HBO's Ross Greenburg Interview on Pacquiao, Cotto, Mayweather Jr, Mosley, De La Hoya, Lewis, Tyson, 24/7 and so much More!
By David Tyler, DoghouseBoxing (Oct 20, 2009) Doghouse Boxing  
Let’s welcome the President of HBO sports into the doghouse. Ross Greenburg has won more than 80 major television sports awards. Every list of the most powerful people in boxing starts with Ross Greenburg at the top. He is THE man when it comes to boxing on a global basis. Hope you enjoy the interview.

David Tyler – Mr. Greenburg, 2009 has been a very good year for HBO with several fantastic fights and we still have more great events on schedule.

Ross Greenburg –
We have had a good year with some big fights and exciting ones to watch.

DT – Let’s discuss a recent big event, Floyd Mayweather Jr. against Juan Manuel Marquez.

RG –
I think it was a virtuoso performance by Mayweather. How many of us would have guessed that Floyd would be able to return to boxing after almost two years off and turn the switch back on and show absolutely no ring rust. I guess he is just an extraordinary athlete. He doesn’t feel like it, he feels that he has a lot to improve on. I think that a lot of us in the boxing community are scratching our heads wondering if he can be better. It’s great to see him back, he is a charismatic superstar for our sport and we look for many exciting fights ahead in a hot division.

DT – Sir, how did you coax Mayweather out of retirement?

RG –
I didn’t coax him, I think he needed some time off away from the sport and at such a young age he really wasn’t ready to retire. Boxing is in his blood; he rolled out of bed at the age of four and landed in a gym. It’s difficult for someone of his ilk to just walk away from the sport at the age of 31. So I never really felt as if we were seeing the last of Floyd Mayweather, I always assumed that he would find his way back to boxing. It didn’t take any coaxing, he was ready and it was time.

DT – Sir, how does the system work? Did Mayweather approach HBO?

RG –
Yes he did, basically through Richard Schaffer of Golden Boy and Al Hayman his manager. They approached HBO said that he was ready. Quickly a fight was proposed with Juan Manuel Marquez which was scheduled in July, and as you know was postponed to September due to injury. He started off with a bang and we are looking forward to 2010.

DT – Mr. Greenburg, it was reported that HBO had one million buys for this fight.

RG –
It’s astounding, I don’t think we anticipated that kind of buy rate but Floyd crossed over and Juan Manuel Marquez through 24/7 also crossed over. It became water cooler chatter, the discussion of his bizarre training techniques. Of course Floyd and his Osborne like family made for great television on 24/7. That combined with some great marketing techniques, where we went out to the urban market, we were on the web and really focused and blanketed the country with a heavy marketing blitz. Then Floyd’s star power really took over, his dabbling with the WWE and Dancing With the Stars, his computer commercial all added up to an awareness factor for Floyd returning to the ring. I think that’s what prompted the million buys. I’m thrilled with it and I think this will lead us to some bigger events down the road.

DT – Sir, a million buys equals 55 million dollars, where does the money go?

RG –
Well the first thing that happens is the cable operators and the satellite providers take upwards of 50 percent of that money. The rest goes to the promoter and the bulk of it goes right to the fighter.

DT – How does HBO make any money?

RG –
We get a distribution fee off of Pay per View sales.

DT – Let’s move down the road to November 14, another mega event.

RG –
You bet. We will premier 24/7 on October 24th we already have people in the Philippines, which has been a little exciting the last week with all the typhoons that have been hitting the island. Manny is training about six hours from Manila in an area that has been devastated by typhoons so we had to commander our crew out of there into Manila, for a couple of days in a holding pattern. Now they are going to try and make their way back up. Manny hasn’t left with Freddie Roach, this is something that many people don’t know, it’s a desperate time in the Philippines and Manny is in the middle of it training for this fight. That will add some intrigue to the first episode of 24/7. Of course we are also in the Cotto camp, and I think that this one has the making of a great one. You’ve got a great match of styles the bull against the matador and I think that people are wondering if Cotto is too big, too strong for Manny. There were plenty of people who thought that Hatton was too big and De La Hoya was too big and we saw what Manny did to them. This is going to be an interesting fight on November 14th.

DT – Because of the Mayweather fight, many people will be having second thoughts about the Cotto/ Pacquiao fight. Can the smaller man prevail?

