If you ask most boxing fans, they would say 2017 has been an improvement for the sport over last year. What you need to know about betting on boxing ratings moving forward is telling as it pertains to the mainstream appeal of the sport

HBO, the sport’s longstanding television home for many of the biggest boxing telecasts in the United States, has been the leader in showcasing the best the sport has had to offer and for most of the 21st century, led the way in U.S. television viewership. It’s been rumored for quite some time that HBO would be focusing less on its boxing division and more into its other original programming such as Game of Thrones (reportedly costing the network as much as $15 million per episode in its latest season), Westworld and other shows.

But with the increase in boxing coverage from other networks, HBO potentially faces the risk of falling by the wayside. As such, there has been a notable decrease in viewership between this year and last year, considered by many to be a failure within the sport. With the December 16 HBO Boxing telecast with Billy Joe Saunders vs. David Lemieux as the main event all wrapped up, the network finished up for the year in terms of live boxing.

Viewership for the Saunders vs. Lemieux fight averaged 716,000 viewers, good for eighth in terms of non-PPV replay main events the network has put out this year. For more on what viewership for HBO’s 2017 looks like, below is a chart of all the main events HBO had in 2017.

On the surface, it’s hard to figure out what those numbers mean. A look towards last year’s numbers reveal a startling truth.

2016 Average Viewership: 856,000 (13 Events)

2017 Average Viewership: 701,688 (16 Events)

Judging by those numbers, HBO suffered an 18.03 percent drop compared to last year, which is odd considering competing networks such as Showtime, ESPN, CBS and Bounce TV either set record viewership for boxing telecasts or had an overall increase in viewership from the year prior. By that logic, with renowned interest in the sport, HBO should also be seeing better ratings, but compared to Showtime, HBO's main rival, the numbers do not seem promising.

When it comes to HBO vs. Showtime, thanks to a revitalized heavyweight division and greater emphasis on having major stars fight other major stars, Showtime has three of the top eight main event viewership numbers that aren’t PPV replays between HBO and Showtime. Looking at the numbers from last year, Showtime’s highest-watched fight under that criteria was Wilder vs. Szpilka, which did 500,000 viewers, good for just 14th between HBO and Showtime.

The numbers even become more startling for HBO if you decide to go back all the way to 2014.

Viewership for HBO has been stagnant all year long when compared to prior years. A look at quarter by quarter viewership averages provide a visual idea of how bad 2017 was for HBO. Viewership got off to a putrid star with only an average of 551,000 viewers for the first quarter of 2017, a near 44 percent drop compared to 2016's Q1 numbers.

Top 10 Most Viewed HBO Boxing Main Events Between 2014-2017:

RankMain Event (Date Of Fight)Viewership
1.Canelo Alvarez vs. James Kirkland (May 9, 2015)2,100,000
2.Wladimir Klitschko vs. Bryant Jennings (April 25, 2015)1,637,000
3.Miguel Cotto vs. Daniel Geale (June 6, 2015)1,589,000
4.Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. Bryan Vera 2 (March 1, 2014)1,390,000
5.Bernard Hopkins vs. Sergey Kovalev (November 8, 2014)1,328,000
6.Gennady Golovkin vs. Dominic Wade (April 23, 2016)1,325,000
7.Gennady Golovkin vs. Marco Antonio Rubio (October 18, 2014)1,304,000
8.Gennady Golovkin vs. Willie Monroe Jr. (May 16, 2015)1,300,000
9.Lucas Matthysse vs. Ruslan Provodnikov (April 18, 2015)1,234,000
10.Terence Crawford vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa (June 28, 2014)1,208,000

Of course, looking at raw viewership numbers gives an idea of how a television network is trending, but in this new age of the internet, Google Trends also provide a unique look at how information is seen. By performing a Google Trends search from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017, (as seen below) you'll see that HBO, for the most part, dominates the boxing premium television landscape.

