ESPN’s Smith-Hart Main Event Peaked At 673,000 Viewers

Viewership for ESPN’s boxing doubleheader went up Saturday night once the Titans’ upset of the Ravens ended, but still was lower than usual.

According to Nielsen Media Research, ESPN’s main event between Joe Smith Jr. and Jesse Hart drew a peak audience of 673,000 toward the end of it. The average viewership for Smith-Hart was 515,000.

The overall average viewership for this nearly two-bout broadcast was 388,000. That average is the lowest for an entire ESPN boxing telecast since the basic-cable giant entered an exclusive content agreement with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. in June 2017.

The previous low for average viewership during that partnership was the 469,000 that watched a show headlined by heavyweights Kubrat Pulev and Bogdan Dinu on March 23 in Costa Mesa, California. Bulgaria’s Pulev knocked out Romania’s Dinu in the seventh round that night.

The Smith-Hart doubleheader faced competition from not only the NFL playoff game between Baltimore and Tennessee, but from DAZN’s stream of a boxing card from San Antonio that featured Jaime Munguia’s 11th-round knockout of Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan in the main event.

Viewership figures for the aforementioned ESPN boxing broadcasts account only for those on linear television. Nielsen tracks television viewership, but ESPN doesn’t release viewership information for boxing shows it makes available through ESPN+, the company’s $5-per-month streaming service.

Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) knocked down Hart (26-3, 21 KOs) in the seventh round of their 10-round light heavyweight fight Saturday night and beat Hart by split decision.

Two judges – Eugene Grant (97-92) and Joe Pasquale (98-91) – correctly credited Smith for the convincing victory he had earned. Judge James Kinney caused controversy by scoring their fight for Philadelphia’s Hart, 95-94.

The opener of ESPN’s telecast, which began at 10:12 p.m. from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Etess Arena in Atlantic City, New Jersey, featured two lesser-known boxers who were competing in the biggest fight of their respective careers.

Steven Nelson (16-0, 13 KOs), of Omaha, Nebraska, built a large lead in that super middleweight match before Buddy McGirt, the trainer for Germany’s Cem Kilic (14-1, 9 KOs), decided that his fighter had taken enough punishment during the eighth round. Nelson, a stablemate of three-division champ Terence Crawford, had won each of the first seven rounds on all three judges’ cards and was ahead by the same score, 70-63, when their scheduled 10-rounder was stopped at 1:44 of the eighth.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.