ITV could drop boxing from its line-up as part of the latest “re-think” of the network’s sports coverage ordered by Mark Sharman, the network’s director of news and sport.
Sharman, speaking after the press were shown the new look for the News at Ten, told the Guardian that boxing was becoming commercially unviable for an advertising-funded channel, claiming that ITV spends time and money building up the profile of British fighters such as Amir Khan, pictured, only to see their biggest title fights go to pay-per-view channels once they are established stars.
Bigger fights are usually staged for the benefit of American audiences, meaning they are on in the middle of the night in Britain.
ITV says top ratings for fights scheduled in such slots attract at best 2.5 million people – not enough to make boxing viable.
ITV’s contract with boxing promoter Frank Warren in July.
One of the key issues is what happens to Khan, whose fights have been screened by ITV, usually late on Saturday nights.
The charismatic young Bolton lightweight, who won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, was guided from amateur to professional status by Warren, and is expected to make a bid for a world title this year.
ITV has played an important role in promoting what is seen as a golden age of boxing for Britain after the retirement of heavyweight Lennox Lewis. In the past, ITV has been anxious to attract male viewers to the channel to balance its often female-skewed audience.
But with the network’s sports portfolio now including Formula 1 and Champions League football, with England international matches and the FA Cup to come from September 2008, boxing could see itself squeezed off the commercial channel.
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