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30 AUGUST 2014

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HBO and the State of Boxing – Part Two




By Thomas Hauser

Despite its difficulties, HBO remains the dominant force in boxing today because of the size of its checkbook. But no financial transaction takes place in a vacuum. For every pile of money somewhere, there’s a larger pile somewhere else. When two financial powers interact and one helps the other, it can skew the balance of power in an industry. Nothing that HBO has done over the past few years has shaped boxing as much as its strategic alliance with Golden Boy Promotions.

Boxing is a playground that’s largely without rules. You want fair in boxing? Fair is a place where people eat cotton candy and go on rides.

When Golden Boy joined the ranks of promoters at the dawn of the new millennium, the company was hailed as a council of white knights who would do their best to clean up boxing. Oscar De La Hoya was the sport’s #1 star. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer was a former Swiss banker, who was expected to provide the business acumen necessary for success.

“They all say they’re going to come in and clean up boxing,” Craig Hamilton, an astute observer of the boxing scene, said at the time. “And they all wind up wanting to control things the way that Don King used to control them.”

In recent years, the industry perception of Golden Boy has changed. There’s no precise marker of when that happened. But the evening in September 2006, when De La Hoya met Manny Pacquiao at Los Angeles International Airport and offered him a briefcase containing US$300,000 in cash in an effort to lure him away from Top Rank was a seminal moment.

Within the boxing industry, Schaefer (not De La Hoya) is now the face of Golden Boy. And one rarely hears him referred to these days as a “Swiss banker.” He’s a boxing promoter.

Schaefer brilliantly leveraged De La Hoya’s appeal while Oscar was fighting. Over the past seven years, the most tested route to stardom in the United States has been beating De La Hoya. Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Bernard Hopkins, and Shane Mosley all took that route. All but Pacquiao wound up fighting for Golden Boy. And Golden Boy now receives a percentage of Top Rank’s profits from Manny’s fights as a consequence of a litigation settlement that followed Pacquiao’s acceptance of the aforementioned briefcase filled with cash.

The most significant benefit that Schaefer reaped as a consequence of Golden Boy’s “De La Hoya power” was a long term output deal with HBO. That deal, signed in 2008, runs through 2011.

Output deals whereby a network commits to buying a minimum number of fights during a given time frame from a promoter aren’t new in boxing. Over the years, Bob Arum has had them with numerous networks. Don King once had one with Showtime. For a fledgling network with little money to spend, they might make sense. But over time, output deals tend to work to a network’s disadvantage because the promoter is guaranteed dates, which strips the network of a key bargaining chip in negotiations.

When Jay Larkin was in charge of Showtime’s boxing program, he instituted a policy that encouraged contracts for one fight at a time rather than multi-fight deals. He called the policy “great fights, no rights.” Golden Boy’s output deal with HBO could have been called “great rights, no fights.” In effect, HBO said to Golden Boy, “Don’t tell us what the fights are. Surprise us.”

Asked about the output deal, Schaefer says, “If you have the talent, you get the dates.”

But another way of looking at it is, “If you have the dates, you get the talent.”

HBO’s output deal with Golden Boy wasn’t based on fighters that Golden Boy had. It was based on fighters that Golden Boy was expected to sign in the future because it now had financial backing from the network and could tell fighters, “Sign with us. We can put you on HBO.”

It’s widely acknowledged within HBO that the Golden Boy output deal was a mistake and won’t be renewed when it expires. Asked whether he would enter into the deal if he could do things over again, Greenburg answers, “That’s a tough question. When we made that deal, it was a different time and boxing was in a different place than it is today.”

Either way, there’s a widespread belief that the HBO-Golden Boy output deal tilted the playing field in boxing beyond its contractual terms. That’s because HBO is thought by many to have performed additional favors for Golden Boy after the contract was signed in order to give value to the network’s rights under the contract.

One common allegation among rival promoters is that, in recent years, HBO has steered fighters such as Amir Khan (who signed a three-fight deal with Golden Boy six months ago) to Schaefer and company.

