Stephen Espinoza: Showtime boss traces journey to Mayweather-Pacquiao
Stephen Espinoza, the Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager, has been a busy man the last five months. He’s been instrumental in orchestrating what will likely be the biggest fight of all time, when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao clash on May 2 at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
Getting Mayweather and Pacquiao to fight was one of the main goals Espinoza had when he got the job at the network in 2011. Under his tenure, Showtime Boxing has flourished, and his accomplishments include inking Mayweather to a historic six-fight deal that will encompass the Pacquiao bout – though this particular event is a joint venture with HBO, Pacquiao’s network ally.
Now that it’s finally happening, you would figure Espinoza would have some time to sit back and relax. The answer to that would be an emphatic “No.”
There are still small, behind-the-scenes entanglements that need to be sorted out, though Espinoza recently took the time to speak with RingTV.com about how Mayweather-Pacquiao was made and some of the driving forces in what made the fight possible.
RingTV: How relieved are you that Mayweather-Pacquiao is made?
Stephen Espinoza: There is a sense of relief that the fight is made, but I think a bigger sense of emotion is excitement and satisfaction. It has been a long road to get to this fight. A lot of people put in a lot of time to make this happen. It would have been a shame for the sport and for the individual fighters if we didn’t somehow figure out a way to make the fight work. … It’s still a monumental fight where we’ll still be talking about two guys that are at the top of the sport. I expect a really memorable, memorable night.
RingTV: What was unique about this negotiation?
SE: There were two elements that made this negotiation unique. One element was the involvement of our [CBS] CEO, Leslie Moonves, who most importantly is not just a very accomplished businessman, but a huge, huge boxing fan. His motivation for wanting this fight was more than just from a business perspective. He had a personal interest and a passion for the sport. He was someone in the middle of all conversations, pushing and pulling and persuading and sometimes cajoling, but making sure all sides came together at the end of the day.
The second critical element, I believe, is where these two boxers are in their careers. They’re still the top fighters in the sport, but I feel both of them can see the finish line, whether it’s two, or four, or six fights each. I mean, who knows? But they are each in the home stretch of their careers and it’s forced them to consider what it would have been like for them not to finish their careers without having done this fight. We got a little extra motivation on behalf of the boxers, and a little bit of extra impetus from the top, in Les Moonves.
RingTV: What made it happen?
SE: The fight wasn’t done until it was almost announced. One of the things that we wanted to be cautious about was announcing a deal before it really happened. This fight was close to being made several times. Until it was signed, we didn’t consider it done until it was finally signed. A turning point in terms of progress with the negotiations was when Floyd and Manny coincidentally met at the Miami Heat game. Floyd not only took it on himself to approach Manny at halftime, but he got Manny’s phone number and called him after the game so they could sit down and talk, face to face. What that meeting did was clear the doubt in each fighter’s mind that each of them wanted the fight very badly. Having heard that face-to-face, they commanded their respective people to get it done.
RingTV: So Mayweather played a major role in this?
SE: Floyd absolutely did. It would have been one thing to speak with Manny at halftime of the game, but they got together and had a lengthy conversation that cleared the air about a lot of things. I have to laugh when I hear people talking or writing about Floyd being pressured, or manipulated into this fight. No one twisted Floyd’s arm in going and chasing Manny at halftime of that basketball game and then exchanging numbers so they could speak afterwards to make sure they could sit down and iron out their differences. This is a fight that Floyd wanted very, very much.
RingTV: Can you talk about the synergy between Showtime and HBO in making this happen?
SE: This is unusual for HBO and us to be working together like this. If you can imagine some projects where McDonald’s and Burger King come together, or Pepsi and Coke decided to work together. It would have to be really special for two competing corporations to come together like this, and that’s exactly what we have in Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. It took something like this fight for us to come together. Look at the two fights where we came together – Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, and now this. Both are historic fights and this one is potentially a record-setting fight. I think at a certain stage in negotiations we advanced that neither of us wanted to be the ones in the way from getting the fight done. We wanted the fight done, HBO wanted the fight done and everyone sacrifices where necessary and we ended up with a deal.
RingTV: Are there things that still need to be negotiated?
SE: We have much of the broadcast team agreed on, but one of the newer developments is broadcasting it. When you go back to 2002 and Tyson-Lewis, you talk about the broadcast team, you were really talking about who was handling the broadcast. Now, with digital production, short-form content, long-form content, and ancillary shows, we’re talking about things like the weigh-in show and how the press conferences will be produced … the pre-fight shows involved before the pay-per-view, which still has to be figured out. We’re looking at everything as a package and once everything is set, we’ll announce it. We’re excited about where CBS and Showtime programming is going with boxing. What you’ll see in the near future is a schedule involving Showtime boxing and CBS that will support each other in a positive way. We’re trying to streamline our process in promoting and using cross-promotional platforms. I think the rest of the year for Showtime, we have two prongs, and that’s continue to feature the pound-for-pound fighter in the world and that’s Floyd Mayweather, and we have the deepest pool of young fighters in the world, whether it’s Danny Garcia or Deontay Wilder. His win was huge for the sport, and things are only going to get bigger for Deontay. It was big in January, and Deontay looks the part and backs it up. To have a young, articulate heavyweight champion is a tool we haven’t had in quite a while in promoting the sport. Right now is a great time for boxing.
RingTV: Where is boxing right now?
SE: Overall, between all of the networks getting involved and showing the sport, it’s a real critical time for boxing. This is a huge opportunity wrapped around this mega-event coming up. We’ve seen the audience will respond to good fights. These opportunities we hope will turn into long-term success for the growth of the sport.