NEW YORK — In a surprising move, HBO Sports president Ken Hershman announced that he was stepping down at the end of the year. Hershman, who joined HBO in 2012, moving to the network from rival Showtime, where he ran the sports department since 2003, told SI.com the decision was his.
“Looking back at the last 20-plus years, I looked at this job and asked myself if I could give it the same energy, the same drive,” says Hershman. “And the answer was no. I just decided it was time to pass the reigns to the next person and give someone else the chance to do it.”
At HBO, Hershman ran its respected boxing programming during a difficult period in the sport. In 2013, Floyd Mayweather, who developed into a pay per view star with HBO, defected to Showtime. That same year Hershman, reacting to a rash of fighters managed by shadowy advisor Al Haymon, banned Haymon fighters, most of whom were promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, from the network.
Still, during Hershman’s tenure HBO has continued to develop boxing’s biggest stars. Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev and junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford are among the stars who have risen to prominence fighting on HBO, while veterans Andre Ward, Wladimir Klitschko and Miguel Cotto are fixtures on HBO programming. Last year, Hershman signed junior middleweight star Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez to a long term contract, taking Alvarez away from Showtime. In 2015, HBO’s World Championship Boxing broadcasts are up 14% from the year before.
For Hershman, the solid state of HBO Sports made him comfortable making the decision to move on.
“There was no flashpoint, no moment, just an evolution of thinking and talking to people inside and outside of the sport,” says Hershman. “It’s been a while. This is not a rash or sudden decision. It’s something I’ve been reflecting on. It takes some time to say it out loud, to accept it and go from there. I did that a few weeks back, and here we are. Leaving HBO in a better place than how it was when I got here was important. I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished. I came at a time when HBO needed a new energy, a new direction and I felt that mission was accomplished.”
Asked about regrets, Hershman referenced losing Mayweather but pointed out that HBO was still a part of the biggest pay per view in boxing history—Mayweather’s decision win over Manny Pacquiao last May, a fight that generated a record 4.6 million pay per view buys—and added, “Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make.”
In a statement, Mike Lombardo, President of HBO Programming, thanked Hershman for his four years at the network.
“Ken’s dedication and commitment to our sports division is deeply appreciated,” Lombardo said. “His approach to rebuilding our boxing franchise was strategic and creative which led HBO Sports to great success. All of us here are grateful and proud of the success Ken and the HBO Sports team have had over the past four years in delivering unparalleled sports programming to our subscribers. We wish him all the best in his next challenge.”
While no successor has been named, HBO has a strong in-house candidate in Peter Nelson, HBO’s Vice President of Programming. A former journalist, Nelson came to HBO in 2011 and has been instrumental in convincing HBO executives to showcase top European talent—including Golovkin—on the network. Nelson was a driving force behind flyweight Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez debuting on the network last year. Today, Gonzalez is considered the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and is a mainstay on Golovkin’s undercards.
Hershman hinted that he is exploring other opportunities, though he declined to offer any specifics.
“I’m here until they decide they don’t need me anymore,” Hershman said. “There is no specific timetable. I have an obligation until the end of the year. If they want me out of here before then for a smoother transition, that’s fine. This company has been fantastic to me and supportive through all this.”