According to reports from Broadcasting & Cable, Executive VP and General Manager of Showtime Sports Ken Hershman has left the Showtime umbrella for HBO Sports, where he will fill the position abandoned by Ross Greenberg in July. While the announcement mainly affects the world of boxing, Hershman's departure may also signal the demise of MMA on premium cable.
Despite often failing to see eye-to-eye with UFC President Dana White, Hershman was one of the leading figures in Showtime's unique support of mixed martial arts. As one of the few executives to believe in the merits of the sport, Hershman paved the way for the network's acquisition of Strikeforce and M-1 Global broadcasting rights, ignoring guffaws from his contemporaries such as a Greenberg.
However, in the face of struggling ratings and increasingly-depleted rosters, it remains to be seen what direction Showtime will take moving forward. As Strikeforce's contract with the network edges to a close, and it's champions perpetually flee for the promises of the UFC, the relationship appears to have run its course. September's "Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov" broadcast pulled in a meager audience of 274,000 viewers, the second lowest in the history of the partnership. That kind of paltry return on an investment would almost assuredly not be supported by an executive unfamiliar with the situation.
Additionally, after such a poor result the first time around, the idea of Hershman carrying MMA into his new HBO stomping grounds is highly improbable. Bloody Elbow's Brent Brookhouse explains:
Boxing remains a big part of HBO's identity and despite uninformed opinions that the network will eventually give up on the sport, they actually are investing even more in the sport. Being realistic, there just aren't enough legitimate fighters outside of Zuffa control for either network to make any sort of long-term investment into MMA at this point. Bellator would be the only even somewhat reasonable option but their structure would have to change entirely as it simply doesn't work with the limited dates provided by the HBO and Showtime schedule.
If we didn't already know that we were seeing the beginning of the end of MMA on premium cable, we should know for sure now.