It’s Espinoza’s Show(time) Now
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (Feb 13, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
Stephen Espinoza
In the weeks after Ken Hershman left his post as the head of Showtime Sports, there were many names mentioned to replace him. This job is one of the most important and influential in boxing, given the position includes the responsibility of green-lighting the fights you see on this network. Hershman, who moved across the street to HBO, did an admirable job of making more with less as he battled “The Network of Champions” and its much larger purse strings. Whoever took this responsibility had the daunting task of filling some pretty big shoes.
So just who would be that guy? Again, lots of names were thrown around the grapevine and, well...
“Mine was not one of them,” admitted Stephen Espinoza, a couple of weeks ago from his offices in New York, with a laugh.
Now the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Showtime Sports, he explains, “There's one guy you have to blame for this, Jack Tiernan from CAA Sports. Jack is a former INC guy. He is the one who called me one day after Ken's departure had been announced and said, ‘Hey, would you ever consider taking the Showtime Sports position?’ and as much work as I had done in boxing and as aware as I was about the position, it really hadn't entered my mind because, again, by training, I'm a lawyer and I figured I'd always stay a lawyer.”
Espinoza describes Tiernan as a “personal and professional friend.”
“When [Tiernan] asked me that question, I hesitated for a moment and I couldn't come up with a good reason why not. I said, ‘Sure, I'll take the meeting.’ [Tiernan] said, ‘Well, let me see if I can get you a meeting.’ Literally from that conversation to when I signed a contract, it was ten days.”
Espinoza, a graduate of Stanford, got his law degree at UCLA (so yes, he's a PAC 12 guy through and through) and comes to Showtime after years at the law firm of Ziffren Brittenham, where one of his main clients was Golden Boy Promotions. When Espinoza was appointed this position, the expected questions regarding favoritism came up quickly. Would Golden Boy have a favored status at this network?
“I understand the fear. I can assure people that's not going to be the case,” said Espinoza, addressing these concerns.”Ultimately, the only thing that's really going to be convincing is my performance. It's only been about six or seven weeks and I've only got the first quarter programmed. But if you look at what we have in the weeks ahead, our three big shows that we have are with four different promoters. There's a co-promotion there.
This interview took place just a few weeks ago, days before Andre Berto injured his left arm therefore postponing Showtime's initial card of 2012 (which should’ve come off this past weekend at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas) to June 30th. Espinoza says, “We've got Golden Boy, [Lou] DiBella [Entertainment], the first one (Ortiz-Berto II). The second one is Goossen [Tutor]-DKP (this upcoming Saturday night where Paul Williams takes on Nobu Ishida and Tavoris Cloud faces Gabriel Campillo) and the third one is Top Rank (March 10th in Puerto Rico between Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez) and then if you look at our “ShoBox”s, I don't think there's been a repeat there either. So ultimately, if nothing else, my own-self interest is to be fair. I want to succeed in this job. I didn't pick up and move my life from Los Angeles to New York on three weeks’ notice to not succeed. 
“And favoring, giving preferential treatment to Golden Boy because I like Richard Schaefer or I'm comfortable working with their staff isn't a recipe for success. So ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. I think if you ask around, I think the early returns should say that I've been relatively fair. In some ways, the door is more open here then it has been in the past. That's already clear but ultimately, I'd just say, be patient and I'll be the first one to pick up the phone if people are going to call and criticize me about those types of decisions whether I'm in favor of Golden Boy.”
The bottom line is very simple; like any other high-profile job, Espinoza will be judged on his performance. 
Unlike the past, where he worked in boxing rather anonymously on behalf of high-profile clients (such as Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya), he will now be scrutinized- which he has no problems with. “Quite honestly, I'm one of ‘those guys,’” he said, referring to fans, observers and media members who follow the game of boxing with passion. “I may not have the luxury of the same amount of time that you and [ESPN’s] Dan Rafael and [The Ring’s] Doug Fischer and all the guys who commit 23 hours a day to do it. But I've been on the fighter’s side of my career and I take very seriously the decisions that I make, given that they have such a big impact on a fighter’s career and life. Not to be melodramatic but all of my decisions have repercussions. When I had to reschedule the December 31st show [where Cloud was to have headlined against Zsolt Erdei], I was very cognizant of the fact that it had repercussions in when I did need to reschedule those events. I made it very clear that I would put those fights back on the network very quickly. I don't know if whether the promoters and fighters, at the time, completely believed me but ultimately, [Dan] Goossen's fight, [Rico] Ramos-[Guillermo] Rigondeaux was about three weeks later and we got Tavoris Cloud on six weeks later. So that's probably the most difficult part that I take the most seriously. I realize how significantly these decisions impact the guys who are actually giving blood, sweat and tears towards all this stuff.”
When going from representing the interests of a promoter to now a network, has the perspective of the 42-year-old Espinoza been altered in any way?
“Slightly,” he answered, “I'll tell you; the bigger switch in perspective- it actually requires a great separation from being a fan because, quite honestly, on the promoter’s side to a certain extent, but on the viewer side and the fan side, there's one overriding factor which is- how good of a fight is this going to be? How entertaining a fight is this going to be? Really, from the fan perspective and certainly from the promoter perspective, there's an additional variable in the calculus from the network side which is: Is this going to be attractive programming for my viewers? And I phrase it that way because it's not all about ratings because we are a subscription network but ‘Is this attractive programming for my ratings?’ And I put as a sub-category of that question, given that everyone operates with budgetary limitations and, given my budgetary parameters- what is the most efficient, productive use of my resources?”
One of the issues is that while there may be an infinite amount of bouts the public yearns for, there are a finite amount of dates and financial means.
“Because quite honestly, there's a number of fights I'd like to see as a fan that far exceeds what I can program on the network and I would say that probably goes for virtually any executive who's really truly a fan of boxing. So when there's not an approved opponent or a pass on a fight, it very well could be a fight that, as a fan, you think is very attractive. But the additional variables such as, ‘Is it a cost-effective use of my resources? And is this going to be a good choice, given what the preferences and desires of my viewers are?’ That's a very different perspective that I really didn't take into account very much before.”
Espinoza should have a very simple standard: Will my audience enjoy this? And is this something as a boxing fan that I would want to see myself? It helps that Espinoza is a fan of the sport, not just someone who happens to tolerate it or uses his position to pad their expense accounts on the road, like other network executives. Talking to him, you can sense the excitement and anticipation he has for this gig. But this job, for as easy as it sounds (I mean, you get to make prizefights with a multimillion-dollar budget. How much better can it get for a boxing fan, right?), has some complications. Hey, anyone can play fantasy league football. It's a whole ‘nother ballgame to be a real general manager of an NFL team and deal with not-so-little issues like the salary cap and impending free agency. The reality is that Espinoza will not make Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo or Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez every time out but his goal is to maintain a certain standard and consistency for Showtime's boxing franchise.
At times, it will mean overpaying for a bout. Other times, it means taking a stinker to get a fight you covet down the road. Sometimes it will require discipline in not squandering the budget in chasing a fight or playing hardball. With all that, it means trying to placate competing entities and trying to play peacekeeper.
It's not as easy as it looks.
“It's difficult for me as a boxing fan,” said Espinoza, “and the challenge is separating me as a fan from me, the television executive. But the underlying dynamic of sort of programming the network is something that's been part of my career since I got out of law school. Because ultimately, a large part of my job was in television development and finance and distribution where particularly, on the ad-supported network side, it's a daily conversation literally.”

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