HBO said today that it will end its live boxing programming at the end of 2018, a final bell at the pay-cable network that made the sport famous with the advent pay-per-view and by showcasing superstars from Mike Tyson, Oscar de La Hoya and Sugar Ray Leonard to Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones Jr.
HBO Sports’ first live boxing broadcast was in 1973, when it covered George Foreman’s victory over Joe Frazier in Jamaica for the world heavyweight title. Its 1,100-plus fights since then included Evander Holyfield-Foreman in 1991, one of the first PPV fights, on TVKO (later renamed HBO PPV).
But viewership ratings have been in decline, partly because of the rise in popularity of MMA, and also the proliferation of outlets that feature their own boxing programming. The hyped Floyd Mayweather-Connor McGregor fight last year? It scored 4.3 million PPV buys in the U.S., the second most ever — but it was a co-production between Showtime and the UFC.
ESPN reported that HBO Sports’ September 8 card drew 298,000 average viewers, among the lowest-watched in network history.
“Our mission at HBO Sports is to elevate the brand,” HBO sports said in a statement to media outlets Thursday. “We look for television projects that are high-profile, high-access, and highly ambitious in the stories they seek to tell and the quality of production in telling them. Boxing has been part of our heritage for decades. During that time, the sport has undergone a transformation. It is now widely available on a host of networks and streaming services. There is more boxing than ever being televised and distributed. In some cases, this programming is very good. But from an entertainment point of view, it’s not unique.”
HBO said the sports division will focus going forward on “unscripted series, long-form documentary films, reality programming, sports journalism, event specials and more unique standout content from HBO Sports.” It added it would not rule out bringing back live boxing in the future.
The last card currently on its 2018 schedule is October 27 with a pair of title fights.
Jim Lampley, the network’s Hall of Fame broadcaster, told ESPN he was staying at the network boxing or no, while the network’s stable of boxers including Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin will be free to sign new deals at other networks.