“That’s ridiculous,” says Greenburg. “We’ve been adamant about never steering any fighter to any promoter. That’s a nasty dangerous bad game. I take offense that anyone would suggest that. It just doesn’t happen. I won’t let that happen. And if it does happen on my watch, there would be severe ramifications.”

“It has never happened,” adds Kery Davis. “That’s one hundred percent false. I’m a lawyer. I know where the lines are; I don’t cross them. I would find it inappropriate for HBO to steer any fighter to any promoter.”

But a promoter who regularly does business with HBO takes a contrary view, stating, “I’m afraid to say this on the record, because they’ll retaliate against me if I do. But what Ross and Kery are saying simply isn’t true. HBO was stuck with a bad output deal and a promotional company that doesn’t know how to develop its own fighters. Kery steered fighters to Golden Boy to fill the slots that had to be filled, and there are a half-dozen promoters and managers who would tell that to Ross if he asked them. I’m not saying that Ross is lying. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he doesn’t know. But Kery has steered fighters to Golden Boy.”

The perception that HBO gives preferential treatment to Golden Boy is widespread throughout the boxing industry.

“Golden Boy gets advance notice of HBO’s strategic planning,” complains one promoter.

“Richard Schaefer tells managers and fighters about dates that the rest of us aren’t even aware of,” says another.

A refrain that rival promoters say they often hear from Davis is, “We don’t have any open dates. Why don’t you talk with Golden Boy.”

There was no room at the inn for Zab Judah until Kathy Duva of Main Events (Judah’s promoter) went to Richard Schaefer. HBO then agreed to televise Judah vs. Lucas Matthysse from the Prudential Center in Newark on November 6th, but insisted that it be paired with Robert Guerrero against Vincente Escobedo. Matthysse, Guerrero, and Escobedo are all Golden Boy fighters.

“Look at the undercard for Judah-Matthysse,” Duva says. “I wanted to work with Russell Peltz and put Mike Jones in the co-feature against another top welterweight. Mike is from Philadelphia. He’s undefeated and has a big fan following. It would have given him a foothold in the Prudential Center and established him as a future opponent for Andre Berto. But Golden Boy had the date; so instead, we’re stuck with two Mexican-Americans from California fighting in New Jersey in the first TV fight of the night. They’ll sell no tickets and the crowd won’t care.”

Lou DiBella promoted Paulie Malignaggi from his first pro fight through July of this year. On September 28th, Golden Boy announced that it had signed Malignaggi to a three-year contract.

Anthony Catanzaro (Paulie’s adviser) says that no one from HBO steered him to Golden Boy. “I called [Golden Boy president] Dave Itskowitch and asked for a meeting,” Catanzaro recalls. “During the time that we were negotiating, Golden Boy never said they could get Paulie on HBO. Later, after Paulie had signed, Richard Schaefer told him, ‘If we get you two wins, maybe we can get you back on Boxing After Dark.’”

Asked about the same issue, Malignaggi answers, “I’m not stupid. Lou was my promoter. But the last four times I was on HBO, Lou provided my services to Golden Boy and it was on Golden Boy shows. Golden Boy has a chance of getting me on HBO again. Lou can’t. It’s as simple as that.”

After Kelly Pavlik lost to Bernard Hopkins, he was still middleweight champion of the world. But HBO turned down numerous proposed opponents, forcing Top Rank to put Pavlik on an independent pay-per-view card.

In an of itself, HBO’s decision had a credible basis. Marco Antonio Rubio (who Pavlik finally fought) is a solid journeyman; nothing more. But Rubio and several other opponents that HBO turned down for Pavlik were as credible as the competition that Andre Berto has fought. And unlike Berto, Pavlik had earned a breather by going in tough against Hopkins, Edison Miranda, and Jermain Taylor (twice) in four of his previous five fights. Also, Pavlik had proven himself to be a far bigger attraction than Berto. There were those who thought that HBO was putting the squeeze on Top Rank to make it difficult for the promoter to meet its contractual obligations to Pavlik. That way, when the Pavlik-Top Rank contract expired, Kelly might sign with Golden Boy.

