HBO Sports does the only thing it can do and extends Jim Lampley's contract

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
HBO Sports has re-signed play-by-play man Jim Lampley to a multi-year contract extension. (Getty Images)

Jim Lampley is the G.O.A.T. of boxing play-by-play announcers on television. Don Dunphy was the standard in the early days of the medium, and Marv Albert was superb during his tenure at NBC in the 1970s and 1980s, but no one has ever consistently called a fight as well as Lampley.

So it was good news Monday for boxing fans when HBO Sports announced in a news release that it had signed Lampley, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, to a multi-year contract extension.

The entire release:

NEW YORK, Oct. 9, 2017 – HBO Sports has entered into a new multi-year agreement with acclaimed broadcaster Jim Lampley, who serves as the primary voice for its HBO Boxing franchise. Lampley will continue to serve on multiple HBO Boxing platforms, including the host and blow-by-blow voice for “World Championship Boxing®,” “HBO Boxing After Dark®” and HBO Pay-Per-View.®  He also will continue to host the boxing studio program “The Fight Game With Jim Lampley.”  The agreement was announced todayby Peter Nelson, executive vice president, HBO Sports.

“For nearly three decades, Jim has been the most prominent television voice in boxing,” said Nelson. “His work is universally recognized as the standard in the sport and we are thrilled to know he will continue in this high visibility role for years to come. Jim’s high journalistic standards, historical knowledge of the sport and enthusiasm for sharing the backstories of the fighters who enter the ring enriches the broadcast experience for the HBO audience.”

A four-time Sports Emmy® Award winner, Lampley was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY on June 14, 2015.

Starting with his first HBO presentation, the “World Championship Boxing” fight between Mike Tyson and Tony Tubbs from Tokyo on March 20, 1988, Lampley has been at the helm for many of the most dramatic moments in HBO Boxing history.

“I’m very lucky to have spent nearly three decades working in HBO’s unique culture, and grateful for the chance to keep doing it,” said Lampley.  “It’s always been my natural home.”

Lampley returns to HBO on Saturday, Oct. 21 when he calls the “HBO Boxing After Dark” tripleheader from Verona, NY at 10:05 p.m. (ET/PT).  The next edition of “The Fight Game With Jim Lampley” premieres Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT).

As great as he is, Lampley is only one piece of the puzzle for HBO. When an NFL team signs an elite quarterback, the next thing it has to do is to put the right talent around him, and that is the task facing Nelson and HBO.

The boxing television market has been evolving and HBO doesn’t hold the dominant position that it once did during Lampley’s nearly three decades at ringside.

Its production remains top-notch, but there are a lot more options now. Top Rank has moved its business to ESPN, and it has gotten off to a brisk start with higher-than-expected ratings and solid fights. ESPN needs to work on its broadcast — it’s weak compared to what HBO does — but ESPN is giving far more attention to boxing under its new deal with Top Rank than HBO has done.

Top Rank Boxing on ESPN gets attention from ESPN on all of its platforms and the fights are repeatedly mentioned on SportsCenter. There is also pre- and post-fight shows that boost overall interest in the product.

Showtime is doing the best job of acquiring and televising the best matches. It’s had an outstanding year and put on many great fights. It’s personal opinion, but I prefer HBO’s productions to Showtime, but both of them are excellent and both exceed ESPN’s.

One thing HBO does need to think about is appealing to younger voters. Its broadcast team has great experience, but Lampley is 68 and veteran ringside judge Harold Lederman is 77. Little has changed about the broadcasts over the years.

But more importantly, after a dismal year of televising live fights, HBO needs to do a better job of buying matches in 2018. It’s out of business with Top Rank as a result of the ESPN deal, and Top Rank is the best-funded and dominant promoter in the U.S. market and, arguably, the world. HBO also doesn’t have much of a crack at any fighters under contract to powerful boxing manager Al Haymon, who created the Premiere Boxing Champions series and also sends much business to Showtime.

There are plenty of good fights to be had, but HBO needs to be smart about what it buys. It has to avoid mismatches at all costs and should take a look at the lighter weight fighters. It’s “Super Fly” show on Sept. 9 was a great success and it should not hesitate to buy those fights and then work hard to promote and market them.

Having HBO involved heavily in the boxing business is great for the sport and ultimately for its fans. It’s incumbent upon Nelson and Co. to focus not so much on pay-per-view but upon putting quality matches on its network. Boxing fans are already paying for the service, and it’s like a double dip when you ask them to pay again for PPV.

If HBO isn’t going to do this, then Lampley’s extension doesn’t mean much.

But if Nelson commits to putting top-level fights on its network, bringing back Lampley was in that light then a grand slam home run.

HBO Sports’ Jim Lampley. (Courtesy of HBO