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Kery Davis: The Inner Workings of HBO’s World Championship Boxing

Exclusive Interview by Marc Anthony

“We are always looking to have the best matches we can… the biggest fights we can…and have the best storytelling. In terms of our production have the highest production that we can.” – Kery Davis

Kery Davis is Senior Vice President, programming, HBO Sports, for Home Box Office. He is responsible for overseeing negotiations and program planning for the network’s major boxing series “World Championship Boxing” and “Boxing After Dark” as well as assisting on “HBO Pay-Per-View” events. He was named to this position in September 2000.

He was part of the HBO management team that negotiated the television contract for the 2007 pay-per-view showdown between superstars Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, JR. The fight set the record for most pay-per-view buys in history, recording 2.4 million buys.

He was also part of the HBO team that negotiated the groundbreaking deal with Showtime for the two cable networks to work together on the 2002 Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson blockbuster showdown.

Davis joined HBO in 1997 as Director, HBO Sports, where he brokered deals including multiple-fight agreements with world titleholders Roy Jones, JR., Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley. In July 1999, he was named a Vice President.

Davis was named to Black Enterprise magazine’s list of “Most Powerful African Americans in Sports” in March of 2005.

He holds a BA in Political Science from Dartmouth College and a JD from Cornell Law School.

MA: What are the objectives for 2011?

To make the biggest and the best fights possible. Various years you might have some specific agendas as to how we want to accomplish that. For example, for 2010 one of the weight classes we wanted to concentrate on was the 140 pound division.

We saw that weight class had a lot of talent, depth, and young fighters who could potentially be stars. Also, the fighters at 140 were just below the 147 weight class that had the established stars in the sport. That was the agenda for 2010 to try to develop those fighters. 2011, now we are looking at those same weight classes to match up them goes against each other. To see who actually the best is…the cream of that crop so to speak. When you look at Bradley vs. Alexander… you look to have the winner of that fight meet Khan sometime later in the year. That’s a big part of our strategy, to have the top guys fight each other, for 2011. We are always looking to have the best matches we can… the biggest fights we can…and have the best storytelling. In terms of our production have the highest production that we can.

MA: How do you see Alexander vs. Bradley playing out?

That’s a really evenly matched fight. As a boxing fan, I look at that fight and I say to myself: “I could make a strong argument for either guy.” The popular wisdom is that Devon may have a little bit more skill and Bradley may have a little bit more will. But one of the things that I noticed watching their past fights is that Devon has more will than I thought and Bradley has a lot more skill than I thought. I think this fight is a pick’em. I think in the tenth round we are going to see that the fight is on the table going into the eleventh and twelfth rounds.

MA: Possible fight of the year?

That depends. That’s an interesting question. To me, sometimes how the media and the fans judge fight of the year sometimes differ from what we used to think fight of the year was twenty years ago. By that I mean, we think fight of the year right now. We think of two guys just rock’em-sock’em… two guys just hitting each other going back and forth. You look at a fight like Leonard vs. Hearns.

I, for example, that was a terrific drama filled fight which had ebbs and flows. There wasn’t ten knockdowns… they weren’t bleeding all over each other but the drama in the fight was high. Again, when the fight came down to the championship rounds, the fight was on the table for either guy to win. I think this fight could look a lot like a Leonard vs. Hearns I. I don’t expect it to be Hagler vs. Hearns… I expect it to be close to Leonard vs. Hearns because the skill level is so high for both these guys.

MA: In the past, you would see billboards across the country promoting a fight. Where does HBO see itself in terms of advertising for fights now?

Advertising has changed. Digital media plays a much stronger part of our advertising strategy then ten years ago. That’s a big factor. We still buy ads in newspapers, we still do radio, and the biggest promotional vehicle that we have is branding in our own network. But the digital strategy is a key component when we produce video assets.

One of the things that we have done different for Bradley vs. Alexander fight was to produce a “Face-Off with Max Kellerman,” which is reserved for HBO PPV fights. We did one for Mosley vs. Berto but that never aired because obviously that fight never happened. The benefit: It’s programming for our own network but also the type of video asset that we can use on the internet, whether it be on a website … iTunes… or HBO YouTube.

There is a lot of opportunity for us to advertise on a lot of places. That goes the same to other video assets we have created like something we created called “Ring Life” which is a mini- documentary on each fighter. We will create those and send them out virally to as many digital platforms as we can find. The world has changed that way in terms on how you approach the marketplace.

