Spike TV announced last week that it won’t extend its two-year contract for boxing with Premier Boxing Champions in order to focus its combat resources on promoting Bellator and its mixed martial arts programming.
Some viewed it as the first real sign of demise for the much-ballyhooed PBC series headed by boxing adviser Al Haymon. Backed by a $400 million hedge fund, the PBC was introduced two years ago as a way of getting boxing back on network television. Spike was one of the networks paying for content but decided not to pick up an option for a third year.
“We’re tremendously committed to Bellator, which is having its best year ever,” David Swarz of Spike told The Post. “But we want to make it clear we’re still talking to Al, and we were very satisfied with the fights from PBC.”
The decision makes sense given Bellator and Spike are owned by the same company, Viacom. Bellator is making a hard push to expand its worldwide brand with immediate focus on its June 24 pay-per-view at Madison Square Garden.
MMA has been part of Spike’s evolution since it was the home of the popular Ultimate Fighter program. This doesn’t mean Spike is done with boxing, but it intends to be more selective about which fights to program.
“If the right situation and right fight comes up, we’re all ears,” Swarz said.
That is how it should be. To view the end of the Spike deal as a sign PBC is in trouble is a bit of head scratcher, considering Haymon Boxing still manages many of the top boxers in the sport.
Andre Berto will face Shawn Porter in an important welterweight bout Saturday night at Barclays Center. Jermell Charlo also will defend his super welterweight championship and Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz also is featured. All are Haymon fighters.
The card is promoted by DiBella Entertainment, which has done a quality job with all of its events at Barclays Center. Showtime will televise. That formula isn’t going to change anytime soon.
A spokesman for PBC pointed out it will be involved in five shows on television this month and has another four planned next month with at least one on Showtime.
“We continue to have a good relationship with all our broadcast partners as we determine what fights work best for all parties involved,” the spokesman said.
Over the past two years, PBC has produced fights on CBS, NBC, ESPN, FOX and Spike TV. As many as 5 million viewers tuned in for Keith Thurman’s narrow decision over Danny Garcia last March on CBS, while viewership on cable networks has varied.
Though some focus on the ratings and millions spent by PBC, the upside is boxing has stayed on television at a time when HBO is cutting back its boxing programing.
For those paying attention, promoters are starting to figure out that if they hold best fights, the best the networks will come. British promoter Eddie Hearn got Showtime and HBO to pay to televise the April 29 heavyweight championship bout between title-holder Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. Showtime will televise the fight live in the early afternoon U.S. time while HBO will offer the replay during prime-time hours.
That Hearn was able to double dip on a fight without an American in the main event is stunning. If you listen to what Sean McManus, the Chairman of CBS Sports, said about sports programming in general, he validates the opportunity boxing has by offering the best product it can possibly offer.
“News and sports are really the only must live viewing that exists anymore,” McManus told The Post recently. “Everything else can be time shifted. But to have a captive audience as you have with a big-time sporting event and be able to sell that to advertisers who are trying to reach a very specific demographic is really important. It’s why sports are more important today to a network than they’ve ever been.”