by David P. Greisman
There were two narratives surrounding Floyd Mayweather’s latest fight: the size of his opponent and the size of his paycheck. The conversations following his latest victory centered on his 45th win and his fourth lineal title in five weight classes, and on the $41.5 million payday guaranteed to him as a minimum payday and the millions more he is expected to receive.
There is the ring, and there is the revenue. Much of the talk in the days immediately after the Sept. 14 pay-per-view analyzed the manner in which Mayweather defeated Canelo Alvarez by majority decision. Not long afterward, the numbers rolled in and were released out, changing the headlines from Mayweather’s win to his windfall.
The live gate at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas brought in a record $20,003,150 for 16,146 tickets, not including what some of those seats went for on the secondary sales market. The closed circuit broadcasts elsewhere in the city drew an additional 26,163 people and added another $2,615,360 to the coffers.
The initial pay-per-view estimates in the United States fell short of the buy rate of Mayweather’s bout with Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. That didn’t matter much, though, given that the higher price tag for Mayweather-Alvarez meant that the estimated 2.2 million pay-per-view sales in America brought in a record high of nearly $150,000,000.
Meanwhile in Mexico, the card was the country’s highest-rated boxing broadcast ever. Three out of every four television sets turned on that night were tuned in. More than 22 million people were watching in nearly 6 million homes.
We didn’t need this show’s resounding success to dispel one of those other narratives that pops up among lazy talking heads whenever a big fight merits mainstream coverage. We already knew that boxing isn’t dead.
But just as Mayweather vs. Alvarez wasn’t necessary for proving that boxing isn’t dead, this card alone isn’t representative of the sport’s overall health. This fight was marketed as “The One.” That didn’t make it “The Only.”
There still is much that can be said about the success of this promotion and what it means for the future.
Here, then, are a few more narratives to keep in mind:
1. Extensive promotional efforts produce results, and they need not be limited to the biggest of events
We wouldn’t have seen such success for De La Hoya-Mayweather and Alvarez-Mayweather if not for the fighters involved in the main event. De La Hoya was the most well-known non-heavyweight around six years ago. At the time, Mayweather had a reputation for being one of the best boxers of his generation, but his popularity lagged far behind. That’s when “Pretty Boy Floyd” became “Money Mayweather,” introducing a personality that resonated with the public.
Mayweather long since crossed over into the mainstream. Alvarez, meanwhile, is a superstar in Mexico and has also shown a sizable connection with the Mexican-American population. Their fight would’ve done well no matter what. The reason it did so astoundingly well is because of the promotional effort that went behind it.
There was the 11-city tour that made stops in highly public venues, events that catered to the customer rather than just to the media. There were stories and interviews with major publications and networks, and there was significant cooperation from partners, particularly from Showtime’s sister network, CBS. Some of this we’ve seen, but not to this extent. There’s a big difference with spotlighting the fight during NFL and college football games, rather than merely shoehorning in “24/7” or “All Access” into unwatched time slots.
This effort cost a lot of money and cannot be duplicated in whole by far smaller promotions. Still, too many cards have promoters put in minimal effort, given that their paydays often are guaranteed.
We’ve seen far too many half-empty venues and emotionally detached crowds. Promoters take TV license fees and casino site fees and essentially call it a day. They’ve made their money. The fighters are getting paid. Yet this short-term profit costs everyone in the long term. There’s not enough investment in the future, in creating new stars, maintaining a niche audience and building the fan base. And this investment isn’t just the job of the promoter.
Fighters and their PR teams should reach out beyond the boxing websites and look toward the newspapers, magazines and talk shows. It’s great to make a big splash, but in lieu of that, publicity campaigns can be comparable to throwing a bunch of little pebbles into the water. Those smaller audiences can combine and add up.
Boxing has long lacked for mainstream attention, but it can’t wait for it either. ESPN doesn’t typically give any airtime to a fight unless Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao or involved, yet there’s no harm in being proactive and pitching a show’s producers, asking if they will be interested in interviewing a less-popular prospect, contender or titleholder.
2. This won’t happen again for a while
Six years separated De La Hoya-Mayweather and Alvarez-Mayweather. In-between, several events involving Mayweather and Pacquiao eclipsed the million-buyer mark. None came close to approaching 2 million, though.
