Can boxing re-colonize broadcast television?

I didn’t pay much attention when NBC announced an expansion of its relationship with promoter Main Events for its Fight Night series on NBC Sports Network – it wasn’t even enough to budge my Sports TV Wars count. But there is one aspect of the deal that is intriguing: up to two fights (presumably per year) airing on the main NBC network.

Before you go heralding the return of boxing to broadcast television a year after Fox’s relationship with the UFC began, keep in mind that these probably aren’t even fights of the caliber you’d see on Showtime, let alone HBO or pay-per-view. Don’t expect many if any world title matches; most fight cards on ESPN2, NBCSN or FSN tend to be focused on building up-and-coming fighters in hopes that, one day, they’ll fight for a title and justify the investment in the original broadcasts. To me, that makes it somewhat mystifying that NBC would put boxing on its broadcast network when it’ll pale in comparison to the matches even hardcore fans of the sport would be interested in. I doubt any of the other broadcast networks are going to put boxing on anytime soon, though CBS could certainly take a card off Showtime if they wanted. Granted, calling the NBC shows “Fight Night” is a bit of a misnomer, as the first broadcast show will run 4-6 PM ET, but that raises its own questions regarding whether it’s a good idea to hold US-based cards so early. (And it’s emblematic of the decline of the sport that boxing, once a broadcast mainstay, isn’t a solution for a network looking to follow Fox’s lead in giving Saturday night to sports, even with Saturday’s own decline. To be fair, though, that timeslot does better facilitate a European audience.)

NBC and Main Events seem to be big on the notion of inviting fighters from any promotion to participate on their cards, thus presumably pinning their hopes on being the premier source of boxing on broadly-available television. I’m not a big enough fan of the sport to know how well it’s worked so far beyond press-release spin, but color me skeptical. Boxing, rather infamously, has become a rather territorial sport, and just because Main Events is willing to play with others doesn’t mean the others, especially the big boys Golden Boy and Top Rank, will want to play with them.

NBC and boxing can help each other greatly, but I’m skeptical whether the relationship will be enough to overcome the larger problems with the sport. Considering how high most people seem to be on the partnership, though, I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, but don’t expect it to be a panacea, especially for the ongoing loss of interest to mixed martial arts.

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