posted on Dec, 3 2003 @ 10:46 PM
USA TODAY - December 3, 2003
In a move that is sending shockwaves through boxing, ESPN will dramatically cut its support of the sport next year by eliminating license fees and
reducing the number of cards it televises.
Rather than pay promoters $50,000 a card -- already reduced from $65,000 a few years ago -- for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights and summer series Tuesday
Night Fights, the network will pay nothing beginning in February. It will be up to promoters to bring sponsorships to subsidize the cards, whose
quality is likely to suffer with fewer dollars to go around.
''You hope (the quality can remain),'' says Bob Yalen, ESPN boxing boss and fight buyer. ''If the quality of the fights drops off, and less and less
people watch the show, it becomes self-defeating and the ratings will drop. We're going to find out if this works.''
And while ESPN2 aired upward of 55-60 cards annually in recent years, the 2004 plan reduces it to 40-45. If promoters can't drum up enough
sponsorship, more dates will be cut, Yalen says.
ESPN says it is strictly a business decision -- that boxing loses money, ratings are down and advertising dollars are scarce. Others argue that ESPN's
lack of on-air promotion and continual time-slot shifting and a litany of poor matchups have led to the decline.
''It's a property they have to treat like any other business proposition,'' Yalen says. ''If it makes money, great. If it doesn't, how do we fix
Since the cancellation of USA Network's series in 1998, ESPN has been the dominant basic cable boxing broadcaster. Philadelphia promoter Artie
Pelullo, whose shows have been an ESPN staple, says the decision is a huge setback for the business -- mainly smaller promoters who are dependant on
ESPN dates -- and for fans.
''It's very bad for the business, because it's going to make it more difficult to develop young kids,'' Pelullo says. ''It really hurts the growth of
the business. Will boxing survive? Of course it will. But at this point in time the network that was televising 60 shows a year and developing talent
and giving you a showcase is now paying you no money. The fighters will be making considerably less, and the quality of the events will suffer.''
Pelullo has used ESPN as a springboard for several of his boxers and wonders what he'll do now.
''A lot of my guys were able to grow on ESPN -- Antwun Echols, Teddy Reid, J.C. Candelo, Ben Tackie,'' he says. ''From ESPN they were all able to make
the jump to the bigger fights on Showtime and HBO. How will we do that now?
''This means Reggie Johnson doesn't fight Antonio Tarver on ESPN2 to become No. 1 contender to Roy Jones. How does that fight get done when there is
no money? How do you promote fights like that anymore? It will be very difficult. The only network out there that paid any money for non-Hispanic
fights is gone. It's a shame.''
'Latin Fury': Promoter Bob Arum returns Saturday with another in his series of ''Latin Fury'' pay-per-view shows (9 ET, $29.95). The card from Puerto
Rico features No. 1 prospect Miguel Cotto and two Puerto Rican world champs.
Junior welterweight Cotto (17-0), 2002 USA TODAY prospect of the year, faces Carlos Maussa (16-0), who is coming off an upset victory of previously
unbeaten Jeff Resto. Cotto is the mandatory challenger for titlist Vivian Harris and is staying busy until his title shot.
Also on the card: flyweight champ Eric Morel (No. 1, 33-0) vs. Lorenzo Parra (19-0) and mini-flyweight champ Ivan Calderon (17-0) vs. former champ
Alex ''Nene'' Sanchez (29-3-1).