Every year television networks and/or apps that host boxing try their best to put on a great schedule to win over the attention of fight fans. Showtime Boxing, so far, has had the greatest single year in the 37 years it’s been involved in boxing—and we still have three months remaining.
Showtime Sports Executive Stephen Espinoza couldn’t be happier with how things have gone this year, and when he approached staff who have been with the company longer, they shared the same feeling, making the accomplishment feel that much sweeter: “I take a cue,” Espinoza said, “from some of our long-time producers and talents who have been here longer than I have. When they tell me that this is the biggest and best year they can recall in Showtime’s History, it’s something to be very proud of.”
The year was 2020, and the global pandemic crippled everything for months, leaving people to fend for themselves if they were in an occupation or sport that required people to be around. Things would open back up, and Showtime, like others, made the appropriate changes to adapt to the new norm and was still able to produce some solid fights. Once things returned to normal in 2021, boxing didn’t pick up where it left off pre-pandemic, as many fighters were either not booked for a fight or chose not to during the pandemic, leading to a lot of comeback fights. It left the rest of 2021 and the first half of 2022 desiring to see the big fights that the fans were not getting.
Stephen Espinoza hears the rumors from rivals but continues to stay consistent
It was around this time that rumors from promoters and media outlets started to spread that Showtime would be getting out of the boxing business for good. While those rumors had been floating around since 2017, it was more believable after the pandemic with fans showing their displeasure for one-sided matchups. Espinoza heard and read the rumors but did not allow himself to be sidetracked for what he would eventually do in 2023:
“It’s something our competitors have been saying for quite a while,” said the 53-year-old Showtime Sports Executive. “We just let it slide off our back. In response, all we do is continue putting on the best schedule in the industry year after year. Let people speculate, let people open wish toward demise, but the reality is, the sport is doing very well, and Showtime is a big reason for that. Year after year, a consistently high-quality schedule from ShoBox to the biggest PPVs, we’ve been a driver of the sport for 37 years.”
When the summer of 2022 approached, Espinoza and his team started to plan a foundation for the following year. Although there isn’t necessarily a set formula for designing a calendar year, Espinoza gave a peek at what that process looked like. “There is always a little element of chance in these negotiations when these fights come through. We start working on a year's schedule roughly six months or more in advance, but it’s an ongoing process. We’re consistently trying to make the best fights.”
Espinoza continued, “If we had spoken in the middle of 2022, we’d probably be, if not publicly saying it, certainly internally, hoping to have secured (Gervonta) ‘Tank’ vs. Ryan Garcia and (Terence) Crawford vs. (Errol) Spence Jr. both for the 2022 calendar year. Things dragged on, and there were challenges within the negotiations, so you have to reset your timelines. All of a sudden, things come together in a way that you don’t anticipate. Instead of having a little more of a spread-out schedule, they all come together in a cluster. You end up with the kind of year we’ve had on Showtime in 2023.”
Showtime Boxing delivers one of their best years
Indeed, Showtime has had a big year that involved fights like Gervonta Davis vs. Hector Luis Garcia, Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia, David Benavidez vs. Caleb Plant, etc. Those were all big fights and ones that the public were demanding, some more than others, but in the end, Showtime delivered. The cherry on top was the announcement of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez vs. Jermell Charlo which is scheduled for September 30. It’s a huge fight that will continue to have plenty of intrigue leading right up to the sound of the bell.
Landing Canelo and being able to put him in a high-quality matchup quickly elevated the year for Showtime from good to great. They say timing is everything, and although Espinoza missed out on signing Canelo after the Golden Boy Promotions split, some would say that the timing of it is better now than it would have been a few years back. Espinoza agreed that the timing couldn’t be better as the talent pool is deep within Premier Boxing Champions:
Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez vs. Jermell Charlo will stream live September 30, on Showtime PPV ($84.99)
“I think the timing is right now because our goals and talent pool align with what Canelo (Alvarez) is looking to do. I think the beneficiary of that is not just Canelo and the network but boxing as a whole. It is a combination of Canelo still at his peak and a number of high-quality, exciting opponents from Charlo (Jermell & Jermall) to David Benavidez to Demetrius Andrade to David Morrell. That’s what’s most exciting and what makes the most sense—having access to a deep talent pool for high-level fights. I think that is what Canelo wants at this point, which is the biggest fights possible, and that is certainly what we aim to deliver.”
Deliver they did, and while the Canelo vs. Charlo announcement came with some surprise, the additional marketing angle of undisputed vs. undisputed boosted the fight to the level it’s at now. All that was left was for Showtime to roll out their Emmy award-winning series All Access to take a peek into the lives of Canelo and Charlo for the audience to consume. All Access is something that Espinoza loves to talk about, and he is excited for everyone to see the second episode, where the show dives deep into the families of the two undisputed champions.
All Access perfectly tees up Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez vs. Jermell Charlo
Speaking on the topic of the first episode that recently aired, Espinoza said, “The thing that struck me was the advantage the producers had to have access to the long history we’ve had with Canelo going back to 2012/2013. There’s that opening scene where it’s a nice full circle moment where you see Canelo practicing his English in 2012, and we were able to cut to 2023, where he is extremely comfortable speaking in English. Canelo is clearly a superstar in the sport, but the addition of English will only grow his fan base even more.”
The shoulder programming fans tune in to see is another layer added to the company's success this year. Showtime Sports also introduced new programming where a non-traditional former athlete, like Stephen Jackson, hosts the shows Fight Town and All the Smoke. Espinoza felt this year the timing was right to introduce new platforms to their audience, especially with the cluster of big fights on the slate.
“There are three objectives with our programming slate. Number one, continuing to innovate. We are very proud of All Access but don’t want that to be the only thing. Second, we are in a different media market now. Social media is the marketing now, so we go away from a lot of long-form television programming to socially/digitally based programming. Third, just to really bring new voices and perspectives to the sport,” Espinoza told FanSidedMMA.
With everything Showtime Sports has going for them with boxing, there is always the fear that the first three quarters’ accomplishments will be overshadowed by a less-than-exciting fourth quarter. According to Espinoza, the fourth quarter is traditionally slower than the others by design due to the busy sports calendar filled with the NFL, NBA, and NCAA. “Not only is there a competition for eyeballs and attention but also for venues. We are a little lighter in the fourth quarter but still have big names and high-quality events. We will not take any quarters off, although we may be a little lighter in the fourth quarter.”
Although boxing fans on social media like to take sides regarding promoters and networks, there is no denying that Showtime Boxing has had a banner year with Espinoza leading from the front. The sport of boxing has flourished this year because of it, so regardless of which “side of the street” you root for, Showtime Boxing has delivered in a big way.