HBO decides where ball bounces in sports

Greenburg's exit means changes atop division

HBO won’t see a slowdown of output from its sports division now that president Ross Greenburg is leaving the network after 33 years, but it clearly won’t be the same place.

Under the purview of Greenburg, who replaced Seth Abraham as sports prexy in 2000, there have been 51 Sports Emmys, including for docs — “Lombardi,” “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals” and the “When It Was a Game” series, to name a few — and other fare, such as the monthly newsmagazine “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” which remains one of the most respected programs on television.

But now, HBO programming toppers Michael Lombardo and Richard Plepler are left to contemplate who will replace Greenburg. The search will be extensive and likely take months rather than weeks, with a strong emphasis on looking outside the company, possibly from a competing network such as ESPN.

The four execs who reported directly to Greenburg — senior veepees Rick Bernstein, Kery Davis, Barbara Thomas and Mark Taffet — will likely now report to Lombardo, to whom Greenburg reported.

One reason for Greenburg’s departure was his dissatisfaction with the boxing community. He was growing tired of having to deal with managers and promoters who often made his job difficult, and that wear and tear decreased Greenburg’s affection for the sport.

A deciding factor in Greenburg’s leaving was the May 7 pay-per-view fight pitting Manny Pacquaio against Shane Mosely, which ended up at Showtime and drew a little more than 1 million customers. Some insiders believe that if HBO had won the right to televise the fight, the network — with the TV, print and online power of Time Warner to market it — would have easily surpassed that number and earned boatloads of cash.

HBO, which televises more than 20 boxing events a year and very much wants to stay in that business, might consider having a pair of execs run sports: One could handle boxing while someone else tends to the rest of the slate.

Whoever is in charge will clearly make it a top priority to win the rights to the Nov. 12 Pacquiao-Juan Manual Marquez fight. That bout might be the most anticipated fight remaining on the 2011 calendar, and the cabler who lands the PPV rights will enjoy a huge financial windfall.

In non-boxing sports programming, HBO has created a popular “Hard Knocks” preseason football franchise, which is still on schedule for this summer if the NFL lockout ends in the next week or two. And the pay cabler launched the inaugural “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” NHL series last year, which may become a permanent fixture.

As for its documentaries, HBO is in the final stages of production for “Derek Jeter 3K,” which takes a look at the Yankees shortstop during his recent quest for 3,000 hits, as well as several others in the pipeline.

With that programming slate ahead, a network spokesperson emphatically reiterated, “We’re open for business.”

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