MA: Is Face-Off going to be a continued thing with all the big fights now?

Right now we like that and its working but maybe six months from now someone comes up with an idea that we like better and we will go with that. But right now that seems to be working. I have always liked the idea when the fighters speak to each other. The whole concept of two fighters looking at each other and saying this is what is going to happen. The “Face-Off” with Bradley and Alexander is really compelling.

You get a real look at their personalities and the difference in their personalities. And when you combine it with a resource like “Ring Life” you see their backgrounds and were they came from then its explainable. I find it intriguing and I love the back stories of the fighters. The courage it takes to go through those ropes and not be able to call time out and never even think about quitting, that is something I appreciate. So when I hear these back stories that always moves me.

MA: 24/7 treatment is simply amazing. Who covers the cost for those shows?

Those deals are complicated. They could change from fight to fight. For the most part HBO does.

MA: In September 2009, Vitali Klitschko vs. Chris Arreola did (live) – 2.124 million viewers. Is HBO looking for the next heavyweight? It seems the heavyweights do big in ratings.

I agree with you, heavyweights are real important in the sport of boxing. It’s the best way to attract the average fan. The average fan gets the heavyweights… the average fan gets the idea of “the baddest man on the planet”. We get that.

Right now in terms of the heavyweight division we are in a bit of a lull. There have been periods of time that happens. There was a period before Tyson where the heavyweight division was in a lull. Along came Tyson and the heavyweight division exploded. The division goes through different types of lulls. It’s not like there aren’t good fighters.

Listen, the Klitschkos’ are great fighters. The Klitschkos’ would have been competitive in any generation. The problem is, at least right now, it doesn’t really appear anyone that can challenge them and since they won’t fight each other understandably, there is a lack of drama if you will in the heavyweight division. David Haye is interesting; maybe Haye would provide a competitive fight with one of the Klitschkos. We always welcome a heavyweight fighter that would capture boxing fans attention. That would be terrific. I just don’t think we have it right now.

MA: What would you like to see from the fans?

The one thing that the internet does is provide us with feedback. You get it all the time with blogs and comments when someone posts a blog. It’s funny you hear far more from the fans now then say fifteen to twenty years ago. So you see what kinds of match ups fans are interested in. Sometimes that is extremely helpful.

I remember when we were looking to do the Margarito vs. Mosley fight. I was with Shane Mosley in Vegas for another fight and we were discussing the fight, at the time I was negotiating with Top Rank. I remember walking through the casino with Shane and every fan would say “Hey Shane, when are you going fight Margarito?”

Shane looked at me and said “I told you this is a big fight!” I appreciated that feedback… I appreciated hearing what the fans want …what they liked. Again, sometimes you know you are on the right track. I look at the feedback from fans all the time. I read the blogs and I read the comments. I see the match ups that people want, some of them I say “that’s crazy.”

I think it’s like a GM like in basketball, football, or baseball, who listens to talk radio and hear some fans say “Okay here is the tradeoff I want to do. I want the Mets to get A-Rod and Derek Jeter and we will give the Yankees Mike Pelfrey.” You know that’s not going to work. But at the sometime you will see one of those chats on a blog or somewhere else and you will say ‘That’s a pretty good idea.” The world has changed were the feedback is immediate. The fans have the ability to let us know instantly.

MA: From a business standpoint, would it benefit the sport to have one dominant promoting company?

Obviously UFC is the model there in MMA, obviously there are competing entities. I don’t see the sport benefiting from that. I think the idea of competitive promoters is good for the sport. I remember when we did Trinidad vs. De La Hoya and watching Arum and King on the same stage. That was unique and that was great for the sport and promotion of that fight. I don’t see the benefit.

If we had one promotional entity would that mean we would always have better match ups? I don’t think so. I really don’t. As long as the promoters agree to work together, the current formula of having sort of a balance of power if you will helps? Now when promoters are fighting or suing each other, then the sport suffers and the fans suffer. Obviously the best match ups don’t get made. Under normal circumstances I don’t see any problem with a balance of power among the promoters.

MA: People have been saying since the ratings are slipping that HBO has been having discussions about the relevance of the sport. Is there any truth to that?

No…No. Boxing is one of the two or three core franchises in our building. HBO has a strong tradition in boxing and it’s going to continue for a long time. Ratings fluctuate up and down based on a number of different things. But boxing is strong as ever on HBO

MA: Thank you for your time…Anything to add?

Thank you. It was my pleasure.

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