The future of Strikeforce on Showtime has been a matter of some interest and concern for MMA fans. With the UFC taking stars from the Strikeforce roster already and hinting at wanting to bring in more top talent, it seems that Strikeforce's days are numbered. But UFC president Dana White has said several times that they are trying to continue the promotion going forward.
In late August, White told Ariel Helwani that he met with Showtime execs and it went well as far as keeping Strikeforce around. However, on November 14 it was announced that Showtime had hired Stephen Espinoza as Ken Hershman's replacement as executive VP and general manager of Showtime Sports after Hershman left for HBO.
Espinoza had a boxing background after working as an attorney for men like Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya while also working with Golden Boy Promotions. While no one was quite sure how Espinoza would handle sports going forward after Hershman established a pattern of looking to pay solid rights fees for good fights in boxing while also showing a grand vision by bringing Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley to the network and organizing the Super Six World Boxing Classic.
Today saw some big news for the network as they outbid HBO to get the rematch between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto. This is a big rematch that did very solid viewership numbers for HBO the first time out. Showtime going after the fight shows that they have a commitment to getting big fights on the network and are willing to pay for them.
Now, networks like HBO and Showtime work on a yearly budget for boxing. This leads to situations like HBO bidding against themselves and overpaying for the box office bomb that was Devon Alexander vs. Timothy Bradley. That overpayment forced HBO to put Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson on PPV even though they knew it wasn't a PPV worthy fight, it was just necessary given their depleted fight budget.
I'd be lying if I said I had any idea what Showtime's budget is or if they tie the Strikeforce money to the overall budget with boxing. But paying a rights fee of $2.5 million for Berto vs. Ortiz is an indication that they're keyed in on making 2012 a big year for boxing.
I think it's entirely fair to wonder if this is a revealing signal of their priorities going forward. If they can take the yearly expense of paying rights fees for Strikeforce events and even buy 2-3 more fights like this, it may be of more long term value as Showtime continues to build up their reputation as a very stiff competitor to HBO for the best boxing action.
If that is of a high enough priority and the network isn't interested in ratings for Strikeforce that haven't shown steady improvement while the UFC picks off their top fighters, it may be the end for the promotion on Showtime once the contract is up.