ESPN will air a second season of former NBC boxing reality series, The Contender, next year, as well as a one-night Contender boxing event this October, all part of a wide-ranging new partnership.
Executive Producer Mark Burnett told B&C the second season will be composed of 10 to 12 episodes that will begin in October 2006.
ESPN will also air a night of Contender fights this October featuring contestants from the first season.
Sources also said that while Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard will be making appearances on the show next season, it is undecided whether they will again function as the main co-hosts and appear every week.
But Burnett reiterated their involvement in the show. “They are our partners,” he said. “It just completely depends on their schedules. It may not be exactly the same show, but we are hoping they will be involved.”
According to Burnett, ESPN also becomes a partner in the show as part of the deal. “The fact that they now have ownership in the back end of the business of boxing [means] we can make some great strides and really breathe life into televised boxing,” he said.
The deal also encompasses pay-per-view (ESPN has recently made a foray into PPV boxing), as well as online through ESPN.com.
That means Yahoo! will not be returning as a partner. Last year, the company’s involvement included exclusively webcasting three fights live prior to NBC’s May 24 Contender season finale, which attracted 516,000 video streams, according to the company.
The show itself averaged just 6.2 million viewers last season, but did draw nearly 8 million for the final bout of the elimination series.
“As a business, we peaked at 10 million on NBC, and if we do three or four million on ESPN, that is worth a lot more on a transaction basis,” Burnett said “ESPN viewers are used to transactions like buying tickets, merchandise, and pay-per-views.”
The show will once again be executive produced by Mark Burnett, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Stallone, and is part of ESPN’s growing ESPN Original Entertainment division. Contender contestants from last season are expected to appear on the ESPN series.
Casting and production will begin immediately and as part of the deal, ESPN has options to renew the series for two subsequent seasons.
Mark Burnett Productions will handle international distribution as well as the sponsorships and product integration.