RG –
Exactly, and the question, will he be bigger? Manny has looked increasingly large in the ring against these opponents. His frame seems to be filling out, he is improving his strength as he carries a little more weight. He certainly hasn’t shown signs that he has lost anything by moving up, in fact quite the opposite, he seems to be getting better as he moves up. There is something special about this guy. He’s got everything and still getting better, he feels like he is right in the prime of his career. And Cotto has shown a relentless attack his entire career. His only loss was to a suspect Margarito. People except Cotto to bring the fight right to Manny from the opening bell.

DT – Mr. Greenburg, if Pacquiao wins the fight against Cotto, will HBO actively pursue a battle with Mayweather to determine the pound for pound champion?

RG –
Yeah! I think you are looking at one of the biggest sporting events that could happen in 2010 if that happens. We would absolutely put all of our energy in putting the two sides together and try to make a fight that would bring the sport of boxing to another level.

DT – Does it surprise you that since Oscar De La Hoya retired, boxing seems to have rebounded and come back even stronger?

RG –
It doesn’t surprise me because I’ve lived through so many generations of fighters in the last 30 years here at HBO. We went from Leonard to Tyson to Holyfield and Jones Jr. and on to De La Hoya. We have seen stars every decade take boxing on their shoulders. Now it feels like Mayweather, Pacquiao, Cotto and Mosley are taking boxing on their backs and carrying the sport. They are the kind of illustrious match-ups as we look ahead and see what develops. David I think you’re right, we are at the dawning of a new era here and it’s exciting to watch it materialize. Also, beyond those fighters we feel like the December 5, Pavlik/ Williams match, and the potential of a Mosely/ Berto match-up in January. A series of great fights that will attract a lot of attention and I think that we have reached out with the sport to the younger generation that is now coming back to the sport along with the average sports fan. I think the 24/7 has lit a fuse. People feel like they know these fighters better and I think that has all helped. It has become a cool sport again. I think that has a lot to do with the production of HBO’s Rick Bernstein and his staff.

DT – I hear more talk about the 24/7 than the fight.

RG –
That’s true and it’s a tribute to the production ability of this department. We all find them entertaining; we brood over them, and struggle what to put out there but at the end of the day it’s a fun format. It takes people where they have never been before and its great insight into what goes into the mind of the fighter as he prepares to train for a big event.

DT – Floyd Mayweather Jr. takes credit for the 24/7 events, but who really is the genius behind the 24/7 concept?

RG –
We had a bunch of round table brainstorming meetings here at HBO sports and no one person had the idea. We were lucky enough to have Floyd on one of the first 24/7 events during his preparation for the De La Hoya fight. I will give Floyd credit in that I don’t think that this series would have exploded like it did without Floyd Mayweather being a part of the first show. He is the one that really took the series to another level. Both he and his family.

DT- Floyd has no problem playing the “bad guy” role.

RG –
None. He came to HBO recently and said that they pay to love me or they pay to hate me but they still pay me.

DT – Regardless of who wins the Pacquiao/ Cotto bout, Floyd stands to make a jillion dollars from PPV. I would assume that’s why you haven’t announced another PPV event?

RG –
You have probably noticed that we have cut back the number of pay per view events. The market has kind of dictated that and we feel that in order to have a pay per view event it has to be real special. There was a mode that was infiltrating the industry where fights that would have normally been live on HBO were becoming 300,000 buy pay per view events. Those are not as satisfying to the general public. They do hit a core audience but they don’t really do anything for the sport itself. When we announce a pay per view event in this new world that we live in, it will be something that feels more like a championship game or a super bowl or a world series or the NBA finals or a final four in college basketball. That makes every event a little bit more special and that includes the live HBO fights like Pavlik/ Williams.

DT – I recently interviewed Gerry Cooney for doghouse boxing. I remember when he fought Larry Holmes, the fight was on closed circuit TV, and then it went to HBO, then to ABC where we all got to see the fight. Why not that concept today?

RG –
The networks themselves abandoned the sport and they did it, I guess, because the business model did not work. The rights fees were too high and there was no advertising coming in and they felt they couldn’t make the business model work and they are very wary of putting anything on the air that will lose money. It’s hurt a bit but I would say more important was that they were doing Mancini, Pryor, Arguello, and even Hagler fights early on ABC. They kind of launched those fighters as stars and then we would scoop them up for HBO. But I think at the end of the day, the networks are not what they were back then when compared to today. I don’t believe there is that big of a differentiation now, being on HBO or being on a network. Other than the fact that it is pay television. I believe that the public today views the networks and cable as having the same kind of impact in the market place. So, I don’t really believe that we need the networks today in order to prop the sport back up.

DT – Mr. Greenburg, I live in the Los Angeles area as we discussed earlier. Have you ever heard the great Vin Scully broadcast baseball game?