None will for a while.
Despite the scorecards, those watching who weren’t particular to either combatant recognized that Mayweather was the clear winner over Alvarez. A rematch between the two won’t have the same magic at the box office as “The One.”
No other boxer between junior welterweight and junior middleweight, or even middleweight, is a big pay-per-view star — that is, except for Pacquiao, and that Mayweather-Pacquiao ship has sailed. Perhaps that’s why the talk has now turned to Mayweather possibly facing Amir Khan in the United Kingdom, as that would bring revenue there from ticket sales and domestic pay-per-view buyers.
The big brother/little brother relationship between Mayweather and Adrien Broner makes me doubt that we’d ever see the two of them share a ring, though I won’t completely write off the possibility. That’s the only fight I could see as being able of approaching the spectacle that we saw leading up to Sept. 14, and that would have to happen about two years from now.
Of course, Broner hasn’t even headlined his first pay-per-view yet. He’s expected to do so this December, facing Marcos Maidana in a show that reminds me of Mayweather’s pay-per-view debut against Arturo Gatti.
Gatti-Mayweather was successful on a smaller scale. What it marked, however, was Mayweather’s entry into a different realm. He created the expectation that you would need to pay at least $50 to watch him, that he’d be destination television, that watching him would feel like a marquee event rather than part of a schedule of HBO boxing broadcasts.
Mayweather did fight on “World Championship Boxing” in his subsequent bout, a win over Sharmba Mitchell. Since then, however, he’s had 10 straight pay-per-view main events, topping Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir, De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, Miguel Cotto, Robert Guerrero and Alvarez.
I don’t expect Broner-Maidana to do big business. It doesn’t need to. All it needs to do is put people in the habit of paying to see him, either to root for him or to root against him. If they do, if he continues to win — and continues to become a household name through a combination of talent and his oversized personality — then this industry will have another pay-per-view headliner for when Mayweather and Pacquiao retire, even if he’s not on par with them.
3. Though Canelo wasn’t badly damaged in defeat, this wasn’t just about bragging rights in the ring.
Mayweather has four fights left in his deal with Showtime. At the press conference following his win over Alvarez, he said he expects to return in May 2014 and to appear again in September 2014, then to fight in those months in 2015.
The expectation is that he’d fight over the traditional boxing pay-per-view weekends coinciding with Cinco de Mayo — or “Cinco de Mayweather,” as he called it — and Mexican Independence Day.
That’s been the norm for him. His bout with De La Hoya was in May 2007; his fight with Ricky Hatton in December 2007 has been the lone exception since.
Mayweather didn’t fight in 2008. His lone fight in 2009 was over Mexican Independence Day weekend in September. His lone fight in 2010 was on the first weekend in May. His lone fight in 2011 was in mid-September. His lone fight in 2012 was on the first Saturday in May. And he fought on both holiday weekends this year.
In essence, his win over Alvarez precludes Canelo from trying to claim those dates for himself (though Canelo did fight over Mexican Independence Day last year, sharing the date and even Las Vegas with the Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. pay-per-view).
Alvarez doesn’t need those dates to succeed. He did draw about 40,000 to San Antonio for his fight with Austin Trout this past April. He does attract huge audiences in Mexico no matter when or where he fights.
He remains as popular as he was before the Mayweather fight. Look for him to go the route of Miguel Cotto — not just for a fight with the fading Puerto Rican star, but also the path set by him. Cotto had a built-in audience for the arenas, and then he built one with a series of pay-per-views (intertwined with HBO appearances).
Cotto headlined a Top Rank pay-per-view against Paulie Malignaggi in 2006. He had HBO pay-per-view main events with Zab Judah and Shane Mosley in 2007, with Antonio Margarito in 2008, with Manny Pacquiao in 2009, and with Margarito again in 2011. (A bout with Ricardo Mayorga in 2011 was a Showtime pay-per-view.)
Canelo’s undercard appearances on four pay-per-views are believed to have brought an additional number of buys. His September 2011 bout with Alfonso Gomez, which was on the same broadcast as a Mayweather main event, actually took place in a separate arena one state away to maximize Alvarez’s payday from ticket sales.
He’ll be on the A-side of a pay-per-view sooner rather than later. Just not next May or September.
The 10 Count will return soon.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]