Hershman: HBO to remain 'bullish' on boxing going forwardAlumnus Ken Hershman '88 in USA Today, February 01, 2012
NEW YORK – Following years of questionable decisions and accusations of favoritism, HBO President of Sports Ross Greenburg was ousted from "The Network of Champions".
In steps former rival and counterpart Ken Hershman from Showtime, who will attempt to right the ship at HBO's often-criticized boxing division.
Hershman, who settled into his new digs on 42nd and Sixth on Jan. 9, sat with the media for a luncheon to discuss his plans for the direction of boxing programming under his watchful eye moving forward.
The Fordham Law grad's emphasis will be to put on matches featuring "fighters who leave it all in the ring".
"It is a big challenge that you face, to make sure that you're really transparent with the decision-making," said Hershman, who grew up on Long Island, N.Y. "Not everyone is going to love every fight, but that's OK. I don't love every fight.
"There are fights you inherit that, for a whole bunch of different reasons in the real world, you have to do. Some will work out great in the ring, some won't work out great in the ring. As long as you're transparent, open and honest with the community, I think (the public) will understand."
Hershman is weary of the cold war between the two top promoters in the sport, Golden Boy and Top Rank, but is hopeful the relationship will thaw.
"I do hope that there can be some cross-pollination not only between (Top Rank and Golden Boy) but between other promoters as well," said Hershman, who worked at Showtime for 19 years. "I hate to see unnecessary personal issues get in the way of fights being made because it's hard enough to make good fights in a perfect world with everyone getting along, so this just adds to the burden."
Hershman's predecessor, Greenburg, was sometimes accused of favoring certain promoters and managers, a practice Hershman promises to steer clear of.
"My job is to put the best boxing on HBO possible," said Hershman. "I'm not in the boxing business, I'm in the TV business. I leave (boxing business) to (the promoters). That lets them do what they do best and I try to stay out of the politics the best I can. I try not to get steeped in all the machinations of the chess board. I just try to buy good fights at the right price."
Though Hershman has to get up to speed in a short amount of time, he is confident his law background will help him in his new position.
"I've always found my legal background extraordinarily helpful in terms of understanding complex deals and ways to protect everybody," said Hershman, who served as Showtime's in-house lawyer prior to taking the reigns as President of Showtime Sports. "These transactions have to be satisfactory not only to us but to promoters and the fighters.
"Boxing promoters are very sophisticated. They've been around a long time, a lot longer than me and they know when they're being dealt with fairly and they know when they're being snowed. My approach has always been, whether it's pleasant news or not-so-pleasant news, which is often, you just have to tell like it is and be honest. They'll either accept it, or they won't. But at least they know where they stand."
One situation where Hershman's legal expertise should come in handy is the on-again, off-again negotiations between the two richest fighters in the sport, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Hershman is frustrated by the sentiment that the stalled negotiations are holding the sport hostage, while potential opponents wait to hear word, putting deals in a holding pattern.
"There's these two guys in Mayweather and Pacquiao who are in the way of sort of figuring out where everybody else falls," said Hershman of the oft-discussed super fight. "Right now, the opponents for those two guys change hourly if not daily.
"I'm over it. I don't think it's imperative they fight, that the sport needs saving or anything like that, I think that's called hyperbole. I do think that I would love to see the fight as a fan. I think that it does get in the way of fights being made and decisions being done, because you end up being stalled while everything is sorted out."
Whether the fight happens or not, Hershman believes it needs to happen in 2012 or early 2013 for the event to hold its luster.
"It does feel a little bit like Groundhog Day," said Hershman. "Every time they fight, they do this dance and then it doesn't happen. I do believe there is a sell-by date by which this is going to become not what it should be, which is the biggest fight in the history of the sport. I hope by the end of the year we can see these guys in the ring together. If not maybe early next year. I think the best strategy for us is to stay out of it and just do good business.
"If Mayweather fights Manny Pacquiao or not, it's not going to define anything about his greatness one way or the other. But I think the same holds true for Manny. They don't need each other to have their legacies established as two of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. But I would love to see it happen."
As the sport's foremost fighters age, there is always fear that "The Sweet Science" will be devoid of star power. The new HBO head honcho isn't worried though, certain that one or more of the young guns that have been regularly featured on the network will break through.
"I think you've seen the (Adrien) Broners and Gary Russells and Seth Mitchell, guys like that," said Hershman of some of the best young talent in boxing. "(Julio Cesar) Chavez Jr. we still view as young. Canelo Alvarez we still view as a young fighter. I think there are a lot of really talented young guys that we're going to begin to really push and hopefully a few will break through as stars."
The prospects of boxing as a whole are always dim, according to mainstream observers who are always prognosticating the death of the sport. But Hershman claims that boxing is thriving and that HBO is firmly behind it moving forward.
Time will tell if the retooled boxing division at HBO will fend off naysayers and detractors of the programming on the network.
"By virtue of the fact that they wanted to make a change signaled that we're still very much bullish on boxing for HBO," said Hershman. "We're very dedicated to making this succeed. The ratings have been up double digits in 2011, so the growth trends are in place to continue to build and revitalize. Every company faces budget issues, there's never an infinite amount of money.
"There's a strong dedication to boxing and I don't expect it to waver under my tenure."