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CBS-TV gets back into boxing ring with summer cards

Friday, May 26, 2000

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The first dividend of the Viacom merger might well benefit boxing.

Showtime and CBS, television sisters in the megabusiness deal concluded earlier this month, announced yesterday that they are combining forces to bring boxing to the masses.

The four heavyweight fights airing on the cable channel's June schedule will be repackaged and rebroadcast as three, one-hour shows in July on the over-the-air network

That means Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield will be seen on free TV for the first time since Tyson-Holyfield II on tape delay three years ago. That also means the window for commercial network boxing has been opened slightly.

"There's nobody that can breathe fresh air into boxing more than having a menu of boxing on over-the-air TV," said Jay Larkin, the senior vice president of Showtime sports. "It reaches the widest audience possible. The exposure CBS brings to the sport is like pumping new blood into a sport that so desperately needs it."

CBS is seen in 99.8 million U.S. homes, Showtime in 23.4 million homes. The cable channel, like competitor HBO, will continue to stage major championships and pay the bulging purses that marquee boxers expect. Yet the Viacom-umbrella arrangement gives Showtime a healthy shove in promoting and growing future pay-per-view matches. One executive at the New York news conference even mentioned "amortization" as a financial gain in this deal -- similar to interest payments on a long-term loan.

"We'll do fine financially, and Showtime is looking to reap its benefits," said CBS Sports President Sean McManus, whose network last aired pro boxing three years ago. "But if there's $100 to be made, it doesn't matter if they get $60 and we get $40. It all goes to the same pockets."

The way this deal works, Showtime will air its heavyweight lineup as scheduled next month, using its announcers (Steve Albert, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco and Bobby Czyz): David Tua-Obed Sullivan June 3; Holyfield-John Ruiz June 10; Andrew Golota-Orlin Norris June 16; and Tyson-Lou Savarese June 24.

CBS will send a still-undetermined team of announcers to each fight and later pick the best three to show in edited form July 9 (5 p.m.), July 16 (2:30 p.m.) and July 22 (4 p.m.). The network might enhance each show with a live interview with a participant.

"If we get the ratings we hope to get, we might look to doing live boxing in the future," said McManus, who talked of such summer ratings in the 2.5-3 range. Yet the province of producing major championships will remain with the cable and pay-per-view folks for a while, he added. "It's tough to attract national advertisers to boxing on a regular basis. So there's no way we could generate the kind of revenue we would need to pay the fighters on CBS alone."

Network programming vice president Rob Correa, who used to produce boxing on USA Network, pronounced himself psyched to have Tyson and Holyfield on the CBS schedule during a golf-only month. "The only thing better than that is the Showtime folks will deal with the boxing promoters," he said.

The Showtime-CBS partnership could result in out-of-market games in the NCAA basketball tournament getting on pay-per-view, among other possible inter-Viacom sports ventures.

Yet Showtime's Larkin maintained that the foremost facet to this partnership is the growth possibility for boxing on free TV.

"You grew up watching Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard. ... You saw them where I saw them," Larkin said. "They were not created by Showtime. They were not created by HBO and other cable networks. They were created by CBS and ABC and NBC.

"The way to ... get new boxing fans is to have boxing on CBS."

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