Mark Taffet to leave HBO at end of year

HBO senior vice president Mark Taffet announced he won't be returning to the network when his contract expires at the end of 2015. Rob Kim/Getty Images

Mark Taffet, one of the most important television executives in boxing history and essentially the creator of the boxing pay-per-view model, resigned Tuesday as an HBO senior vice president, effective Dec. 31, when his contract with the network expires.

During his 32 years with HBO Sports, the 58-year-old Taffet, along with former HBO executive Lou DiBella, oversaw the launch of HBO PPV, which began as TVKO in 1991, and has since televised most of the biggest fights in boxing and generated billions of dollars.

"I recognized early on that boxing had a unique characteristic which would lead to success on pay-per-view," Taffet told ESPN.com. "The opportunity to watch a big fight in the comfort of your living room was a significant improvement over the then-existing big-fight experience of having to drive to an arena or racetrack [to watch on closed circuit], where picture quality and sound were poor at best and the possibility of having food and beverage being tossed through the air was great."

During Taffet's tenure, he oversaw more than 190 HBO PPV events, which generated 65 million buys and a staggering $3.6 billion in pay-per-view revenue, including the two biggest pay-per-view events in history: the May 2 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight (done in conjunction with rival Showtime), which generated 4.605 million buys and $437.475 million in pay-per-view revenue; and Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, which sold 2.485 million pay-per-views and generated $139.036 million in pay-per-view revenue (third-most ever).

Taffet was also closely involved in all aspects of HBO Sports, including programming, marketing, scheduling and negotiating countless big-money contracts with promoters.

Long one of the most influential executives in the boxing industry, Taffet is the second top HBO Sports executive to announce his resignation in the past month. On Oct.30, HBO Sports president Ken Hershman, Taffet's boss, announced he was leaving the network at the end of his contract, also Dec. 31.

Their departures leave a gaping hole at the top of boxing's leading television network. Their replacements have not yet been announced.

Despite Taffet's vast experience and the immense respect he has commanded from all areas of the industry, it was clear he was not going to be promoted to succeed Hershman, just as he was passed over four years ago when former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg was forced to resign. While Taffet likely could have remained in his present role, he said he was not interested in going through another change of administrations and decided to leave at the end of his contract. But he said he waited to disclose his decision until HBO's two fall pay-per-views -- Gennady Golovkin-David Lemieux on Oct. 17, and Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez on Saturday night -- were in the books.

Taffet said he will remain involved in boxing as a consultant to fighters and promoters, many of whom work closely with HBO.

"My intention is to work with the fighters, promoters and entities that will be most directly involved in the formation of the next great era of boxing," he said. "That also includes sites, sponsors and foreign broadcasters, all the key players necessary. Most likely I'm going to speak with people who HBO is already involved with, but I will be on the other side.

"I have the passion to want to be part of it. I feel the best way to do that at this point is not with HBO but with entities on the other side of the playing field. It will give me tremendous fulfillment. I have no intention of leaving boxing."

In a note he sent to colleagues Tuesday, Taffet wrote, "I grew up watching Jim Brown, Sandy Koufax, Bill Russell and Bjorn Borg, and I admired them all for having the courage to leave on top. Every great era comes to an end. We just completed the most successful year in the history of PPV, punctuated by Mayweather vs. Pacquiao and Cotto vs. Canelo.

"At this point in my life and career, as we begin the inevitable transition period to boxing's next great era, I believe my greatest contribution to the sport going forward is not with HBO. ... I was blessed to have one of the greatest runs in the history of HBO Sports.

"I came to work every one of my 11,576 days with passion, energy, a commitment to excellence and the desire to win. We dared to be great and, thanks to an incredible team of professionals at HBO Sports, we were."

Taffet, just weeks removed from enshrinement in the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, said he learned a valuable lesson from the first pay-per-view card, Evander Holyfield-George Foreman, and the second one, James Toney-Michael Nunn.

"I was fortunate to learn a very valuable lesson in just our first two pay-per-view fights," Taffet said. "Holyfield-Foreman generated 1.4 million buys while a great fight the following month, James Toney versus Michael Nunn, generated just 19,000 buys. From that day forward, I never forgot that pay-per-view was a business of hits and misses, and asking people for their money rather than just their time was a very significant proposition.

"Of all the things I've done over the past 25 years, the most rewarding was being able to provide a television platform with significant earning capability for scores of incredibly talented fighters in lighter weight classes who were previously underappreciated in a heavyweight-dominated environment. It was the [Michael] Carbajal-[Chiquita] Gonzalez [junior flyweight title] fight in 1993, where each fighter earned $1 million, which opened the door for a future which included great fights of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez."

Taffet, who joined HBO in 1983 in the finance department, was also closely involved in making the complicated deal for Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, as well as numerous fights involving stars such as Pacquiao, Mayweather, De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield, Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr.

"My quarter-century at HBO Sports is bookended by Holyfield-Foreman and pay-per-view's first great year in 1991 on one end, and Mayweather-Pacquiao and the biggest year in the history of the sport on the other," Taffet wrote to his colleagues. "And in between, not only mega fights like De La Hoya-Mayweather, Lewis-Tyson, De La Hoya-Trinidad, Mayweather-Cotto and De La Hoya-Pacquiao; but also some of the biggest multi-fight matchups, including Pacquiao-Marquez I-IV, the Holyfield-[Riddick] Bowe trilogy, Barrera-Morales trilogy, Pacquiao-Morales trilogy, Holyfield-Lewis I and II, De La Hoya-Mosley I and II, and the middleweight world championship series culminating in Trinidad-Hopkins. The greatest events, staged at the greatest venues -- Caesar's Palace outdoor stadium, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Madison Square Garden, Staples Center, Mandalay Bay, Thomas & Mack Center and Cowboys Stadium.

"I had the incredible opportunity to learn this sport and business through days, nights and years with boxing's legendary promoters Don King, Bob Arum and Dan Duva -- larger-than-life figures who took me behind the curtain and inside the control center to collaborate on some of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life."

Taffet also singled out close friends such as the late artist LeRoy Neiman, sports photographer Neil Leifer, the late boxing historian and author Bert Sugar, legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer, and De La Hoya for helping him learn various aspects of boxing.

"I've been asked if my dreams came true during my era at HBO," Taffet wrote. "The truth is, as a hardworking kid from humble beginnings in Jersey, I never even dreamed of anything as extraordinary as what I experienced."