Ken Hershman Leaves Showtime for HBO, MMA's Future on Premium Cable In Doubt

via Showtime Sports

Ken Hershman has been at Showtime since 1992, serving as the general manager of sports and event programming for several years. He has now expected to jump to HBO where he will replace Ross Greenburg.

The most obvious sport this impacts is boxing as Hershman was one of the primary players in turning Showtime into a much more competitive network with HBO with a much smaller budget. Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook talks about the impact on the boxing world:

HBO has already shown improvement in the second half of 2011, so Hershman coming on board should keep that momentum rolling. It's worth wondering what he's like with a major budget, though. There is a legitimate worry that he might get lazy with everything being that much easier. Things like the Super Six didn't come easy, and took a lot of work on his part. But doing something similar at HBO would, in theory, be far easier. This could be both a good and bad thing.

Showtime has no successor in place for Hershman, and I wouldn't expect them to name anyone to a long-term position until 2012. As a boxing fan, without being corny, I'd like to tip my hat to what Hershman did at Showtime, and I feel good for him that his hard work has rewarded him with this opportunity. It's not about HBO being better at Showtime, but facts are facts, and HBO is the bigger fish. Hershman was absolutely, 100%, without question the man most qualified for the job at HBO Sports, and it's good to see that guy get it.

Hershman was a big part of getting MMA onto Showtime (and CBS) and some MMA fans may even remember the pre-Zuffa owned Strikeforce days when Dana White would accuse Hershman and Showtime of being the ones actually running the promotion.

Hershman responded to those claims to Sports Illustrated last June:

We want to make sure that people understand our place in this sport. We're putting a lot of money and commitment into this sport. We're in it for the long run. We're not going anywhere, despite what anyone may suggest. All the kicking and screaming makes us hold true to that more firmly... I would say there isn't a network that I'm aware of that doesn't ensure the quality of what they put on the network meets whatever criteria they've established. There isn't one fight that gets on the air that I'm not satisfied meets the expectations that out subscribers hold us to. It would be irresponsible for me not to do otherwise. But to suggest that I'm running Strikeforce or controlling the matchups is ludicrous.

The question becomes if Showtime will retain that commitment to the sport with Hershman's departure.

Showtime execs are no doubt aware that Zuffa has been stripping Strikeforce for parts to beef up the UFC and that relationship seems likely to die the second the current TV deal is up. M-1 Global is likely to continue to be ratings death and even smaller ShoBox level boxing events will do better ratings for little more than the same price.

Hershman's move to HBO isn't likely to bring MMA to that network either. Boxing remains a big part of HBO's identity and despite uninformed opinions that the network will eventually give up on the sport, they actually are investing even more in the sport. In 2012 the network is launching a midweek boxing show that will feature competitive fights on a smaller budget to try to aid the process of building up stars.

Being realistic, there just aren't enough legitimate fighters outside of Zuffa control for either network to make any sort of long-term investment into MMA at this point. Bellator would be the only even somewhat reasonable option but their structure would have to change entirely as it simply doesn't work with the limited dates provided by the HBO and Showtime schedule.

If we didn't already know that we were seeing the beginning of the end of MMA on premium cable, we should know for sure now.

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