HBO also recently bailed Golden Boy out of a bad financial situation when it put its pay-per-view brand on the promoter’s September 18th card featuring Shane Mosley vs. Sergio Mora.

In recent years, HBO has moved away from small pay-per-view events on the theory that they diminish the HBO-PPV brand and cut into enthusiasm for major pay-per-view events. At the September 1, 2010, kick-off press conference in New York for Pacquiao-Margarito, HBO senior vice president Mark Taffet (who oversees the network’s pay-per-view program) told the media, “At HBO Pay-Per-View, we’re in the big event business.”

Mosley-Mora was not a “big event.” To the contrary, it was a predictably awful fight. Franklin McNeil’s “Twitters” on ESPN.com as the bout progressed told the tale: “The fight has started . . . There was little action in the first round . . . Fans are starting to boo . . . It’s only the second round, but this fight is boring . . . Mora is literally running from Mosley in the third round. This is bad . . . This fight had no business being on pay-per-view . . . This is one of the worst fights I have seen this year; maybe the worst, considering it’s the main event of a PPV . . . This fight is so boring, I won’t bother scoring it anymore . . . The fight still stinks . . . This fight is horrible. It’s unbelievably bad.”

By producing, distributing, and putting Jim Lampley behind the microphone for Mosley-Mora, HBO diluted its overall product. Here, one should note that, to its credit, the network didn’t brand Golden Boy’s April 3, 2010, rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. But it did distribute the fight and underwrote the promotion by paying US$400,000 for international rights.

Craig Hamilton sums up, saying, “Of course, HBO shows favoritism toward Golden Boy. Anybody who says they don’t is lying or stupid. Let’s see what happens when Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander become promotional free agents next year. The truth is; neither of them needs a promoter. HBO has already made it clear that it wants them to participate in those big fights it’s planning for the 140-pound division. So why should they give a piece of their share to a promoter? All they need is a manager and a good lawyer. Let’s see if HBO pushes them toward Golden Boy.”

HBO’s tilt toward Golden Boy is now an assumption that’s built into the business models of many promoters, who believe that the network has done a disservice to the sport by empowering one promoter. There are complaints that Gary Shaw enjoys similar favoritism from Showtime. But given Showtime’s second-place status, that doesn’t impact on boxing in the manner of decisions made by HBO.

“The way things are structured now,” says Joe DeGuardia, “we’re reluctant to invest money to develop fighters because, when the fighters are ready for the big time, they’re incentivized to leave us. If you can’t make money at the top, what’s the sense of losing money at the bottom?”

“HBO and Golden Boy are destroying the farm system,” adds Kathy Duva. “Most promoters are afraid to put money into the long term development of a fighter, because they don’t want to develop a fighter and lose him. HBO decides it’s interested in somebody. Kery or someone else at HBO tells Golden Boy that it’s interested in the fighter. Then Golden Boy offers the fighter a big signing bonus and high purse minimums because they know they’ll get dates for him on HBO. It happened to us and it happens to other promoters all the time. Golden Boy has been in business for years and, even with everything it gets from HBO, it still hasn’t developed a star of its own. Its main attractions have all been developed by someone else. But you get to a certain point and you almost have to look for a one-shot pay-off with your fighter instead of building him for the future because you’re afraid that Golden Boy will come in with HBO’s money and steal him.”

“They’re partners,” Duva continues. “That’s what Richard Schaefer says. ‘We’re partners with HBO.’ Bob Arum didn’t make them his partner. I didn’t; Don King didn’t. When Golden Boy came in; that was when this started happening.”

Golden Boy shouldn’t be blamed for extracting an output deal and other concessions from HBO. That’s what promoters are supposed to do. The issue is whether Golden Boy’s conduct in conjunction with actions taken by one or more HBO employees crossed over the line that separates lawful business practices from illegal restraint of trade and other wrongdoing.

