Whether or not you loved the presentation and the fights on the debut edition of Al Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions” series on Saturday night from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, there were a lot more people watching boxing on NBC than have watched anywhere else in a long time.
The 2½-hour telecast, marking boxing’s return to network prime time in many years thanks to Haymon’s time buy, averaged 3.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen, which said it was the most-watched professional boxing broadcast in 17 years, since Fox averaged 5.9 million viewers for “Oscar De La Hoya’s Fight Night” on March 23, 1998. That card was headlined by then-junior middleweight titlist Yory Boy Campas defending his belt by third-round knockout of Anthony Stephens.
That stat isn’t quite true if you want to get technical. NBC refers to Thurman-Guerrero as its “first major prime-time boxing broadcast in 30 years,” although it did have a live prime-time fight card in 2005 with the season finale of “The Contender,” which drew some 8 million viewers, but NBC views that show as a reality program done by its entertainment division, not NBC Sports.
NBC is free to anyone with a television, meaning it is available in about 116 million homes. Subscription network HBO, the leader in boxing viewing for the past few decades, is in a little less than 30 million homes. It aired the top 10 most watched fights last year, with its biggest average audience being the 1.39 million who watched the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Bryan Vera rematch. There will be five prime-time NBC cards this year, all of which figure to be in the top 10 by year’s end if Saturday night is any indication.
The PBC card opened with a snoozer between junior welterweights Adrien Broner and John Molina Jr. -- a huge disappointment -- followed by a main event between welterweight titlist Keith Thurman and Robert Guerrero that provided plenty of action, although Thurman won by near shutout decision.
Viewership increased every half hour through the telecast, peaking at 4.2 million from 10:30 to 11 p.m. ET, which was during the second half of the main event.
While the viewership for the PBC card isn’t considered a home run, one significant positive for boxing is that it led NBC to a Saturday prime-time victory among adults 18-49 -- the all-important demographic advertisers look at closely -- with a 1.08 rating in the demographic. Since boxing typically skews to an older audience, that has to be seen as good news for boxing, NBC and PBC. There was very little national advertising in the telecast. Most of the ads were promos for NBC shows and some local ad spots. For PBC -- or any boxing on network television -- to succeed long-term there is going to have to be national ad support. The numbers drawn by PBC on Saturday at least are solid enough to build on and hopefully will attract some national sponsors.
“The return of prime-time boxing to NBC for the first time in three decades got off to a strong start last weekend with Saturday’s PBC on NBC debut,” Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, said. “With our next prime-time telecast on Saturday, April 11, we look forward to building on the momentum that this first event clearly established. We are excited that high-quality boxing is back on NBC.”
The telecast posted a 2.11 rating/4 share in the “fast national” ratings, which likely will change once the full numbers come out later in the week. Those numbers mean that out of all television-equipped households in the United States 2.11 percent were tuned to the PBC card and 4 percent of all television-equipped households in use during the show were tuned to PBC.