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FOX Sports executive Bill Wanger draws buzz…and heat

Executive Vice President and Head of Programming and Scheduling at FOX Sports Bill Wanger
16
Nov

DAZN boxing expert Chris Mannix puts out a podcast on the Sports Illustrated platform and on his latest edition, welcomed FOX Sports executive Bill Wanger.

Wanger, an executive vice president and head of scheduling and programming, basically slots events on FOX’s platforms. He works with Premier Boxing Champions and figures out what to place where: on FOX, on FS1, on pay-per-view, etc.

And Wanger set the internet ablaze when he made a claim about what percentage of the talent pool PBC and FOX control. Before he went there, Wanger offered less inflammatory material…

It’s been about a year since FOX did a deal with PBC, one of the megabucks variety. To that end, FOX has been getting the good stuff from PBC over Showtime, a longtime partner with the Al Haymon enterprise. Haymon was doing a time-buy model and didn’t succeed in that push but did, however, sell FOX on the viability of the sport.

Wanger told Mannix that he and FOX built a great relationship with the reclusive impresario and the executive has drawn buzz off this hit.

Wanger said Haymon and company are the matchmakers and the FOX people give their input. Wanger focuses on the pathway, the way forward, the longer term plan. He said FOX is in “the premier position,” as opposed to Showtime, and he said the “biggest fights” will be with FOX. Yes, he sees Showtime as a “partner” but, I admit, I found myself thinking, “With partners like these…..”

Mannix asked how much pre-determination is involved regarding fighters fighting any given platform. Does he feel safe in that FOX doesn’t have contracts with individual fighters? Wanger said they are contracted with PBC, to “be in the premier position.” He repeated that term, “premier position.”

“At the end of the day, we get the best fights” and “the top stars.” And he added that Showtime won’t.

Yes, this was on the nose, explicit…and, no, it cannot have been received with happiness at Showtime.

More Wanger: He said platforms can work together, as they’d need to, for perhaps a Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder rematch. “It won’t be new territory for us” but it will be for boxing, he said. He said there is a fight deal, for February 22, for the Wilder vs. Fury redo but not much in the way of programming specifics.

Deontay Wilder (right) vs. Tyson Fury. Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime

Deontay Wilder (right) and Tyson Fury. Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime

The FOX dealmaker/suit came off as quite confident, perhaps slightly cocky if you aren’t on his “team.” He said PBC and FOX have “all the..you know, most of the top 99 percent of the top fighters, yes, there is a few on some other platforms but we’re totally self sufficient…um…and those guys are actually having some difficulty making some of the fights they need for their own fighters, whether it’s Terence Crawford or…”

The 99 percent remark has drawn rampant scorn on social media, for the record.

Then more spice: Mannix brought up titles and how platforms sometimes don’t bother to mention A-grade titlists in the context of “their” fighters. Wanger said he doesn’t really recognize the WBO and Mannix said, c’mon, the WBA is often beyond horrid. He said that PBC fighters don’t splash in the WBO pool, so, yeah, again, they don’t care about the ‘BO, so much. “I hate all these sanctioning bodies,” Mannix said and then Wanger said, “We are going to have a PBC belt,” and they will recognize “PBC champions.” At heavyweight…at 147…at 154, for where PBC belts will be contested, he shared.

Mannix pushed back. Isn’t it really, at least partially, because ‘Bud’ has a WBO welterweight belt? Wanger said, pretty much, it’s a WBO thing. (The WBO does do a load of business with Top Rank fighters that pretty much best explains the divide, in my view.)

Down the line, Wanger said he’d be happy for IBF/WBA/WBO titlist Andy Ruiz to beat Anthony Joshua in their rematch on December 7, because – hello – that would help make heavyweight bout-making easier for Wanger. Yeah, platforms now, more explicitly, have rooting interests, he told listeners.

IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight titlist Andy Ruiz (standing) vs. Anthony Joshua. Photo credit: Getty Images

IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight titlist Andy Ruiz (standing) vs. Anthony Joshua. Photo credit: Getty Images

What if a Wilder vs “AJ” fight never happens? Will Wanger be bummed? He was blase and said, basically, the world will keep turning. Andy Ruiz is a compelling persona, he stated.

And might we see a collaboration between FOX and DAZN? “Um, yeah…Potentially,” the exec said. He hesitated when asked if that is realistic.

Mannix and Wanger debated a bit…They argued the power of profile of Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua and Wanger said Wilder sells out arenas. Which ones? Mannix asked. Yep, they punched and countered, albeit politely.

Wanger said that IBF/WBC welterweight boss Errol Spence Jr. can do fights in the PBC sphere and then aim at Terence Crawford, when and if they choose to. Wanger said maybe they can make a Spence vs. WBA titlist Manny Pacquiao bout and that would come before a Spence vs. Bud deal. It is clear that Wanger is on board with the PBC construct, about keeping things in that PBC sphere in the 147-pound class. And is it realistic that we could see Pacquiao versus Spence? “Yes,” said Wanger. (No, he didn’t bring up how Spence’s health is, after that car crash. Insiders says Errol will fight again.)

Wanger spoke on the talent, like IBF super middleweight titlist Caleb Plant, and said that PBC and FOX owns the lion’s share of the top talent in the game. “We’ve exposed boxing and the PBC to a mass audience,” he declared. Mannix asked if he cared about where they hold the fights. Lame and small crowds suck, right? Wanger doesn’t care if an arena is in a less sexy place, he said.

The FOX bigwig said he wants to build the sport, the brand, the boxers and he thinks their shoulder programming helps in that regard. Multiple millions have watched support programming for the Deontay Wilder vs. Luis Ortiz rematch, for Wilder’s WBC heavyweight title on November 23, he told Mannix.

Luis Ortiz (left) has Deontay Wilder reeling. Photo by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

Luis Ortiz (left) has Deontay Wilder reeling. Photo by Amanda Westcott/Showtime

FOX has that promotional muscle, he continued, and that their soccer, baseball and college sports shows help to give boxing a nudge is not to be dismissed, he stated.

Mannix asked about doing PPVs and said that, out of the box, PBC came out against PPV and wanted to give fans “free” boxing. Now Wanger said they will do four to five PPVs a year and didn’t tell Mannix that it’s about making money. He said the PPV model is better, for example, than what DAZN’s over-the-top model is able to do.

To remind you, Mannix is a DAZN guy…And he noted that the best fights get kicked to PPV and asked if FOX put good stuff on free Fox? “We could,” Wanger said. Yes, budgeting is one reason they put the top-tier stuff on PPV. “We’re only gonna do four to five a year,” Wanger repeated.

His crew is seeing great growth in digital buys, off cable, for the PPVs, he shared.

Mannix didn’t stutter; he rapid-fired questions.

Wanger said they will have a Julian Williams fight in the start of 2020 and there will be about 12 FS1, 10 FOX dates and, to reiterate, four-to-five PPVs probably in the next year.

My three cents: One could argue that Wagner stepping in it with the 99 percent remark is why execs like him don’t usually do these interviews.

 

 

You can follow Michael Woods on Twitter @Woodsy1069.

 

 

 

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