Showtime closes sports division, ends boxing on network

Follows HBO’s exit five years ago 

With the decline of linear TV – and traditional Pay TV in general, it’s no surprise Paramount Global’s Showtime Sports division is shuttering its doors after 37 years in operation. The unit was mostly home to boxing events run by Premier Boxing Champions and Bellator MMA fighting plus sports documentaries, would close by the end of the year. The number of layoffs weren’t announced, but there will be some.

“The company’s decision is not a reflection of the work we have done in recent years, nor of our long and proud history,” Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza said in a statement. “It is not an indictment on the value we have delivered to this network for 37 years, nor, in particular, in 2023. Unfortunately, in a rapidly evolving media marketplace, the company has had to make difficult choices allocating resources, resetting priorities and reshaping its content offering.”

Ironically, Espinoza is one of those who will be laid off.

Showtime created its sports division to compete with HBO Sports in 1986 to land boxing events, including pay-per-view matches. The two had a spirited rivalry in the 1990s – just as much as the fighters in the ring themselves, racking up huge buy rates. But as cord-cutting has ramped up in the last decade, the advent of streaming, and competition from UFC and other MMA leagues for younger-skewing audiences, revenue has declined significantly. Even so, Showtime’s PPV unit still racked up numbers from time-to-time, with 2015’s Manny Pacquaio-Floyd Mayweather fight drawing a record 4.6 million buys. Then-HBO parent AT&T finally said enough in 2018, as it pulled the plug on boxing after 45 years, blaming in part boxing’s decline in popularity.

Among the stars Showtime featured include Mike Tyson, Evader Holyfield, and most recently Dany Garcia and Terence Crawford. Showtime actually increased the number of fights this year with five major cards so far. In all, Showtime has aired more than 2,000 matches, on the premium channel and on PPV.

Mostly absent from broadcast television since its 1950s and 1960s heyday (and later ABC’s Wide World Of Sports and USA Network’s Tuesday Night Fights), it seemed professional boxing would return to broadcast and basic cable television in a big way as Al Haymon’s PBC struck numerous media deals with NBC and other broadcasters (including CBS, ESPN/ABC, and Bounce) in 2015, bringing boxing back to prime-time. But matches on those networks became less frequent by 2017, and a year later PBC wound up signing an exclusive four-year deal with Fox and FS1 that expired last year. Since then, PBC boxing has been regulated to Showtime, who’ll now need to find a new home (Amazon and DAZN are the rumored destinations.)

Currently, ESPN airs matches from Top Rank boxing as its done since 2017, but are often infrequent as college football takes up much of ESPN’s and ESPN2’s schedules in the fall. HBO had a long relationship with Top Rank, but ended when the ESPN deal was struck.

The shuttering of Showtime Sports also spells the end of Showtime Basketball, and Bellator is up for sale, purchased by Paramount successor Viacom in 2011 as the brand’s future is uncertain. Any future sports content scheduled for Showtime will be handled by CBS Sports, as both share a corporate parent in Paramount Global. Throughout its long history, Showtime was nominated for 94 Sports Emmy Awards and won seventeen.

Showtime’s final boxing broadcast is scheduled for December 16.


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