The business of boxing is not forgiving of bad decisions, and that lesson -- above all else -- will be the sad truth HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg takes with him as he heads out the door.
From the moment Bob Arum announced that his golden boy, Manny Pacquiao, would square off against “Sugar” Shane Mosley in their snoozer-of-a-bout this past year on Showtime and not HBO, this end result was inevitable.
For all of the Peabody Awards (eight) and all of the Sports Emmy Awards (51), all of the stellar programming decisions (Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Oscar De La Hoya) and all of the innovative sports-based shows (24/7, Hard Knocks, etc.) Greenburg introduced over the course of his 33 years with HBO (with 10+ years at the helm of the sports division), his biggest error in judgment was fatal.
While the 56-year-old Greenburg is understandably trying to spin the decision to leave HBO -- which he announced this past Sunday -- every which way, the truth remains that his misplaced allegiances and inability to counteract the sway and influence of Arum, Pacquiao and the Top Rank hype machine led to his downfall. Over the years, his tense relationship with the Filipino superstar currently atop the boxing world was something that could be overcome because of Greenburg’s close ties with other notable, respected fighters like De La Hoya.
That, coupled with his stellar track record of securing big fights between the brightest stars kept him afloat all the way up until this point, when all of those other stars fluttered away into oblivion and only Pacquiao and his arch nemesis, Mayweather Jr. remained.
Although Greenburg’s relationship with Mayweather has traditionally been solid, the undefeated superstar proved himself to be anything but steadfast over the past few years. Between his retirements, anticlimactic returns and non-stop legal concerns, Greenburg could never really utilize Mayweather in an effort to cool Pacquiao and Arum’s influence over the boxing world. And when Pacquiao became the only show in town worth watching, Greenburg’s early decision to instead hitch his wagon to De La Hoya and team Golden Boy came back to bite him – big time.
Some will point to Greenburg’s numerous flops over the years -- when he promised certain conditions to fighters that ended up not being sheer failures -- as something that led to his downfall. Others will point to his undeniable biases towards certain fighters and camps, and note that a strategy like that can only work for so long. The truth is, however, all of those things could be overcome. Every little misstep is usually regarded as such, up until the point where you make the one big mistake that you just can’t make – and letting Pacquiao head over to Showtime proved to be that mistake.
The worst part of the Pacquiao-to-Showtime deal is that it created a blueprint for others. It showed other fighters and camps just how successful they can be without the omnipresent HBO. Pacquiao’s showdown with Mosley brought in just fewer than 1.4 million pay-per-view sales, proving once and for all that nobody really needed Greenburg or HBO to shine if the draw was there. The loss in position and loss of leverage for future fights -- something HBO will continue to feel down the road -- was a monumental win for Showtime and a huge loss for Greenburg’s company.
At the end of the day, despite his miscues, Greenburg’s legend is nevertheless secure. With boxing floundering and quickly disappearing off of the sports culture stream of consciousness, somehow, he continuously brought in big paydays and even bigger events. He revolutionized sports documentary programming and provided a model that would later be emulated by countless networks. He was once regarded as the most powerful man in sports entertainment and, despite retiring on the downswing of his career, still goes out as one of the all-time greats.
Yet there is a lesson to be learned here for one and all. One that Greenburg walks away knowing in his heart of hearts, ultimately led to his demise. Nobody, regardless of their past accolades, is above answering for a bad decision. A successful past doesn’t ensure a successful future. And finally, in the sports business and any other, legend or otherwise, you’re only as good as the last dollar you bring in.