Showtime Sports’ end likely to cause ‘terrible’ market for displaced fighters

Adam DelGiudice / ZUMA Wire, IMAGO

In the space of a month, we’ve heard dramatic rumors that foretold the demise of Showtime Sports, and now we’ve had those very rumors proven true. When the grapevine dropped the gossip in late September, Dana White took the time to gloat, calling Showtime’s brass “scumbags” and gleefully rejoicing at their impending doom.

Espinoza would fire back with comments of his own, noting how well Showtime Sports has done this year with multiple big fights that garnered huge gates. White was quick to point out that it was the athletes that did that, not Showtime. I should point out he said that unironically.

Showtime Boxing logo

Showtime’s out, who’s picking up the slack?

During this online squabble, Espinoza never came right out and denied the rumors, only saying that it was business as usual. It would only be a few short weeks before the news was confirmed. With Showtime’s exit, the broadcast options for boxing have shrunk exponentially once again.

In 2018, we saw HBO Boxing exit the field permanently, and with Showtime Sports ending sometime in early 2024, broadcast options for boxing (and Bellator) are dwindling but there may be a new player in town. Currently, there is DAZN, ESPN, FITE and Sky Sports in the UK.

According to John Nash in the latest episode of the Hey Not the Face! podcast, the grapevine is once again abuzz with speculation and word is, Amazon may be the new broadcast partner for PBC.

“From all accounts, PBC already sounds like they have a new broadcast partner. Rumors are saying it’s gonna be Amazon,” he said. “The other possibility is DAZN, which would be somewhat surprising to me, but I could see them doing a short-term deal with them.

“Boxing is, in a weird way, it’s doing okay. It’s not so strong that Paramount decided that they were going to keep it, but there’s going to be a home for this. You have these massive Showtime events with Canelo, Tank Davis, Crawford, and all of them are still under contract with the PBC. They’re going to find someone that wants to get involved in the sport,” Nash explained.

“People think that the money’s drying up [in boxing], but we saw this again before when HBO left and everybody thought all the fighters were going to have to start asking for less, the money’s going to dry up, etc. Well, the very next year or two, we saw more money in boxing than ever before as DAZN started just throwing money around, as did ESPN and everybody else. So, it’s very possible if Amazon comes in, that they open the checkbook compared to other channels and they throw a bunch of money out to get top fights on their platform.”

Bellator MMA and Showtime logo

What does the market look like for the athletes?

Part of this complicated situation is the fact that Bellator is owned by Paramount and featured its cards on Showtime. The beleaguered promotion has long been the source of “up for sale” chatter, with PFL being targeted as the number one bidder at the table. But what if PFL doesn’t buy them. What would the market look like for the fighters?

Nash opined that it looks pretty bleak, noting that two factors caused the financial downturn for Showtime:

“They re-merged CBS and Viacom into Paramount Global. They thought they were gonna do it efficiently but basically, it made one smaller, stronger company into a bigger weaker company. They also jumped into streaming and the cord-cutting really hurt them,” he said.

“They just were not prepared for that. Not to mention the pivot to streaming has been a disaster for most networks. Even Disney who’s been this giant company and they are now struggling with their streaming services with ESPN+ and Disney Plus.”

When it comes to free agency, the pickings are going to be pretty slim. Nash says that with the exit of Showtime, if Bellator ends up shutting down rather than being sold (rumors are still strong that the PFL is buying or has already bought them), the fighters under its banner will have very few options in finding a lucrative contract—or even a comparable one.

“The market is just going to be terrible. Remember when Strikeforce got bought up and suddenly the free agent market for fighters was just terrible. There was Bellator, but they really weren’t throwing much money around. The fighters just started re-signing with the UFC, and didn’t want to test the market anymore,” Nash said.

“But everybody noticed that there was a contraction in the market and it’s going to be much worse this time. Francis Ngannou is making the most of anybody outside the UFC. Bellator isn’t paying anybody that type of money, but they’re paying far more than any other promotion They’re paying numerous guys close to a half a million a fight.

“Some of the top guys do make more than the equivalent person in the UFC, though. Only the top pay-per-view type attractions make more than a lot of the top Bellator guys. That’s a huge group of fighters that are making more. Are they going to get that anywhere else?”

“Theoretically, if there’s not going to be a Bellator anymore, what does that leave? One championship doesn’t really seem like they’re in the business of MMA much anymore, do they?” he said. “They put on very, very few MMA fights. There’s no big signings being announced by them. No one from the UFC has walked over there in a while for a noteworthy contract. So, they seem to have exited the business. They’re not really offering an option for fighters. It would be just the PFL.

“The other thing to reconsider is if you leave the UFC, it was nice that there was a PFL and a Bellator both potentially bidding for you to drive up your pay. Now, if you leave the UFC and they doesn’t want to offer you anything, the one other promotion that’s going to be left over, the PFL, and they don’t have to offer much because there’s no one else going to be competing with them.”

You can listen to the entire episode for FREE right here in the embedded player.

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About the author

Stephie Haynes

Stephie Haynes has been covering MMA since 2005. She has also worked for MMA promotion Proelite and apparel brand TapouT. She hosted TapouT’s official radio show for four years before joining Bloody Elbow in 2012. She has interviewed everyone there is to interview in the fight game from from Dana White to Conor McGregor to Kimbo Slice, as well as mainstream TV, film and music stars including Norman Reedus, RZA and Anthony Bourdain. She has been producing the BE podcast network since 2017 and hosts four of its current shows.

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