In that regard, comments that Oscar De La Hoya made to Ben Grossman as reported in the September 27, 2010, issue of Broadcasting & Cable are instructive.

“I commend UFC for what they have done in such a short period of time,” De La Hoya said. “They are the only real player in their category, the mixed martial arts world. They have been able to organize themselves, have all the TV dates, a pay-per-view every month. They are doing the right thing, and it’s time for boxing to do the right thing, as long as we don’t have those obstacles named Don King and Bob Arum.”

Grossman then asked, “How does that actually happen? You want Golden Boy to replace them?”

“Absolutely,” De La Hoya answered. “We need to sign all the talent and get all the TV dates. Then you can have your own agenda and have a schedule for the fans and the sport. You can do a monthly pay-per-view, a bi-weekly HBO fight. You can have the best fighters fight each other. When you have five or six promoters, it’s very difficult.”

“It’s not my opinion anymore,” Duva says. “It’s fact. Oscar came out and said what he wants.”

“What we’re seeing here,” adds another promoter, “is a classic example of how anti-competitive behavior hurts other competitors and the public. If HBO was giving preferential treatment to a promoter who was providing great fights, that would be one thing. But they aren’t. Golden Boy is giving HBO a few good fights and a lot that aren’t very good. I won’t go on the record with you because we both know that, if I do, there will be retaliation. I’m in a dangerous position. My livelihood depends on the dates I can get from HBO. But if Bill Nelson or Richard Plepler called me in and asked me what was going on, I’d tell them to their face. So would a lot of other promoters.”

Meanwhile, Golden Boy keeps rolling along. On July 12th, it announced a three-year contract with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment to promote twelve fights a year at the Barclays Center, which will open in Brooklyn in mid-2012.

The Barclays deal signaled Golden Boy’s intention to move aggressively into the New York metropolitan area. Schaefer explains, “Making the deal now allows us to plan for the future. The situation is very fluid. But I would expect that we will have six club shows each year at Barclays that will be televised on an outlet like SportsNet, three Telefutura-ESPN-level shows, two shows on HBO or Showtime, and one pay-per-view event. The important thing is that there will be continuity. We‘ll lock in the dates and then we’ll fill in the slots. It’s an investment for Golden Boy in the New York market and it guarantees New Yorkers live shows.”

The deal is “exclusive” in that it would allow Golden Boy to provide the services of fighters for other shows in New York, but Golden Boy cannot be the lead promoter on those shows. Similarly, other promoters can co-promote with Golden Boy at Barclays, but Golden Boy must be the lead promoter.

“We cannot force another promoter to go to Barclays,” Schaefer continues. “I would assume, however, that co-promoters would want to go there, since the Madison Square Garden deal structure is about as unattractive as it gets and the Barclays Center’s is about as attractive as they come.”

On August 10th, Chris Mannix reported on SportsIllustrated.com that several industry sources “suggested that HBO was involved with brokering the deal with the Barclays Center.” The most vocal among them was Brooklyn-born Lou DiBella.

“Golden Boy goes to venues,” DiBella says. “They go to fighters, sponsors, and investors, saying, ‘HBO is our strategic partner.’ They give the impression that it will go on long after 2011 and that the deal will give Barclay’s exposure on HBO. And HBO does nothing to rebut that. This is a contract between a hole in the ground and a promoter for unnamed fighters in fights that won’t be made for years. The whole thing smells.”

One of the questions raised regarding the deal between Golden Boy and Barclays is the role, if any, played by HBO senior vice president Mark Taffet. Brett Yormark (president and CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment) declined to be interviewed for this article. However, he told Mannix, “For me, everything is about gut. [Golden Boy and Barclays] share the same vision. They want to grow the sport in Brooklyn. They have visions of going global. We do too. They were willing to make a commitment to us, help us grow this franchise.”

