By Thomas Gerbasi
It’s been nearly ten years since Oscar De La Hoya last stepped into the ring as an active fighter against Manny Pacquiao, enough time to continue his transition into life as a promoter while producing pay-per-view events without his name on the marquee.
But as he gets ready for the latest event bearing Golden Boy Promotions’ stamp, Saturday’s Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golvkin card in Las Vegas, the 45-year-old admits that the itch is never too far away on a big fight night.
“I'm sitting down ringside and part of me tells me, okay, let's focus on everything, hopefully everything turns out okay, how many tickets did we sell?” De La Hoya said on a recent visit to New York City. “But then I stop and think and I look at these fighters and say, 'I can take them on.' (Laughs) If I train myself for a few weeks I can take 'em on. So, for me, it's just the best of both worlds because I can get to promote the biggest boxing events in the sport that I dearly love and that I miss every single day.”
All wishes for a turn back in time aside, De La Hoya does know that the torch has been passed to the new generation, with the main cog in the Golden Boy machine being Mexico’s Alvarez, the 28-year-old with the 49-1-2 record and the increased ability to sell pay-per-views on his name alone.
In 2010, Alvarez was 19 and already 30-0-1 as a pro when Golden Boy signed him. The appeal was simple to GBP president Eric Gomez: the kid had a fan-friendly style and a look that set him apart from his fellow prospects in Mexico. He was also ready for prime time despite his youth.
“His style of fighting, obviously, attracted us,” said Gomez. “He was a very good fighter. When he was 20 years old, I made a risky fight and put him in with (Carlos) Baldomir. A lot of so-called experts were saying that we made a big mistake, that he wasn't ready for that and he ended up knocking him out. That catapulted him onto the championship stage. But obviously his look is different. He's got a different look, being Mexican and having red hair is something very different. It's rare. So that's helped him a lot as well. But he backs it up with his fighting, first and foremost.”
Two fights after beating Baldomir, Alvarez had his first world title, and by 2013, he was headlining a pay-per-view event with Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather handed Alvarez his first and only loss, but it didn’t hurt his marketability, especially in the Hispanic market that has grown substantially over the last several years.
“The demographics have changed,” Loretta Lucero, president of Touch Point Marketing, which serves as the marketing and branding arm of Golden Boy Promotions, said during last week’s Business of Boxing conference in NYC. “Forty years ago, it was 75 percent Anglo watching fights. Today, we are split in half - Anglo and multi-cultural, with Hispanics leading the way. Ten years ago, Hispanics were 20 percent of this base. Today, they’re almost 30 percent and growing. Where are they growing? Young, Hispanic, millennial males. This is a tech-savvy group of people, they’re loyal and they are a perfect demographic with us.”
As the Hispanic demo grows, it’s opened the door for Alvarez to become the most marketable force in boxing at the moment. According to Lucero, following the Mayweather bout, which garnered over 2.2 million PPV buys, Alvarez has averaged 800,000 buys per year, with last year’s bouts against Golovkin and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. selling a combined 2.5 million pay-per-views that made over 200 million dollars in revenue.
That’s big money, which means a lot of money and time go into making events like these as lucrative as possible. And it’s not as simple as having a press conference and saying, “Okay, buy the fight.”
“We spend most of the time with our sponsors six to eight months in advance of a pay-per-view, developing plans – marketing plans, activation plans, everything around a pay-per-view,” said Lucero. “We are a hundred percent relying on consumer purchases. Over 56 percent of the revenue comes from consumer purchases. The second largest revenue is the live gate and there are other pieces of this, such as the closed circuit, international rights, etc.”
Bringing sponsors as varied as Tecate, Hennessy, Interjet Airlines, Fred Loy Insurance and O’Reilly Auto Parts on board is also essential, and then there’s the media blitz – both traditional and digital.
“We have to maximize our efforts on TV and digital, we need to keep our loyal boxing fan, but we also need to engage the new, younger consumer,” she said. “And three, our sponsor support and involvement is critical to the success. What we do is similar to a movie premiere. We go laser-focused those last ten days before the 15th of September. We are across every sporting channel, late-night TV. You won’t miss a Canelo-GGG 2 spot.”
Add in commercials in movie theaters from the firm airing the card in said theaters, Fathom Events, and as Saturday night approaches, the big fight will be unavoidable. But how much has Alvarez’ positive test for clenbuterol earlier this year, the contentious negotiations for the rematch and the fighters’ refusal to do a press conference or tour in the same room together hurt the buzz and buys for this weekend’s event?
