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ESPN announces PBC deal, Friday Night Fights to end May 22

18
Mar

It will be with some sorrow that we fight fans bid adieu to ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights,” which will tiptoe off to the sunset on May 22. But ESPN isn’t abandoning the sweet science; to the contrary, the World Wide Leader will be jumping in with both feet, and a bigger portion of the body of the conglomerate. Word was made official on Tuesday what the grapevine has been hinting at, that Al Haymon and ESPN completed a deal which will bring a bunch of boxing to ESPN proper (not on ESPN2) and also that ABC, also a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Corp., will show scraps.

The first of 12 two-hour annual live Premier Boxing Champions on ESPN (PBC on ESPN) telecasts is scheduled for Saturday, July 11, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. No word yet on who will fight on that or other cards.

ESPN telecasts will air live in primetime. ABC broadcasts will air on Saturday afternoon, with further details to be announced at a later date. ESPN Deportes, ESPN’s Spanish-language network, will also televise all PBC on ESPN fights as part of its Noche de Combates series. And there is a push to make the young ‘uns aware you can watch the fights on mobile, and through your Roku and Xbox and the like.

It is believed that the deal runs for two years; a source told me that Haymon paid $8 million to TWWL to be able to trot out his athletes and product on their platform.



To be sure, reaction within the industry is mixed. While fans seem by and large open and accepting of the “Haymonization” of the sport, i.e. the move to use “time buys” to get time on delivery platforms which haven’t been open to boxing, some others, like promoters who’d been used to receiving fees from networks to provide content, view this latest shoe to drop with furrowed brow. Kathy Duva, of Main Events, has said that a part of her roots for the PBC efforts to succeed, but she’s dubious, to say the least, that this model is sustainable. She chose not to comment at this latest batch of news of a Haymon platform addition.

ESPN had paid out, not a hugely princely sum, but around $60,000 to a promoter to put together a show to air on FNF, so that option for some of the Arthur Pelullos, Joe DeGuardias and Jimmy Burchfields will not be in play. Pelullo has told me that this new normal will mean people like him have to adapt, or possibly perish. He noted that his foreign contacts, in Russian, in Brazil, give him a foot-hold which will aid his adaptation process. Others may have to be similarly minded, or pursue sponsorships with more fervor.

Fans of continuity will likely be happy that FNF blow by blow man Joe Tessitore will stay on board, as will the combustible analyst Teddy Atlas. The Staten Island resident talked to RingTV.com about the news.

“It’s the direction, the new era of boxing, and part of the impact Al Haymon is having on the business,” said Atlas, who also has a radio show on Sirius/XM. “It’s a monumental, historic step, and I think it’s an exciting time for the sport and for the fans.”

Time will tell about the level of success and acceptance gained by the PBC multi-platform and on ESPN and ABC push, he said, and will depend on the quality of the matchups offered.

ESPN boxing boss Brian Kweder told RingTV.com he believes fans will benefit mightily.

“PBC is changing the face of boxing and ESPN wants to be part of that, of raising the profiles of the athletes to a general sports fan and not just the boxing fan,” he said. He said that the sport has been hampered in recent years by “limited distribution” and “this is exactly the tonic the sport needs.”

Talk to us, fight fans. Weigh inÔǪwill you shed tears for FNF’s exit? Are you eager to see what ESPN and their crack production crew do with a bigger budget and more meaningful bouts?

 

 

Woods is the editor of TheSweetScience.com, and worked at ESPN The Magazine, and then ESPN NY, from 2003-2014.

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