Mannix further reported, “Both HBO and Yormark emphatically deny the network’s involvement. ‘Absolutely not,’ Yormark said. ‘I have some friends at HBO that date back a long way, but they never brokered [a deal] or interfered in it.’ An HBO spokesman told SI.com, ‘In no way did anyone at HBO Sports suggest or recommend to Mr. Yormark what promotional company he should contact, nor did Mr. Yormark indicate that he intended to approach any promoter as a potential exclusive partner or sponsor. Yes, one of our executives had lunch with Mr. Yormark once in the past year, but the conversation was general and no recommendations or endorsements were made.”

Taffet elaborates on that theme, saying, “One of his [Yormark’s] family members knows one of my family members, so there’s a connection. In fifteen years, I’ve met him a few times at social functions. Five or six months ago, he asked to have lunch and we had a general discussion about boxing. I explained HBO’s role as a broadcaster and HBO’s role as a pay-per-view distributor, and that was it. He never expressed any interest in doing anything with any particular promoter.”

Golden Boy can’t be criticized for making the Barclays deal. As with the HBO output deal, it was in Golden Boy’s best interest to do so. Barclays might have been unwise to limit itself to one promoter. Schaefer notes that, when Barclays goes into the market to sell luxury-suite packages, now it can tell buyers, “We’re giving you twelve nights of boxing each year.” But there are a dozen promoters who would have been willing and able to furnish good fights on a date-by-date basis for the individual dates that Barclay’s will be offering. Still, if that’s bad judgment on Barclays’ part, it’s not Golden Boy’s fault.

If Yormark were to leave Barclays before the arena is built and take a job with a company that has financial ties to Golden Boy, it would raise eyebrows. Otherwise, the agreement would appear to be what it is on its face; nothing more.

As for the allegations that something improper transpired, Schaefer declares, “I would say to the other promoters, ‘Stop crying. Stop complaining. Get up, go out, and do something. No one said that Lou DiBella couldn’t approach Barclays. I did, and he didn’t. I’ve approached many people where nothing worked out. I didn’t complain and stop trying. Lou DiBella complains that I came into Brooklyn. Fine. Let Lou DiBella come out to Los Angeles and make a deal with Forum Boxing. And don’t stop with Los Angeles. Does Lou think that we’re going to stop in New York? I’m looking now at monthly shows in England and to use our relationship with AEG [an equity partner in Golden Boy] to set up a presence in China. The New Jersey Nets [of the National Basketball Association] will play at the Barclays Center. The new owner of the Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov is one of the richest men in Russia. Don’t you think that I will have conversations with him about a Golden Boy presence in Russia. Lou DiBella should go to England; Lou DiBella should go to Russia and other countries around the world and promote the way that Golden Boy is doing.”

“I’ve had it with Lou DiBella and all the other complainers,” Schaefer continues. “This is all just sour grapes. These other promoters cry all the time and don’t do anything to build the sport. Why did I get every Friday night on Telefutura, fifty shows a year? Because I walked in with sponsor commitments. Why did I get ten dates with Fox? Because I walked in with sponsor commitments. Lou DiBella can complain all he wants. How many times has he walked into a network with a sponsor commitment?”

“I know what Oscar said about UFC, but I’m not following the UFC model. I’m following the Golden Boy model. Our output deal with HBO guarantees us three Boxing After Dark shows and one World Championship Boxing show each year. I would hardly call that a monopoly. Yes, Golden Boy aggressively pursues free agents. I like to surround myself with people who have deep pockets. The major shareholders in Golden Boy are Oscar, myself, AEG, and The Brener Group [which invests on behalf of a wealthy Mexican family]. That allows Golden Boy to aggressively invest in talent. That’s why we get the fighters. Golden Boy doesn’t steal fighters. If somebody is free, they’re free.”

“You know, it really is sad that so many people in boxing, especially promoters, spend so much time attacking each other. One thing Todd DuBoef says that I agree with is that we have to improve the brand of boxing. Not enough people care about the sport. There’s a fight soon, Sergio Martinez against Paul Williams. Two of the best fighters in the world, fighters in the top five on almost everyone’s pound-for-pound list, will be fighting each other. Everyone thinks that it will be a good fight. And no one cares. That hurts all of boxing. So stop complaining and help build the sport.”

