Last month, HBO announced that after 45 years of broadcasting live boxing, it will exit the business this year. Based on that news, “You would think boxing is weak, because such a big network, that has been part of boxing for such a long time, is stepping out,” says former heavyweight champion of the world Wladimir Klitschko.
But in sharp contrast to HBO’s move, the sport has also seen fat new deals inked recently in cable and in OTT (over the top). Showtime extended its pact with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions through 2021. ESPN entered a 7-year deal with Top Rank Boxing to stream 54 live fights per year on its new ESPN Plus service. And UK streaming network DAZN, in just the last six months, made a $1 billion deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and a $365 million deal with Canelo Alvarez and Golden Boy Promotions.
It’s the streaming that interests Klitschko, who is now retired from boxing and spends his time lecturing on management at Harvard Business School. He says the rise of OTT content deals will make boxing more popular, not less.
“You’re getting all those huge deals for $350 million with DAZN for something that comes out of the internet,” he says. “Digitalization changed the sport of boxing. Boxing got bigger and better. Because now, probably Canelo fights are going to be watched all around the world, not just in the United States, due to internet and mobile devices.”
The way Klitschko sees it, HBO’s exit and the rise of OTT plays is simply an example of the industry evolving. “Darwin said a great line,” Klitschko says. “Not the strongest is going to survive, and not the smartest, but someone who is going to adjust to the environment.”
Oscar De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions has thrown itself behind Canelo Alvarez, is similarly optimistic. “I think boxing is at a place right now where we’re starting to feel and see the momentum shifting,” he told Yahoo Finance last year. “I think we have an opportunity to bring back those glory days, to bring back the business of boxing.”
Of course, Klitschko and De La Hoya are bound to be bullish on the sport where they made their names. With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and others offering an avalanche of original series, and more distractions online than ever before, boxing and all live sports collectively face a defining moment.