Premier Boxing Champions
|Premier Boxing Champions|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Production company(s)||Premier Boxing Champions|
NBC / NBCSN
CBS / CBSSN
ABC / ESPN / ESPN2
Fox / FS1
Telemundo / NBC Universo
Univisión / UniMás / UDN / UTDN / Galavisión
Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) is a television boxing series organized by Haymon Boxing. The television series seeks primarily to bring renewed mainstream exposure to the sport of boxing, emphasizing a modern "concert"-like atmosphere, "high-quality" cards, television broadcasts through major networks and cable channels as opposed to pay television and pay-per-view events, and the use of technology to provide enhanced insight to the bouts.
The first Premier Boxing Champions card was broadcast by NBC on March 7, 2015. The promotion has reached deals with an array of broadcasters, with cards scheduled across all four of the United States' major television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) and their affiliated sports-oriented cable networks (ESPN, CBS Sports Network, FS1, and NBCSN, respectively) as well as Spike and Bounce TV.
Premier Boxing Champions has proven controversial from a business perspective; both Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank filed lawsuits against Haymon and the investors of PBC, arguing that through PBC and other internal intricacies, Haymon was serving as both a manager and promoter—actions which are forbidden under the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. Additionally, the two promoters claimed violations of antitrust law, with Top Rank in particular claiming that Haymon was trying to effectively monopolize professional boxing in the United States by consolidating boxers, venue bookings, the events themselves, and broadcast rights under his ownership. Top Rank settled its suit in May 2016.
Premier Boxing Champions is part of an effort by Al Haymon—best known as the representative of Floyd Mayweather, Jr.—to bring mainstream prominence back to the sport of boxing. In the United States, although popular among a niche audience, most major boxing events are relegated to premium television channels such as HBO and Showtime, or pay-per-view, limiting their mainstream exposure to those who are willing to pay. The growing popularity of mixed martial arts has also affected the popularity of boxing within the young adult demographic; the UFC's broadcast rights contract with Fox Sports allows some of its cards to air on the main Fox network—which have proved successful in terms of overall viewership. In a survey conducted by Haymon, only 2% of the 35% of viewers who identified themselves as fans of boxing had watched it.
PBC's chief operations officer Ryan Caldwell acknowledged that when broadly distributed, major sporting events can attract a large number of live viewers as event television, and in turn, advertisers: he explained that they were "whacking our key demographic with a lot of fees on premium cable and pay-per-view. Broader distribution is key. When you look across other sports, there's a reason they aren't pay-per-view distributed." Caldwell also noted the success of WWE Network, which similarly subverted the professional wrestling promotion's traditionally PPV-oriented business model by offering its premium events and other archive programs as part of an over-the-top subscription service. PBC's vice president of operations Lamont Jones explained that the goal of the promotion was to build loyalty, believing that "the [same] way the customer goes to the grocery store and sees USDA on the steak and wants to buy it, we want the boxing fan to see to PBC on the telecast and know they can expect high-quality, competitive match-ups."
PBC is distinguished from other boxing productions by its overall presentation and atmosphere; executive producer Michael Marto felt that the in-arena experience of boxing events had been compromised by the focus on their television broadcasts, leading to a lack of "entertainment" for those attending in person. As such, the environment of PBC events is designed to improve the experience for both in-arena and television audiences. PBC events feature a concert-style stage setup known as the "Ring of Honor"; inspired by the Colosseum and the stage setup of U2's 360° Tour, its centerpiece is a Jumbotron-like rig above the ring with an ultra high definition scoreboard screen and a circular marquee display. The screens can be used as a scoreboard, and to play instant replays and other features. At the end of the arena is the "Wall of Thunder", which features a stairway and ramps that fighters use to enter the arena on their way towards the ring. The wall consists of two displays at 18 feet (5.5 m) in height, which flank a central display that is 32 feet (9.8 m) in height. There are three different variations of the stage components, which are optimized for different venue sizes. Film composer Hans Zimmer was commissioned to create theme and soundtrack music for the events.
New technologies were also developed for use during PBC events to provide improved insight and second screen experiences to viewers; Aqueti developed camera technology for use during the events, such as a headband-mounted camera for the referee, "Round-a-Bout"—a circular frame with 36 cameras that can be used to provide a 360-degree view of the ring below and "bullet time" effects, and 250-megapixel "microcameras" consisting of multiple digital camera processors linked together. Gloves and shorts are equipped with sensors for measuring the force of punches and other medical data respectively.
As opposed to most major boxing events, Haymon sought carriage for the Premier Boxing Champions cards on mainstream cable networks, and on the United States' major television networks. Haymon reached multi-year deals with NBC Sports (NBC and NBCSN), Viacom (Spike), CBS Sports (CBS, CBS Sports Network) and Bounce TV to air PBC cards through their outlets on either weekend afternoons or in prime time; rather than having the broadcasters pay the promotion a rights fee, the telecasts are brokered by Haymon to the networks in exchange for a cut of advertising revenue. Prior to these deals, boxing telecasts on the major networks in recent years had been limited to occasional one-off broadcasts, such as a broadcast by CBS in December 2012 in conjunction with sister premium network Showtime.
PBC cards on Spike were first broadcast as part of the network's combat sports brand Friday Night Lights Out. Antonio Tarver, who serves as a member of Spike's broadcast team, explained that "I remember back in the day when fighters started their careers on NBC. Network TV. That's how legendary stars were made. I think NBC and Spike are going to do the same for today's fighters."
