Pundits have long said that boxing needs to return to network TV to have any hope of reclaiming its former popularity. The financial realities of pay-per-view, however, make that unlikely. Still, the sport has made at least a symbolic return in the build-up to Saturday's welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao (below) and Shane Mosley. It started when Pacquiao's promoter, Top Rank, inked a deal with Showtime and CBS rather than re-sign with longtime bedfellow HBO. While Showtime reportedly offered less money than HBO, the allure of CBS's 115 million homes—more than four times HBO's universe—proved irresistible to Top Rank. CBS also provided ad spots touting the bout, fight-week stories on the Early Show, on Entertainment Tonight and The Insider; and aired episodes of Showtime's Fight Camp 360° documentary countdown series.
The postfight pay-per-view numbers will tell if Top Rank's gamble paid immediate dividends, but the short-term payoff is less important than the increase in visibility for a sport desperate to go the distance.