RG –
Of course. He is a legend. We once had him and Ray Charles together with Bob Costas discussing his call of baseball, which Ray Charles to this day would have told you was very special to him growing up. They don’t make them like Vin Scully anymore.

DT – We earlier discussed the Gerry Cooney/ Larry Holmes fight. Do you remember that fight?

RG –
Yes, I was there with my late father. Why?

DT – Because Howard Cosell did that fight by himself, like Scully does baseball games. That fight and Scully baseball games are so great because the lone announcer is talking to me not another team of announcers. Why the ensemble of announcers?

RG –
Actually I think it’s good. Larry Merchant has been a staple on our network since I hired him back in 1978 and in many ways, the qualities of Larry Merchant you can find in the great Howard Cosell. That’s why he was hired then to give a different point of view. He has a very keen eye to what’s going on. I think that Max Kellerman is probably the next generation. That’s why he was hand picked to carry that mantle. With Jim Lampley, I don’t think there is a better blow by blow announcer in the business today. Frankly I don’t think there is a better clear head analyst than Emanuel Steward. I think that Lennox Lewis is still learning on the Boxing after Dark series but I think that he has great potential and will blossom in future years. So I think that all of us at HBO take pride with this group of announcers and I would question anyone who disagrees with our announcing core. I just don’t think the American Public would be willing to accept a one man announcer on television.

DT – Mr. Greenburg, I disagree with you, sorry but the only announcer I like is Harold Lederman because he provides comic relief.

RG –
Harold is there to give you the mind set of the judge so you can get that point of view that no one had ever come up with before. I think he is vital but I don’t he intrudes on the other announcers. Without commercials there is a lot of space to be filled, in sports with commercials I can see how three announcers can get cluttered but we give them specific roles and you will hear a Kellerman and a Merchant really coming in at very precise moments and not filling the air the way that the analysts and Jim will during the call of a round. We really want them to speak to the audience, the analyst and Jim Lampley.

DT – I can’t speak for others but I turn off the sound when the talking heads come on the air. I miss the sound of the audience and I am sure that the Nobel Science Award will go to the guy that invents a mute button just for the announcers and not the crowd noise. So once again, HBO feels that the four or more system works better than the two man system used by other networks?

RG –
David, it’s not about how many, it’s about what’s coming out of their mouth.

DT – Sir, just my opinion but one shared by many, George Foreman was the best announcer ever for HBO. What happened with HBO and the Champ?

RG –
Well basically George had gotten tired of doing all the travelling and he told me that it was time to hang up the microphone. Every once in a while I’ve called George and he has filled in a couple of times for us. We are still very close to George and he comes to fights when we are down in Houston. The travel just became too much for him, his son plays football, and he preaches on Sunday and had to take the red eye after the Saturday events.

DT – We really miss him.

RG –
Yeah he is missed. I know the public misses him, the same way they miss a John Madden.

DT – Mr. Greenburg, I don’t know about Madden but I felt that George Foreman was a very good antidote for Larry Merchant’s ego. They made good sparring partners and I loved it when he would get in Merchant’s face. Jim was the referee.

RG –
They had their moments, but we feel that the team in place now gets the job done quite nicely.

DT – Who decides which announcers will be doing the fight for HBO?

RG –
Rick Bernstein, the executive producer decides, he works with his team and they set the schedule for Max and Larry. Obviously, Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward will be at those PPV events. They try to evenly balance the schedules for Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman. For instance, Max did the Mayweather event in September and Larry will be doing the Pacquiao/ Cotto bout in November.

DT – For my generation, thank You for letting Larry Merchant do the Pacquiao/ Cotto bout. I might even turn on the volume but I doubt it. You have made some good points and I respect those points and the fact that you support your team. Anything else on the HBO boxing schedule for 2010 that you could let us know?

RG –
Well, before we even get to next year we are excited about Chad Dawson and his rematch with Glen Johnson on November 7th. We are trying to put together Diaz/ Malignaggi II, to clear up some of the controversy from the first fight.

DT – Where will the fight be held?

RG –
In December and not in Texas! No firm site yet but I can assure you it will not be in Texas. Into next year we are just looking at potential match-ups that are only at talking stages.

DT – Mr. Greenburg you have been a good guest and took some tough questions. Many thanks for this interview.

RG –
David, rest assured that we listen to all of our subscribers and we are continually looking to provide our subscribers with the best possible product. All feedback is processed and we encourage our subscribers to visit our website where they can provide feedback.

DT – This year has been a great one for HBO and boxing fans and I look forward to your team’s great work in 2010 and beyond.

RG –
Thank You.

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