other way around.”

Warning lights don’t come any redder.


“HBO and the State of Boxing – Part One” by Thomas Hauser.

“HBO and the State of Boxing – Part Two” by Thomas Hauser.


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Waiting For Carver Boyd) was published by JR Books and can be purchased at http://www.amazon.co.uk/ or http://www.abebooks.com. Hauser says that Waiting for Carver Boyd is “the best pure boxing writing I’ve ever done.”


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