The purpose of this article is to take a dive into the one-year mark of the FOX Sports deal with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions outfit. Technically, we are over a year into the deal which officially started back in December 2018, featuring the Charlo brothers. Prior to the deal being struck, Al and Fox had a time buy arrangement that called for a few events on FOX but more concentrated on FS1. Toe-to-Toe Tuesdays and mostly Saturday night shows on FS1 made up large portion of the content agreement. The main events on FOX were hit or miss but a good chunk of the FS1 shows were solid.
By the Fall of 2018 and well before honestly, the boxing media and majority of fans had already dug the PBC’s grave. Then a new straight up deal, no time buy stuff, was announced and FOX’s commitment was clear from the opening card highlighting Jermall and Jermell Charlo. Lots of media members didn’t think much of the 1st FOX roll-out but it did end up paying off for fans more than they had expected. Which is funny looking back at it because the first three broadcasts of 2020 were passed off as mismatches on network television, yet in the actual ring 2 out of the 3 so-called ho-hum main events produced action and upsets. For the record Caleb Plant took on a mandatory challenger and it was as one-sided as everyone thought.
The kickoff on December 22nd, 2018, Charlo-Harrison and Charlo-Monroe, which changed to Matt Korobov, was a success from a ratings standpoint, peaking at 2.4 million and fairing well in the all-important demo category. The first main event on FS1 was an interesting fight between Caleb Plant and Jose Uzcategui. I’ll spare you the boring details of listing each and every one of the 22 combined cards on FOX and FS1, however. Instead I will mention some and make points as we go. Keith Thurman and Josesito Lopez had a moment that looked as if ‘One-Time’ wasn’t going to make it out of the fight. Porter-Ugas, Peterson-Lipinets, along with a few undercard bouts like Rosario-Hernandez 2 and Derevyanchenko-Culcay, were entertaining as well in the first quarter of 2019. In the Spring and Summer Hurd-Williams, James-DeMarco, and Kownacki-Arreola were all great scraps. Tony Harrison vs. Jermell Charlo 2 put an explanation point on the year for FOX.
During the same time frame Leo Santa Cruz, Erislandy Lara, and Brian Castano, among others, all fought in subpar main events. Let’s face it, Lara fighting Canelo’s brother in a FOX headliner was ridiculously bad. Jermell Charlo fighting Jorge Cota was a meaningless fight on the surface but to be fair Cota was a fill-in for the injured Tony Harrison. I could name more mediocre (insert Joey Spencer) to poor bouts as well as some quality undercard bouts but it would just be filler at this point.
All and all they had a respectable year, some of the ratings peaked over 2 million homes, while a few of the cards fell short of the target ratings wise. The overall ratings, including demographics in the adult 18-49 area, will have to rise no doubt but keep in mind that some of the broadcasts saw lots of counter-programming. We also have to remember how FOX paid relatively low for the product and need all the help they can get with FS1 content which PBC fits the bill very well for that.
Let’s switch things up and talk about the promotion and the PPV arm of the PBC/FOX deal because that has created further separation of boxing fans on twitter. The deal calls for right around 4 pay-per-views a year, a detail I’m still scratching my head over why some folks were so surprised that would be in the fine print. Boxing on network television was a rarity in the last two decades before the PBC came along. Main Events on NBC did a few late afternoon slots and CBS managed to put on an event with Leo Santa Cruz as well, but none in prime-time. The UFC had left a void in FS1 and to a much lesser extent on FOX when Dana White & Company decided to do a full deal with ESPN instead of a partial arrangement with FOX that had been discussed.
The writing was on the wall for the PBC on FOX deal, unless you were just listening to Steve Kim or many others that doubted the PBC from the start. The whole ‘freeeeeeee’ crowd doesn’t understand they still get lots of the PBC fights on free or basic cable. But it was clear from the PBC time buys and even now with Top Rank on ESPN, top level versus top level guys who get paid over one or two million dollars won’t be able to sustain on just ad revenue for a giving fight card. Not at this point and maybe never.
At a much lower price than the UFC, FOX picked up the PBC and shockingly gave them 10 prime-time network slots a year, which turned out to be 8 if you count 2 of them for PPV prelims. Many doubted Al Haymon’s ability to build boxers and eventually sell enough PPV’s to turn a profit ever. The first test sampling was a matchup of pound-for-pound type fighters in Errol Spence and Mikey Garcia. Obviously the weight jump and Spence’s skill set were too much to overcome. However, the PPV was a success on a minor scale when comparing it to previous HBO PPV’s like both fights with Kovalev-Ward, Golovkin-Jacobs, or Crawford-Postol. The numbers were more in line with what many HBO PPV’s had done without a crossover star involved in the two decades.
The biggest part of the event was the amount of folks who came out to Cowboys Stadium outside of Dallas, edging over 47,000 fans and creating a sizable gate. FOX has definitely made boxing a priority, to an extent of course, by exposing the sport as a whole, fighters, and certain matchups, to the main stream via non-stop commercial runs, shoulder programming, and FOX cards.
The other three pay-per-views were Pacquiao-Thurman in July, Spence-Porter in September, and PBC closed out the year in November with Wilder-Ortiz 2. Take away the dreadful Spence-Garcia undercard, the last three in 2019 gave plenty of bang for the PPV buck with entertaining bouts before the main events. You have to compare the last 10 years of PPV undercards when judging it. I do remember seeing legitimate complaints for lackluster main events in recent times like Canelo Alvarez vs. Liam Smith, Mayweather-Guerrero/Berto, or Pacquiao-Rios/Vargas, etc. For some odd reason the PBC fighters have been deemed by many to be not worthy enough for the PPV platform. Of, course the entrance of DAZN and their PPV is dead marketing campaign plays a role.
Even an event that dips below 300,000 buys gets more exposure ahead of the event for the fighters then the run of the mill commercials during fight week we were used to seeing. If the outcome of the fight goes viral that bookends the fighters involved, receiving far more promotion then in years past.
If you are someone who has always been against PPV’s for the last decade and you didn’t buy any or just a couple, I give these people credit because they have at least been consistent. It’s strange when boxing fans and podcasters on twitter bitch about PBC PPV’s but also flew to Las Vegas and purchased tickets or bought the PPV for Canelo vs. JCC Jr., or some other unappetizing PPV. I do understand the constructive criticism behind the change to many of the best PBC fights featuring top level talent and names are now going on PPV. Those same fights were on Showtime or network television since 2015. At the end of the day what the majority of fans wanted for so many years was quality matchups at the cost of a minor subscription or cheap PPV.
Moving on, Fox has been consistently exposing PBC fighters to the mainstream, which is a wonderful thing. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t fallen short at times and will need to continue to build the sport by improving the matchups to lessen the fall off from event to event. After a year plus, FOX has delivered a mix bag of the great, good, bad, and ugly that is common place across all platforms. The undeniable fact is FOX owns the largest share of boxing programming in America and no platform has outdone them in a variety of ways of promotion.
Still a work in progress, this long time boxing fans will not predict if the PBC and FOX will continue their partnership after the 4 years is up. It’s clear that FOX is doing a better job than ESPN at this point, as far as mainstream coverage. For now let’s hope that FOX and all the other distributors, for that matter, trend upwards in what will be a crucial few years ahead, considering the investment made in a relatively short amount of time by DAZN, ESPN, FOX, and Showtime. That’s not even mentioning the damage done to the economy and mental state of fans not wanting to be in a big crowd from the coronavirus making it a slippery slope in the coming months.