ZDF to get back into ring with Universum after U-turn

(Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

German public broadcaster ZDF is set to show a second night of boxing through a co-operation with Universum, the German boxing promoter, despite last month pulling out of future coverage after being unable to agree on the fighter line-up.

ZDF issued a statement today carrying a quotation from Ismail Özen-Otto, Universum’s managing director, that he had “overstepped the mark” in the position he adopted in the public row and that his accusations “were based on misunderstandings”.

ZDF and the promoter now say they have settled the dispute after discussions to clear up the matter.

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

November’s fight between Artem Harutyunyan, the Armenian-born boxer who won a bronze medal for Germany at the 2016 Olympics, and Russian Islam Dumanov was watched by an audience of just 820,000 viewers (and an 8.2-per-cent market share) on ZDF.

However, Thomas Fuhrmann, ZDF’s head of sport, said today (Thursday): “If Artem Harutyunyan is fit again then there will be a second boxing evening 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. Universum had been in talks for a new broadcaster for the event in Hamburg on April 4.

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 ($22m) 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.

On the stand-off, Özen-Otto had stated last month: “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.”

Fellow public broadcaster ARD will soon 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.

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.