CANELO ALVAREZ returns to the Showtime network for Saturday’s fight with Caleb Plant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The broadcast giant is also hopeful that they will continue to work with the Mexican star for future fights.
Although this bout with Plant is a one-fight deal, Stephen Espinoza, Showtime Sports president, told Boxing News, “We understand that at this stage of his career he wants to chase the biggest and best fights and doesn’t want to have impediments or obstacles in preventing him from doing that. So it’s certainly a reasonable position for him to take at this stage in his career. Having said that, we’ve had conversations, we’re optimistic that we can continue to work together. Because two of the most attractive fights, in my mind the two most attractive fights are Showtime fighters, in Jermall Charlo and David Benavidez. Certainly there’s challenges at 175lbs but after this experience and hopefully a successful pay-per-view I think those two fights are going to be very, very enticing and I’d argue in terms of certainly the US market and most markets, the Charlo fight and the Benavidez fight are the biggest fights in terms of commercial viability and in terms of his legacy and his desire for doing big, commercially successful fights.
“It’s a combination of commercial appeal and personality and styles. The other thing is, you look at Benavidez, you look at Charlo, there’s no question how that fight’s going to play out. Those are both come-forward, fan-friendly, all-action fights, particularly Benavidez who throws more punches than anyone else in the division. So I think Canelo, when he gets past this event, either he’s going to have a really enticing rematch if he loses this and if he wins, I’m optimistic that he’s going to come to the conclusion that either Charlo or Benavidez are the fights to make and that Showtime is the place to make them.”
From the end of 2018 Canelo had been broadcast in the US on DAZN, the new streaming service. But he came back to Showtime pay-per-view for this Plant fight. That could be seen as a vindication of their business model. “DAZN came out very aggressively with a particular messaging about the end of pay-per-view, which is interesting as a marketing exercise. The problem was it wasn’t supported by the business realities. Pay-per-view’s not a perfect business model. But it is an effective tool to get high level fights done, to provide funding where there often isn’t any and to provide the upside that sometimes makes these big fights happen. So I think it can be overused and there are definitely challenges with the model but to a large extent it works, when used on a limited basis. I think it was not so much the particular business model as it was making sure this got the exposure and the public support that it deserves,” Espinoza said. “I think having the reach, having the history, having the credibility, the reputation, having 35 years in the sport and being aligned with everyone from Holyfield to Tyson to Chavez to Mayweather certainly helps when we are pitching ourselves as the appropriate outlet for the fight.”
“Our strategy was one that’s born out of long-term commitment to the sport. We have ridden out a lot of new comers who have come in and tried to use boxing to launch a business,” he added. “From that perspective, it was a challenge but I think what has been shown at this point there is a value in terms of the credibility, the expertise and the long-term commitment to the sport and it isn’t as easy as coming in with a big chequebook and saying, ‘Hey we’re here.’ It takes more than spending money for a year or two to really make inroads into the sport and establish yourself credibly. I think that’s probably the lesson.
“This is not something where they [DAZN] are going to come in and revolutionise the sport overnight. People look at Netflix and it may seem that’s how it happened, but they forget there’s an entire decade when Netflix was a DVD by mail business. What maybe felt like an overnight success was very much not. So maybe the expectation was that in a year or two that they would crack the market, but it takes a long time to enter into a market that you’re a complete newcomer to.”
New players though will continue to enter and an entrant, eventually, could indeed change the game. “I think there’s a couple of things that would really change the landscape. True consolidation would be a game-changer. [If an entity could] break down these promotional walls and obstacles, that was able to get everyone together on one platform,” he reflected. “The other has to do with technology. The reality is technology will always be the great disruptor.”
But boxing does not necessarily lend itself to being well-ordered and perhaps that is part of its appeal. “Part of the charm of the sport is the lack of corporatisation… There is value to events not being standardised and uniform and corporatized,” Espinoza said. “When you go to a Canelo Alvarez fight it feels completely different from a Mayweather event, [an Anthony] Joshua event, from virtually every other event and there’s a charm in that. I think that’s one thing boxing does well. To be able to customise for not just the fighter but the local market.
“That’s one of the reasons why there’s a passion and connection to the sport that’s unlike anywhere else. Because it is raw. Because it is unaltered. These events are fighter driven. Sometimes we’d like some guardrails on them and it would help but there are also advantages to not having guardrails as strictly as you see in other elite sports.”
He seems confident that Alvarez will stay with Showtime, rather than immediately returning to DAZN. “Only time will tell. DAZN it’s certainly well funded and no one’s going to doubt that digital distribution, it’s not just the future, it is the now. But depending on the market, the barriers to entry are very, very high. I think they and others have started with boxing because the price of entry is lower than in other sports. Certainly Premier League or UEFA or NFL, those rights are tied up long term and for billions of dollars. It takes a fraction of that to get into boxing and make a difference. So it is low hanging fruit. But just having a few good fights a year doesn’t form the basis of having an entire business,” Espinoza said. “The main advantage of being on an entertainment focused network is that we do have access to the non-hardcore boxing fans.”
“Canelo’s the number one attraction in the sport worldwide so of course every boxing platform of all shapes and sizes wants to be in business with him and it was a competitive process to secure the fight,” he continued. “This was a big priority for us, we went after it aggressively and here we are.”
Beyond the Canelo fight, Showtime have laid down a marker with an impressive boxing schedule in 2021. Still to come are David Benavidez vs Kyrone Davis on November 13, Brandon Figueroa vs Stephen Fulton on November 27, Gervonta Davis vs Isaac Cruz on December 5 and Nonito Donaire vs Reymart Gaballo on December 11. Showtime are not retrenching from the US boxing market. “We doubled down and committed ourselves this year,” Espinoza said. “It was our view that we really needed to commit to the highest quality schedule possible of meaningful fights in order to bring lapsed viewers back to the sport. The other opportunity that we saw was actually with the ebb and flow of the business was that there were opportunities that weren’t there in the past.”
He’s seen another difference too. “The pandemic has brought a lot of not even realised changes to human behaviour. The way people view their jobs and their lives and their values, it’s all come into question given what we’ve all been through in the last 18 months and I think that applies to fighters as well. I think one of the reasons why you’ve seen more of the meaningful fights this year is because people have realised, for lack of something more original, life is short,” Espinoza concludes. “When you get back, you’re [thinking,] ‘I’m going to make the most of it’. You put all of those things together, we saw a real opportunity this year.
“We’re on the right track, the sport’s on the right track and I’m pretty optimistic about the sport’s future.”