According to David Tetreault, Golden Boy’s executive vice president of media and entertainment, De La Hoya is projecting two million buys. Fathom Events CEO Ray Nutt said the Canelo-GGG rematch is tracking better than the first fight, and the way Gomez sees it, what really matters is what happens in the last ten days before fight night, not before it.
“When you do a big promotion like this, you don't want to start it off too early because it will get lost,” Gomez said. “There are so many other events happening. College football just started, you have baseball that's been ongoing, so our sweet spot is two weeks before the event, and a lot of the promotion is starting to kick in. We had close to 10,000 people there for the (fan / media) workout. So the interest is out there, and I think it's just gonna build momentum, and we can't skip a beat now. We have to be on it for these next ten days or so.”
Then it’s just show up and hope for the best – a great undercard, a great main event, and enough fans that were willing to pay for it. De La Hoya knows better than most what it all feels like, not just as a promoter, but as a fighter.
“It's the biggest stage that you can fight on,” De La Hoya said. “Obviously, aside from the pressure, just the fact of knowing that you're basically carrying the sport of boxing on your back, it's not just like any other fight. You can fight on HBO, you can fight on Showtime, you can fight on ESPN, but there's something about pay-per-view that makes you want to deliver, makes you want to fight harder, makes you want to train harder. You're that much more motivated to deliver to your fans.”
By Monday morning, though, it’s back to business, and for guys like De La Hoya and Gomez, it’s continuing the quest to find the next Alvarez. Sure, it’s a vicious cycle, especially since the 28-year-old Alvarez still has plenty of years at the top of the sport, but if you don’t prepare for the future, it won’t be a bright one.
“With our job as a promoter, you can never rest,” said Gomez. “We started years ago and we're out there every single day, looking at talent, scouting the amateurs, and looking at the top amateurs in the nation and around the world. You never stop and you're always looking for the next guy. Everybody does that. It's part of being a promoter.”
Is that the worst part, being pressured to produce a star that can transcend the sport and bring in the big bucks?
“Not necessarily,” Gomez said. “It's the fun part. It's very competitive out there, but we have two of the top prospects in all of boxing right now. ESPN's Prospect of the Year, Ryan Garcia - he's very young, 20 years old still. And the guy's got movie star looks and he's just starting to learn and barely getting into it. Vergil Ortiz is another fighter we have that we're very high on. That kid can challenge for a world title now. He's also 20 years old, so we're gonna take our time. The difference between Canelo and them is that Canelo was a pro at 15 years old. These guys were top amateurs and we're gonna take our time. We want them to get the experience, become champions and be able to defend their title.”
If Garcia and / or Ortiz make that move to the pay-per-view realm, it would be the ideal situation for Golden Boy, as both fit the Hispanic demo. But what if they don’t make it? Can De La Hoya make this happen with an Irish kid from Idaho?
“We're actually seeing some sort of a shift in the way that the consumer is watching boxing and supporting boxing,” said De La Hoya. “It's not just the Hispanic fighter or the Mexican fighter or, in some cases, the Irish fighter who we promote. The consumer wants to see great fights; that's all they want to see. It doesn't matter where you're from or who you are. And obviously the UFC has proved that over and over. There's no nationality when it comes to being inside the Octagon or being inside the ring. You want to see great fights, and that's it. So it's quite interesting how we're signing new fighters, fresh talent and we're finding ourselves in a unique place when signing these young talents that are not only of Hispanic descent or Mexican descent; we're signing a lot of kids who are from the Midwest, kids from the east coast, so we can deliver the best product possible.”
And as far as “The Golden Boy” is concerned, that’s all that matters. In a boxing world where streaming is taking over, De La Hoya believes there is still a place in the sport for the big pay-per-view events that made him a global star. In other words, if you make the fight, they will come.
“We can do it, as long as we're delivering the best product and the best fights,” he said. “That's the only way that we can sustain this trend. I remember in my career fighting four times on pay-per-view in one year and the reason why we were able to generate numbers is because I fought the best guys. That's the only way you do it. We're fortunate enough that Canelo is a fighter who is on that same train. He wants to fight the best guys. We're actually looking at (Canelo) fighting in December once again in Las Vegas or here at the Garden. So we strongly feel that as long as you deliver the best product to the fans, they will watch.”