Showtime has been able to catch up to HBO at times, but it wasn't like Google searches in 2017 completely flipped the script. But one thing that Showtime really emphasized in 2017 was cornering one particular market: New York.

2017 was a year Showtime heavily invested in the New York market with their working relationship with promoter Lou DiBella and the Barclays Center venue, which is seemingly becoming more of a hotbed for big boxing events than the nearby Madison Square Garden, which HBO (and now ESPN) has been using. HBO had a few major events in New York throughout 2017, most notably Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs and Miguel Cotto's retirement fight, but Showtime had the more consistent big fight schedule in 2017. As such, it is no coincidence that the New York market helped boost Showtime Boxing's television ratings and on 17 different weeks through out the year, had greater than or equal amounts of Google searches than HBO Boxing. This is an increase from the 14 weeks Showtime had the lead or tied with HBO in Google Trends search in New York in 2016 (when Showtime was also running Barclays Center shows) and 12 weeks in 2015.

Below are the viewership numbers for every major boxing event televised on American television. These numbers are the average viewership for the main event only and does not consider undercard viewership. The fights below includes fights from HBO's Boxing After Dark series, Showtime's Championship Boxing series, ESPN's Top Rank Boxing series, etc... Other boxing shows, such as Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN and ShoBox: The Next Generation do not have their viewership listed below because those shows serve as opportunities for prospects to get television exposure. Viewership is not really the main focus and their viewership numbers are usually very low. Pay-per-view replays are also not included in the viewership table below.

DateMain Event (Network)Viewership
Jan. 13Erislandy Lara vs. Yuri Foreman (Spike)547,000
Jan. 20James DeGale vs. Badou Jack (Showtime)454,000
Jan. 28Francisco Vargas vs. Miguel Berchelt (Showtime)497,000
Jan. 28Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz 2 (Showtime)587,000
Feb. 10Robert Easter Jr. vs. Luis Cruz (Bounce)501,000
Feb. 18Adrien Broner vs. Adrian Granados (Showtime)779,000
Feb. 25Deontay Wilder vs. Gerald Washington (FOX)1,760,000
March 4Keith Thurman vs. Danny Garcia (CBS)3,740,000
March 11David Lemieux vs. Curtis Stevens (HBO)606,000
April 9Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jason Sosa (HBO)832,000
April 22Shawn Porter vs. Andre Berto (Showtime)468,000
April 29Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko (Showtime Live/HBO Tape Delay)1,425,000
May 20Terence Crawford vs. Felix Diaz (HBO)961,000
May 20Gary Russell Jr. vs. Oscar Escandon (Showtime)481,000
May 27Kell Brook vs. Errol Spence Jr. (Showtime)291,000
June 3Adonis Stevenson vs. Andrzej Fonfara (Showtime)390,000
July 2Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn (ESPN)2,812,000
July 15Robert Guerrero vs. Omar Figueroa (FOX)886,000
July 15Miguel Berchelt vs. Takashi Miura (HBO)683,000
July 29Mikey Garcia vs. Adrien Broner (Showtime)881,000
Aug. 5Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Miguel Marriaga (ESPN)728,000
Aug. 19Terence Crawford vs. Julius Indongo (ESPN)1,200,000
Aug. 26Miguel Cotto vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai (HBO)730,000
Aug. 26Yordenis Ugas vs. Thomas Dulorme (FOX)2,438,000
Sept. 9Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Roman Gonzalez 2 (HBO)796,000
Sept. 22Oscar Valdez vs. Genesis Servania (ESPN)706,000
Sept. 23Jorge Linares vs. Luke Campbell (HBO)687,000
Oct. 14Leo Santa Cruz vs. Chris Avalos (FOX)1,483,000
Oct. 14Erislandy Lara vs. Terrell Gausha (Showtime)399,000
Oct. 21Jezreel Corrales vs. Alberto Machado (HBO)545,000
Oct. 22Hassan N'Dam vs. Ryota Murata 2 (ESPN)220,000
Oct. 28Anthony Joshua vs. Carlos Takam (Showtime)334,000
Nov. 4Deontay Wilder vs. Bermane Stiverne 2 (Showtime)824,000
Nov. 11Daniel Jacobs vs. Luis Arias (HBO)706,000
Nov. 11Enrico Koelling vs. Artur Beterbiev (ESPN)1,487,000
Nov. 25Sergey Kovalev vs. Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (HBO)869,000
Dec. 2Miguel Cotto vs. Sadam Ali (HBO)944,000
Dec. 9Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux (ESPN)1,730,000
Dec. 9Orlando Salido vs. Miguel Roman (HBO)576,000
Dec. 13Jeff Horn vs. Gary Corcoran (ESPN)282,000
Dec. 16Billy Joe Saunders vs. David Lemieux (HBO)716,000

