Less than a month after HBO Sports president Ken Hershman announced his decision to leave the network at the end of the year, HBO has lost another key figure in its sports department. Mark Taffet, senior vice president in charge of pay-per-view, has decided to leave HBO, effective at the end of the year.
Taffet, 58, is a pioneer of the pay-per-view model and one of the most respected minds in the sport. He’s overseen north of 190 pay-per-view events that have generated over 65 million buys and $3.6 billion in revenue. He leaves behind the legacy of an executive who, along with former HBO executive Lou DiBella, launched HBO PPV in 1991 and shepherded the record-breaking fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio that registered 4.6 million buys.
In an interview with SI.com, Taffet says the recent turnover at HBO helped him to reevaluate his career path.
“At this point in my life and career I want to do some things with promoters and fighters that are going to be part of the next generation of boxing,” Taffet says. “I want to do things in a more specific way than I would most likely be doing at HBO. It’s a great time to sharpen my focus on something that’s a little different and important to the sport.”
“I have been thinking about this for a while. My contract expires at the end of this year. I have been so blessed to work on so many events in so many eras. The contributions I can make on the other side of the playing field will give me great satisfaction. I have had a magnificent life at HBO. I’ve loved my job. I have the best job in the world. I just concluded that I would be happier and would be able to make a greater contribution on the other side.”
In the immediate aftermath of Hershman’s resignation, there was speculation that Taffet could be in line to replace him. Taffet was a candidate to replace Ross Greenburg when Greenburg resigned as president of HBO Sports in 2011. The job went to Hershman, and Taffet signed an extension to continue in his current role. In recent weeks it has become clear that Taffet was not the first choice to replace Hershman.
Asked what role the likelihood of losing out on the top job for a second time played in his decision, Taffet was succinct.
“None. Absolutely nothing,” Taffet says. “I have always joked with my bosses that I loved my job so much, that I always felt that I had the best job in the world. I believe that today. My job has given me incredible opportunities. Ken’s leaving HBO helped me crystallize my decision a bit. Of course I have thought over the years the challenge the top position might offer but it has never been something that factored into my decision for working at HBO.”
When pressed about if he wanted the soon-to-be-vacated top job at HBO Sports, Taffet paused and said, “I don’t want to get into the specifics of that.”
With Taffet moving on, the overhaul of HBO Sports will continue. The network’s boxing programming is in a good place. Nine of the top ten fighters on SI.com’s pound-for-pound list are tied to HBO. Ratings are up and the network is headed into 2016 with the possibility of huge matchups (Andre Ward/Sergey Kovalev; Canelo Alvarez/Gennady Golovkin) headlining its pay-per-view slate. Manny Pacquiao is expected to return and HBO has young, active fighters like Terence Crawford and Roman Gonzalez to build live broadcasts around.
There is a strong likelihood that HBO will look in-house to fill its vacancies. With Taffet gone, Peter Nelson, HBO’s VP of Programming, has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Hershman. Nelson is a rising star in the boxing business. He has a keen eye for talent—he was a driving force behind bringing Gennady Golovkin to the network—and the respect of the boxing promoters, as well as enormous internal support. HBO also has Tammy Ross, a widely respected member of the pay-per-view department, as a qualified replacement for Taffet.