Loughrey Leaves Friday Night Void
By Steve Kim
If you're a sports fan, you've most likely heard about the wide-ranging layoffs that have taken place at ESPN. I don't have all the gory details of this corporate bloodletting (which, as usual, is predicated on the almighty bottom line) but Deadspin sure does: http://deadspin.com/ex-espner-did-network-cut-300-400-jobs-to-pay-for-spor-509311401
Word got out around the boxing industry on Tuesday night that one of those poor worker bees at the "Worldwide Leader" relieved of his duties was Doug Loughrey, whose name may not register with most boxing fans. His official title was "ESPN's Director of Programming and Acquisitions. But to me, he was the architect of "Friday Night Fights" for nearly a decade.
All the fights you saw on this franchise were basically green-lighted by this man.
There was a time long ago when boxing was a very prominent sport on ESPN, believe it or not, before it acquired the rights to the NFL, NBA and the MLB. Back in an era before the four letters became iconic and SportsCenter was an American fixture, this ambitious upstart based out of Bristol would televise stuff like "Vic's Vacant Lot," Australian rules football, the CFL and AWA pro wrestling. Boxing was actually given a fair amount of coverage during these days. In addition to its weekly "Top Rank Boxing" series, they regularly did live remotes for title fights and devoted a good amount of air time to promotions involving the likes of Mike Tyson and Marvin Hagler (uh, yeah, I admit I'm old enough to have grown up in Valencia and then Montebello, having watched all this intently). They would have live break-ins during SportsCenter to air post-fight press conferences (most famously when Larry Holmes took some memorable cheap shots at Rocky Marciano and his family after losing to Michael Spinks in their first encounter back in 1985).
Fast forward to the 21st century and boxing is so low on the ESPN totem pole, it's where you can probably urinate on it. Unless a Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao or some other HBO Pay-Per-View event is involved, boxing for the most part is persona non grata, except for two hours on Friday evenings (usually preempted by a women's softball game in extra innings or a double OT MAC hoops contest) between January and August.
While this network doles out hundreds of millions of dollars for other sports, it spends a relative pittance on the "Sweet Science." They don't fork out pennies to HBO or Showtime's dollars but pesos to their dollars for "Friday Night Fights." For doing about 35-40 broadcasts a year, their license fees are in the neighborhood between $50-60,000 per show, according to industry insiders in contrast to the premium cable titans that regularly have seven-figure amounts for their live boxing events.
And in this environment, Loughrey, who had no background in the game previously, eventually grew into this role. No, he didn't always hit homeruns (which was nearly impossible to do with this budget) but he hit enough doubles to make "Friday Night Fights" interesting on a regular basis. If you want to see the sports elite, you watch HBO or Showtime. If you want to see the fighters who will eventually be on that plateau, you watch them here first.
With a dime and nickel, Loughrey was expected to stretch those 15 cents into a dollar. And eventually, Loughrey put on pretty good scraps like Evgeny Gradovich versus Billy Dib once in awhile (with unfortunately, the occasional appearance by a badly-faded Cory Spinks and Jose Luis Castillo). This series remains one of the best in terms of ratings on "The Deuce," especially if you factor in just how little in terms of resources they are given compared to their other live programming.
No, Loughrey wasn't a universally beloved personality in boxing. In fact, he even clashed at times with his own colleagues (most notably, FNF's outspoken color commentator Teddy Atlas). Some promoters believed he played favorites and was abrasive and rude. It's no secret that he burnt some bridges with his disdainful attitude toward those he was buying content from. Of course, those who got these dates on ESPN2 felt just the opposite about him. Loughrey's role was such that he was never going to please everyone.
Loughrey was always going to be in a no-win situation given his job was going to have him reject the majority of ideas pitched to him (personally, as a reporter, I always liked Doug. He was honest and open and was never afraid to share pertinent information. But again, I never relied on him to make ends meet either).
Talk to people in the industry and they'll tell you that based on what he had to work with, given the parameters, he did an admirable job.
It's not clear who will replace Loughrey moving forward. There are still several dates to be filled in 2013 (this season of FNF ends on August 16th) and it will be interesting to see the quality of fights ahead of us. This job may sound easy in theory but it's the type of gig in which you can only learn by doing it and making the same mistakes a few times. There is no handbook, guide or college course that can really prepare you for working with fighters, managers, matchmakers, promoters and venues on a weekly basis and then having to come up with appealing programming on a consistent basis while dealing with the assorted agendas of everyone involved.
Boxing is the last vestige of the Wild, Wild West.
And unfortunately, Loughrey didn't make it to sundown just as he had hunkered down.