Notes From The Data:

1. 2017 was the only year since 2014 to not have a single main event have an average viewership of a million viewers. The year 2014 had seven fights do more than a million viewers on average, 2015 had 11 such fights and 2016 dropped down all the way to just three fights.

2. It's worth noting that nine of the 10 most watched boxing fights on HBO all came from 2014 and 2015 and what those fights actually were.

  • Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, who now function as pay-per-view fighters, no longer fight exclusively on HBO television. Without the two biggest names in the sport on this side of the Earth fighting on free television, the network no longer has fights guaranteed to do more than 1.3 million viewers on average.
  • Miguel Cotto, Wladimir Klitschko and Bernard Hopkins all retired from the end of 2016 to late 2017, which further hurt the network's overall ratings.

3. This is the first year where they no longer have Top Rank fighters on call for fights and so many stars have either retired or moved on to fight on pay-per-view. HBO's roster has been severely depleted and at the moment, their biggest established television stars are: Sergey Kovalev and Daniel Jacobs. Other fighters, such as Dmitry Bivol and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, have the potential to be big stars, but as of this moment, the sample size is too small to make any call on them.

4. By looking at the table with all the viewership numbers for 2017, not one time did HBO and Showtime have a single main event average more than a million viewers, but other networks such as ESPN, FOX and CBS had no issue getting to that number and beyond seven times for the year. These early numbers indicate that interest in boxing is shifting away from the hardcore premium cable subscribers and working its way back into the mainstream television market. With Top Rank's roster of fighters, ESPN should have a good number of Top Rank Boxing cards do more than a million viewers on average in 2018.

Conclusion:

Should HBO be sounding the alarm button regarding its boxing content? Not yet. This is the first year where they no longer have Top Rank fighters on call for fights and so many stars have either retired or moved on to fight on pay-per-view. HBO's roster has been severely depleted and at the moment, their biggest established television stars are: Sergey Kovalev and Daniel Jacobs. Other fighters, such as Dmitry Bivol and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, have the potential to be big stars, but as of this moment, the sample size is too small to make any call on them.

Right now, boxing is going through a transitional phase in the United States. With HBO lacking marquee stars not named Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, the economics of having major boxing fights on the network no longer seem as good as it once did. As previously mentioned, HBO usually had a relatively easy time making attractive fights on television and have more than a million viewers on average from 2014-2016.

But now, other networks are providing fans a chance to not only watch big fights without having to pay for premium cable, but also have several online streaming options that many fans can take advantage of. Showtime, ESPN and FOX all have mobile apps and online streaming services that give fans easy access to watch television without the need for a TV. HBO does not have that live streaming option except for limited venues such as Hulu and Playstation Vue. That alone isn't enough to retain a large enough audience for boxing fights. HBO would need to reevaluate their online video on-demand services such as HBO GO to have true online live streaming as well as quickly build up a strong No. 3 marquee star the network can rely to consistently draw strong numbers on television. At the moment, HBO does not have that, and 2018 will be a make or break year for the network in the competition for television supremacy.

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