Boxing on NBC a hit

Boxing fans were treated to a great fight on network TV between Adamek and Cunningham. AP Photo/Rich Schultz

There’s more good news for boxing fans: the return of live Saturday afternoon boxing to NBC was a hit.

In ratings released by the network on Wednesday -- they were later than usual because of the holidays -- the Main Events card headlined by the rematch between heavyweights Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham on Dec. 22 did a 1.2 rating and a 3 share.

The 2-hour telecast averaged 1.6 million viewers and peaked at 2.2 rating and 3.2 million average viewers, quite an impressive showing considering its lead-in was snowboarding, which did a 0.5 rating. Another positive for the boxing telecast: the audience steadily grew throughout the show.

NBC also said the show had an “audience reach” of 3.9 million. It defines “audience reach” as any viewer who watched at least six minutes of the program.

The only network sports program to do a better rating on Dec. 22 was the Kansas-Ohio State college basketball game (1.4) on CBS, which aired opposite the fight card.

“We are pleased with the rating of the show on Dec. 22 and the overall performance of the ‘Fight Night’ series in its first year,” said Gary Quinn, senior director of programming for the NBC Sports Group.

NBC was so pleased with the performance that Quinn said there would be “at least” one more show on the network this year. NBC Sports Net, NBC’s all-sports cable channel, televises the “Fight Night” series, but as part of the renewal of its deal with Main Events, the Dec. 22 show went on NBC.

“We are very happy,” said Main Events promoter Kathy Duva.

She should be. She and her staff worked their rear ends off promoting the card and it paid off with strong viewership. It turned out to be a heck of a fight too, although Adamek won a highly suspect split decision.

It was the second consecutive week with a strong performance for boxing on network television, which had not had regular boxing since the 1990s. On Dec. 15, boxing returned to CBS for the first time in 15 years for a fight between bantamweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz and Alberto Guevara, and it generated a 1.3 rating, a 3 share and had about 1.5 million households tuning in. It also had a far superior lead-in with an overtime NCAA basketball game between then-No. 1 Indiana and unranked Butler.

CBS was happy with the ratings for its fight and now we have NBC also very pleased with boxing’s performance. That bodes well for more network boxing, which is huge for the long-term health of the sport.