“I have November 27th on HBO. We agreed with HBO to do Juan Manuel Marquez against Michael Katsidis. Then I got a call from Kery. ‘Hey, Richard; could you help us out and give Lou [DiBella] the two undercard spots on your show for Berto and Caballero.’ I said ‘no problem.’ Then Lou sells HBO Berto against Hernandez and Caballero against Litzau. I would never have gotten away with those fights. If I made those fights, Lou would be screaming that they’re horrible and HBO wouldn’t approve them. But HBO approved Lou’s fights because he has scared them with all his complaining. So I gave up my undercard spots; Lou never called to thank me; and he’s still talking shit about Golden Boy. I’m really very tired of it. Lou does things like a mom-and-pop promotion company and then he complains when someone else tries to do more. And I’ll tell you something else. Many people in boxing said that, once Oscar retired, Golden Boy would be gone. They were wrong. Now they’re saying that, when the output deal with HBO is over, Golden Boy will be gone. And they’re wrong again. Golden Boy isn’t going to go away. All this complaining about HBO this and HBO that actually helps us, because it makes the fighters think that Golden Boy is even more powerful than we are.”

So . . . where does one go to further explore the allegations that HBO gives preferential treatment to Golden Boy?

Possibly, the May 15, 2010, Boxing After Dark doubleheader at Madison Square Garden, featuring Amir Khan vs. Paulie Malignaggi, with Victor Ortiz against Nate Campbell on the undercard. Lou DiBella was Malignaggi’s promoter at the time. The other three fighters were promoted by Golden Boy (the lead promoter for show).

HBO paid a US$1,500,000 license fee for Khan-Malignaggi. Under the contract between Golden Boy and DiBella Entertainment, that license fee was to be divided sixty percent to Khan and Golden Boy, forty percent to DiBella and Malignaggi. Golden Boy was to receive the entire license fee for Ortiz-Campbell. There was confusion in some circles as to what the Ortiz-Campbell license fee actually was.

New York law requires that anyone who promotes a professional boxing match in New York file various fight-related contracts with the New York State Athletic Commission. Federal law has a similar requirement. The federal and New York reporting requirements supplement each other. One does not negate the other.

Golden Boy failed to provide the contracts in question to the New York State Athletic Commission in a timely manner. As a consequence of that, the NYSAC made requests for the documents on May 19th, June 3rd and June 10th. The requests were ignored. The commission then subpoenaed the missing documents. Golden Boy refused to comply with the subpoena. Its president (Dave Itskowitch) later told the New York Daily News, "We didn’t want our contracts on the public record. We have confidentiality clauses in our contracts. We wanted to comply with what we needed to comply with; but at the same time, we wanted to protect our agreements."

Itskowitch is an honorable man, but his explanation ignored two factors: (1) Golden Boy can’t pick and choose which laws it complies with; and (2) there’s a confidentiality provision under New York law that Golden Boy could have invoked to protect the contracts from public disclosure.

On July 9th, the New York State Athletic Commission advised Golden Boy that it’s promoter’s license had been suspended because of its refusal to file documents as required by law. The Notice of Suspension further alleged that Golden Boy had made false representations to the commission regarding the existence of certain contracts.

On July 12th, Golden Boy issued a statement acknowledging that “a number of significant, but innocent, mistakes were made in failing to make timely responses to legitimate information requests from the NYSAC.” That same day, Judd Burstein (Golden Boy’s lead attorney in the matter) told ESPN.com, "There was no willful intent or false statement made. The guy who usually handles it [Dave Itskowitch] went on his honeymoon, and the guy who handled it didn’t know what the hell he was talking about."

Burstein further advised Michael Rosenthal of RingTV.com, “No one was minding the store. The commission made numerous requests for the documents, and no one really paid attention. The commission appropriately decided that Golden Boy was not responding and issued a suspension. I understand the commission was upset. The contracts should have been produced. It was an innocent error.”

