When it comes to boxing, the president of HBO Sports—armed as he is with the biggest budget (approximately $35 million) of any network in the game and the resources (including the Emmy-winning behind-the-scenes series 24/7) with which to manufacture a star—has become a veritable ringside kingmaker. That role, and responsibility, now belongs to Ken Hershman, the former executive vice president and general manager of sports and event programming at Showtime. Hershman was hired last week as the top decision maker at HBO Sports, replacing Ross Greenburg, who resigned in July. (HBO and SI are both part of Time Warner.) For a sport as fragmented and freewheeling as boxing, the move has the same impact that the appointment of a new commissioner does in a mainstream league.
Among the challenges facing Hershman, who will take up his new duties in January, will be to cultivate productive relationships with promoters without tying the network too closely to one and thus alienating others. Hershman has been a proponent of Showtime's policy of "great fights, no rights"—that is, spending for the best matchups, while generally avoiding multibout deals. At HBO he will also develop a series of smaller-profile boxing shows, similar to the long-running ShoBox: The New Generation series Hershman oversaw at Showtime.
Hershman's negotiating skills—he persuaded six promoters to sign on for the Super Six tournament (which pitted a half dozen of the world's top 168-pounders against each other in a two-year tournament)—will be key too. One of his priorities will be to facilitate a Manny Pacquiao--Floyd Mayweather bout, a showdown that's expected to be the richest fight in history. If Hershman can broker that deal, anything else he does is gravy.
MONTY BRINTON/SHOWTIME (HERSHMAN)
RING MASTER A skilled negotiator, Hershman will be punching hard to bring a Pacquiao-Mayweather superbout to HBO.