By Keith Idec
Stephen Espinoza understands the angle Oscar De La Hoya and Eddie Hearn have taken in predicting the death of pay-per-view boxing.
Showtime’s president of sports and event programming just hopes consumers realize it’s a gimmick to promote the development of DAZN, the new streaming service with which De La Hoya and Hearn are affiliated. One of DAZN’s significant sales strategies is pushing that it costs $9.99 per month, yet it will offer fight fans pay-per-view events on occasion for the relatively low cost of a subscription service.
DAZN president John Skipper emphasized that narrative when he announced in October that it signed Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez to a five-year, 11-fight contract that could become worth $365 million. The first fight of that deal – Alvarez’s three-round demolition of overmatched former WBA world super middleweight champion Rocky Fielding on December 15 at Madison Square Garden – obviously was not a pay-per-view-level event.
“I understand what Eddie Hearn and Oscar De La Hoya are saying,” Espinoza said during a recent conference call to promote the Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner pay-per-view fight Saturday night. “It’s a great marketing ploy and that’s really all it is, is just a catchphrase because both of those guys rely on pay-per-view and have relied on pay-per-view as an integral part of their business in the past. Eddie, on one hand, will say that pay-per-views are a terrible thing and they’re dead. But if we look at his U.K. business, it’s basically all built on pay-per-view.
“Oscar himself, while he’s saying that boxing pay-per-views are dead, is simultaneously selling an MMA pay-per-view [Tito Ortiz-Chuck Liddell]. So, the reality is pay-per-view is a useful tool. It rewards the fighters [financially] for taking tough fights and it allows some fights to happen that wouldn’t otherwise happen without that tool. But it should be used sparingly.”
That said, Espinoza also acknowledged that there’s a danger in stacking Showtime’s schedule with too many pay-per-view events.
Pacquiao-Broner will be Showtime’s second pay-per-view offering in seven weeks. The network won’t distribute another pay-per-view card, though, until late May or sometime in June, the time frame within which the rematch between WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury is expected to take place.
The pay-per-view show featuring Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia, scheduled for March 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will be distributed by FOX.
“Look, on the concept of pay-per-view,” Espinoza explained, “we’ve consistently said that it’s a useful tool when it’s necessary, when you have a premium event. If you’ve got a filet-mignon event, you’re gonna have filet-mignon prices. You don’t get filet mignon at the price of ground beef.
“I think a lot of the blowback and the negativity around pay-per-view comes when networks are trying to sell people pay-per-views that don’t belong on pay-per-view.”
Wilder and Fury, neither of whom had previously headlined a pay-per-view show in the United States, helped generate approximately 325,000 buys December 1 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Their 12-round battle resulted in a dubious draw, but it included some dramatic moments, most notably knockdowns by Wilder in the ninth and 12 rounds.
“I didn’t hear too many people saying that Wilder versus Fury was not a premium event, a special event, a heavyweight title fight, an international, worldwide title fight that deserved to be pay-per-view,” Espinoza said. “Likewise, on January 19th you have two of the biggest stars in the sport.
“Manny has a long history on pay-per-view and the way this event was able to happen was through the pay-per-view tool. So, these two pay-per-views and Mayweather and McGregor are the only pay-per-views we’ve done in the last three years.”
The 12-round, 147-pound title bout between the Philippines’ Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) and Cincinnati’s Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs, 1 NC) will headline Showtime’s four-fight telecast Saturday night. It is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT and costs $74.99 to view in HD through most cable and satellite companies.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.