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ZDF boxing return short-lived as Universum deal floored

A return to boxing coverage by ZDF has proved to be short-lived after the German public-service broadcaster withdrew from a co-operation with Universum, the German boxing promoter.

ZDF and Universum announced a tie-up six months ago but disappointing viewing figures during the first bout in November and failed negotiations over the boxers to take part in a second bout have put paid to an ongoing co-operation.

Thomas Fuhrmann, ZDF’s head of sport, told the DPA news agency: “We could not agree a fight card with Universum. Therefore there will not be a second boxing evening for us with the boxing promoter.”

Fuhrmann added that the development does not represent a “blanket rejection” of boxing coverage on ZDF.

The broadcaster and Universum have been unable to agree on the details of a planned event in Hamburg on April 4.

Ismail Özen-Otto, Universum’s managing director, said in response: “We have a valid contract with ZDF for at least one event and have been in constructive discussions. Last Thursday we agreed by telephone on the fight pairings and thereafter we were in a process of defining the details.

“We assume that ZDF will honour its obligations. After all, we have also signed contracts with boxers, which we will keep in any case.”

Fuhrmann described as “sobering” the public response to the November fight between Artem Harutyunyan, the Armenian-born boxer who won a bronze medal for Germany at the 2016 Olympics, and Russian Islam Dumanov. The fight was watched by an audience of just 820,000 viewers (and an 8.2-per-cent market share) on ZDF.

Harutyunyan broke his thumb at the end of January, ruling him out of a second fight on ZDF, and Universum’s proposal of a match-up between Germany’s Abass Baraou and Denis Radovan is reported to have been rejected by the broadcaster. An event will still take place on April 4 and Universum has been in talks for a new television partner.

ZDF’s withdrawal comes as fellow public broadcaster ARD prepares to welcome back boxing coverage to its programming schedules. Next month, the broadcaster will show Dominic Bösel’s WBA light heavyweight defence against Australian Zac Dunn in Magdeburg, Germany.

ZDF’s return to the ring came nine years after it decided against renewing its previous contract with Universum, a deal that was worth around €20m ($21.3m) per year. The loss of that rights income was a major contributing factor to Universum’s insolvency at the start of 2013. However, the Universum name was revived last year as the promoter relaunched with new investors.

Universum first began promoting professional boxing fights 35 years ago, having been formed by Klaus-Peter Kohl. It previously represented the world heavyweight title holders Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko.

ZDF pulled out of live boxing coverage in 2010 as it felt there were no heavyweight names to drive strong viewing figures.