Skeptics pointed out that a honeymoon doesn’t last for seven weeks.

On July 20th, Golden Boy and the NYSAC entered into a Consent Order, pursuant to which Golden Boy acknowledged “mistakenly” representing to the commission that all existing written agreements between Golden Boy and fighters participating on the May 15th card had been filed with the commission and, also, failing to file those agreements as required by New York law. In addition, it agreed to pay a US$10,000 fine. The suspension was terminated.

Immediately after the Consent Order was signed, Golden Boy issued a press release headlined, “NYSAC Lifts Suspension of Golden Boy and Clears Its Name.” In reality, the Consent Order left several questions unresolved.

The contracts filed with the New York State Athletic Commission confirmed reports circulated previously in boxing circles that HBO had paid a license fee of $750,000 for Ortiz-Campbell.

That $750,000 stands out like a sore thumb.

Ortiz-Campbell was the opening fight on a Boxing After Dark telecast. A $400,000 license fee would have been generous payment for that bout.

There were suggestions that HBO and Golden Boy had conspired to shift money from the license fee for Khan-Malignaggi to the license fee for Ortiz-Campbell in order to deny Malignaggi and DiBella their forty percent of the amount that was shifted. But $1,500,000 was fair market value for Khan-Malignaggi.

Why did HBO pay a $750,000 license fee for Ortiz-Campbell?

Richard Schaefer says, “As with any World Championship Boxing or Boxing After Dark event, I negotiated the license fee with Kery. HBO really wanted that fight, and I needed that amount of money to get the fight done.”

Davis explains, “I kept Ross in the loop with regard to the negotiations. He ultimately approved what we paid. I’m not going to confirm the license fee. I will say that we paid what I thought was fair market value for that fight. Ortiz had been in three fights on the network that had done well. Campbell was a former champion.”

Greenburg notes, “I looked at it as one of the stars at 140 pounds fighting a rugged veteran, who was an ex-champion and had stymied the career of Juan Diaz.”

The problem with that rationale is that Ortiz isn’t a star at 140 pounds; not yet. He was knocked out by the only world-class fighter he faced. A lot of people have “stymied the career of Juan Diaz” lately. Diaz has lost four of his last six outings. Campbell has won one fight in the past thirty-two months. And Ortiz-Campbell was a lousy fight.

But the most compelling argument that Ortiz-Campbell wasn’t worth $750,000 lies in what the fighters were paid. Victor Ortiz received a $100,000 purse. Nate Campbell was paid $125,000 plus an additional $25,000 for training expenses.

The value of a fight comes from the fighters. The idea that a fight can legitimately generate a $750,000 television license fee (plus a portion of the live gate) with the fighters getting only $250,000 might appeal to Don King. But it’s not consistent with the stated mission of Golden Boy to ensure fair pay for fighters.

Moreover, Ortiz was managed by Shelly Finkel. There are people in boxing who like Finkel and people who don’t. But one thing everyone agrees on is that Shelly knows the value of a fight. He could have been expected to get a purse well in excess of $100,000 for his fighter if Ortiz-Campbell was really worth $750,000.

Ortiz and Campbell were fairly paid. Golden Boy appears to have been grossly overpaid.

“A license fee of $400,000 would have been in line with reality,” says Bob Arum. “Seven-fifty is ludicrous.”

“It’s not in my best interests to trash HBO for paying high license fees,” says another promoter. “But $750,000 for Ortiz-Campbell is absurd. I’ve asked around, and everyone I’ve talked with says it’s a joke. What really happened was, HBO subsidized Golden Boy’s acquisition of Ortiz [from Top Rank] and Campbell [from Don King Productions]. Both of those guys jumped ship to be with Golden Boy, and HBO paid for it.”

The $750,000 license fee that HBO paid for Victor Ortiz vs. Nate Campbell is an interesting entry point into the decision-making process at HBO. If enough people tug hard on that thread, the cloth might unravel.


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

“HBO and the State of Boxing – Part Three” 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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