Under its contract with NBC, Haymon pays the broadcaster $20 million per year; NBC Sports' first 20 Premier Boxing Champions events include nine prime time cards on NBCSN, and five prime time cards on the NBC network—marking the first time in thirty years that NBC had broadcast a boxing event in prime time. The first PBC card aired on March 7, 2015 on NBC, and featured Keith Thurman in a welterweight bout against Robert Guerrero, and Adrien Broner against John Molina in a junior welterweight bout. Al Michaels served as the host, joined by Marv Albert and Sugar Ray Leonard as commentators. Viewership of the premiere broadcast peaked at 4.2 million viewers; NBC claimed that it was the most-watched professional boxing telecast since Fox's March 1998 Oscar De La Hoya's Fight Night (which reached 5.9 million viewers).
On March 19, 2015, ESPN announced a two-year deal with Premier Boxing Champions, in which the network will air 12 cards per year, with eleven prime time cards on ESPN and in Spanish on ESPN Deportes (airing under its Noche de Combates brand), and an afternoon event on ABC. ESPN's inaugural telecast aired on July 11, 2015. Concurrently, ESPN announced that after a seventeen-year run, it would end ESPN2's boxing series Friday Night Fights; its on-air staff of Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas were carried over to ESPN's PBC telecasts. On August 4, 2015, Fox Sports 1 announced that it would air 21 PBC cards on Tuesday nights (Toe-to-Toe Tuesdays) on the network from September 8, 2015 through June 2016. The telecasts are also simulcast in Spanish by Fox Deportes. The announcement came following the end of a contract between Fox Sports and Golden Boy Promotions.
On June 25, 2016, CBS broadcast its first primetime PBC card, featuring a WBA welterweight championship fight between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter (won by unanimous decision by Thurman to retain his title), which marked the first boxing event broadcast by CBS in primetime since 1978. The telecast was produced by Showtime as a special edition of its Showtime Championship Boxing franchise.
In 2017, PBC ended their broadcasting deals with NBC, ESPN and Spike, while continuing with Showtime and Fox.
United States audiences
As of March 2017, the highest PBC audiences have been Errol Spence Jr. vs Leonard Bundu (NBC, 2016, 4.8 million), Keith Thurman vs Robert Guerrero (NBC, 2015, 3.4 million), and Keith Thurman vs Danny García (CBS, 2017, 3.1 million), all of them at welterweight division.
In its review of the inaugural Premier Boxing Champions event on NBC, Bad Left Hook praised the event's on-air production style for feeling more like a "modern", "true mainstream sports show" than the boxing events of HBO and Showtime, along with the performance of Al Michaels, Steve Smoger, and BJ Flores. The performance of Marv Albert was panned, noting that he "[missed] a lot of the action", along with Steve Farhood's lack of contributions beyond scoring the fights. Hans Zimmer's soundtrack was also criticized for being "generic" and "[robbing] fighters of their own personalities." Bleacher Report was similarly mixed, describing the atmosphere as being too "sterile" for a sport that "thrives on chaos", and that "the bland short walks to the ring and generic music presenting the fighters as interchangeable automatons [are] more NFL than WWE". NBC's on-air talent also received mixed reviews, especially the poor performance of Albert, explaining that "Albert, who hasn't called boxing since 1985, sounded like a guy who hadn't called boxing in 30 years. He had a hard time keeping up with the action, eventually giving up on play-by-play and occasionally adding a booming 'Yes!' whenever a particularly telling blow landed."
On May 6, 2015, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions filed a $300 million lawsuit against Al Haymon and the financiers of Premier Boxing Champions, alleging a violation of antitrust laws and the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. Golden Boy alleged that Haymon had violated the act's requirement that managers not serve as promoters, stating that he had "forbidden hundreds of boxers he manages to sign with any other promoter; and he has acted to cut off legitimate promoters not only from promoting boxers he manages, but also from essential network television of boxing matches and from the quality arenas necessary for the effective presentation of their bouts. His illegal conduct, designed to eliminate all competition, also constitutes an 'unlawful ... business act or practice' constituting 'unfair competition' under California Business and Professions Code."
On July 1, 2015, Top Rank filed a similar lawsuit against Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions investor Waddell & Reed, seeking an injunction to cease the events and $100 million in damages. Top Rank alleged violations of the Ali act and antitrust laws, arguing that Haymon was attempting to monopolize boxing through internal practices such as using "sham" promoters that are ultimately connected to Haymon, attempting to prevent major venues from being booked by competing promoters by reserving them for a different event, but cancelling and moving the event elsewhere after a competing event is forced to re-locate, and entering into exclusivity agreements with broadcasters through Premier Boxing Champions to prevent them from broadcasting competing events. Top Rank alleged that "with the financial backing, complicity, and material assistance of Waddell & Reed and other financiers, Haymon is rigging the boxing industry so they can act as manager, promoter, sponsor, and ticket broker for nearly every major professional boxer competing in the United States". An attorney representing Haymon denied the lawsuit, claiming it was "entirely without merit and is a cynical attempt by boxing’s old guard to use the courts to undermine the accessibility, credibility and exposure of boxing that the sport so desperately needs."
The Top Rank lawsuit was dismissed in October 2015, with the court ruling that the promoter had failed to provide specific examples of the conduct that it had alleged, nor evidence that the alleged actions harmed Top Rank, but in the decision federal judge John F. Walter allowed Top Rank to file an amended complaint after removing Premier Boxing Champion financier Waddell and Reed, which Top Rank did. After receiving the amended complaint, Judge Walter allowed the case to continue and ruled against Haymon's motion to dismiss on January 6, 2016. Top Rank and Haymon agreed to a settlement in May 2016; it was reported that the settlement also contained an option to explore the possibility of a Mayweather/Pacquiao rematch, although this was not confirmed.
In January 2017, the Golden Boy lawsuit was dismissed, with the court ruling that the promoter had "failed to demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to any of their federal claims for relief".
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