By Jake Donovan
Floyd Mayweather was issued his toughest tasks to date, both in and out of the ring regarding his May 3 win over Marcos Maidana at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He survived his test in the ring, fending off a stiff challenge from a surprisingly competitive Maidana. The final pay-per-view returns, however, tell a bit of a different tale.
Those closest to the event continue to remain hush on the official amount, though all indications suggest final numbers much closer to 900,000 units sold than the targeted — or at least hoped for — 1 million mark.
A total of 900,000 would mean roughly $63 million generated in pay-per-view revenue, a figure that is averaged from the number of homes who pay standard price ($64.99) and homes who ordered the event in high-definition viewing ($74.99). The total is spectacular only when not taking into consideration the $37 million-plus total in guaranteed purses, including what was referenced beforehand as the most expensive undercard in pay-per-view history.
Still, it ranks as the highest-selling event of 2014 to date, and Showtime’s fourth highest total since re-entering the pay-per-view market three years ago. Those numbers stand out more considering the uphill challenges faced heading into this event.
Oddsmakers had Mayweather in the ballpark of an 11-1 favorite to top the Argentine brawler, not the type of disparity you’d normally want in the headlining act of a pay-per-view event. The price tag, coupled with the longshot odds and the lack of a nationwide press tour announcing the event could have factored into sales falling below expecations.
The bout itself, however, proved why fights are fought in the ring and not on paper.
The headliner was anything but a rout. Past opponents have proven to eventually fade towards the second half of the fight, but Maidana never showed any fear or even a hint of wilting at any point in the contest, which proved to be one of the most exciting of Mayweather’s incredible career.
Despite the lopsided odds and the lack of a notable Mexican star on the show, fans still gravitated towards the event, even if not overwhelmingly through the pay-per-view market. The sold-out event at the MGM Grand pulled in $15 million at the live gate, good for the fourth highest total of any boxing event in Las Vegas.
Closed circuit seating and movie theatre screenings helped rake in millions more in revenue, along with a multitude of corporate sponsorship.
However, a strong pay-per-view showing was needed – or at least hoped – to help cover all of the purses and for the main event players to supplement their income.
Mayweather was guaranteed $32 million for the third fight of a six-fight pact with Showtime, while Maidana earned a base salary of $1.5 million. Both are entitled to a portion of any profits generated from PPV sales, though that appears to be off the table if suggested numbers are accurate.
The undercard featured not one but two fighters cracking the $1 million barrier, unheard of in this day and age. Amir Khan entered the welterweight fray in his ring return, scoring a decisive 12-round win over Luis Collazo. The Brit earned $1.5 million for his appearance on the show, one in which he was rumored to be Mayweather’s opponent before the undefeated superstar decided on Maidana.
Adrien Broner, who suffered his lone defeat to date in a decisive points loss to Maidana last December, enjoyed a successful ring return – statistically speaking - with a 10-round win over California’s Carlos Molina, not to be confused with the 154 lb. titlist of the same name. For his undercard appearance, Broner was paid $1.25 million for what served as his first fight at 140 lb. and also the first time he and Mayweather – whom he often refers to as his ‘big brother’ - have fought on the same show.
Going in, the event was expected to significantly drop off from Mayweather’s last ring appearance, which shattered box office records across the charts. A 12-round win over Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez last September was good for 2.2 million pay-per-view units sold, with its $150 million in PPV revenue the most for any boxing event in history. The sold-out show at the MGM Grand also set the record for the largest-ever live gate, raking in $20 million in ticket sales.
Both marks were previously held by the May ’07 event in Las Vegas that initially transformed Mayweather from a “just” a great fighter to an international superstar, in his 12-round win over Oscar de la Hoya. The event still holds the record for most PPV units sold (more than 2.4 million), having also generated $130 million in PPV earnings and a live gate of $19 million.
In the seven years since that event, the only threat to his stay as box-office king has come from the one fighter for whom fans have long clamored for a blockbuster showdown – Manny Pacquiao.
Their rivalry serves as the centerpiece of how the sport has been affected by its self-referred Cold War between promoters Richard Schaefer - who has represented Mayweather for every fight dating back to his win over de la Hoya - and Bob Arum - Pacquiao’s promoter. Adding to the history is Mayweather’s broken relationship with Arum following their split in 2006, as Mayweather had fought under the Top Rank banner through his first nine full years as a pro.
An argument can now be made that the pay-per-view returns for their most recent events are suggestive of an industry no longer willing to fully invest without hope of an eventual – and now long overdue – head-on collision.
Mayweather’s win over Maidana took place three weeks following Manny Pacquiao’s win over Tim Bradley in their welterweight title fight rematch in April. Their event also underperformed, generating $49 million in PPV revenue from roughly 750,000 units sold.
Both numbers are fantastic when measured against the rest of the industry. A different light is cast, however, when measured against the total purse amounts paid for each event.
As long as fights continue to be left on the table, the onus is on Mayweather to involve himself in superfights that go beyond the narrative of the pound-for-pound king’s merely gracing the sport with his ring presence.
The lone pay-per-view disappointment – as perceived by the public – prior to the Maidana bout came last May, in his 12-round win over Robert Guerrero. Full pay-per-view figures continue to remain a point of dispute, although Showtime has steadily insisted the show served its purpose of investing into Mayweather’s future.
The bout was Mayweather’s first under contract with Showtime after having spent most of his career fighting on HBO. His defection to Showtime early in 2013 served as a game changer.
While the networks continue to battle in the ratings department on their flagship stations, Showtime has surged past HBO as the industry leader in the pay-per-view market. Mayweather had a monster year in 2013, with his two fights generating more than 3 million buys.
The lower of his two events – his win over Guerrero – still did well enough to generate more buys than the combined total of HBO’s two pay-per-view events, both of which came late in the year. Bradley’s close-but-clear points win over Juan Manuel Marquez managed roughly 375,000 units sold, while Pacquiao’s triumphant ring return last November – a 12-round win over Brandon Rios overseas in Macau– produced his lowest pay-per-view total since 2008, failing to produce even 500,000 buys.
While his return to the U.S. this past April failed to return the Filipino superstar to the magical one million mark in terms of PPV units sold, the gap between networks has once again narrowed. While Mayweather remains ahead of Pacquiao at the box office, outselling by a margin of less than 200,000 units sold is hardly worthy of his backers thumping their collective chests – especially when you consider the difference in revenue equates to the difference in fight purses paid for each event.
Neither superstar has an opponent secured for their next ring appearance.
Mayweather is scheduled to return to the ring in mid-September, most likely at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which has hosted his last nine fights. The closest there has been to talk worth considering is a floated rematch with Maidana, a bout that has been suggested only because of the surprisingly close nature of their fight earlier this month.
Pacquiao’s name was dangled as the prize awaiting the winner of this weekend’s HBO-televised headliner between Juan Manuel Marquez and Mike Alvarado at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Marquez won in a near-rout, though had to climb off the canvas after scoring a knockdown of his own on his way to taking a landslide decision.
The win by Marquez has renewed a now ten-year rivalry with Pacquiao, with their fourth – and most recent – coming last December. Marquez, 0-2-1 versus his Filipino rival going in but with all three fights ending with decisions whose scores remain highly disputed, gained long-awaited revenge with a 6th round knockout in what served as 2012’s Fight of the Year.
A thawing of the Cold War by Mayweather facing Pacquiao would undoubtedly land as 2014’s Event of the Year – and the one fight guaranteed to place both at the level of pay-per-view success truly befitting of their superstar status.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox