By Thomas Hauser
By the start of 2015, it appeared that Al Haymon, not HBO or Showtime, was the industry leader in boxing. A recent article by Bill King in Sports Business Journal suggested that Haymon Boxing might have as much as $425,000,000 in investment capitol to support an audacious takeover plan.
Mayweather-Pacquiao brought boxing front and center in the public consciousness. Haymon stayed largely behind the scenes during fight week, surfacing most notably as an active participant at a Friday rules meeting when the fighters’ gloves were discussed with representatives of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. But his presence was felt throughout the promotion.
Mayweather-Pacquiao happened because Mayweather and Haymon wanted it to happen; not because Mayweather and Pacquiao crossed paths at a Miami Heat basketball game. CBS Corporation CEO Les Moonves might have thought he was calling the shots, but he wasn’t. Haymon was.
Haymon has leveraged Mayweather brilliantly. But the success of Haymon Boxing is not inextricably tied to Mayweather. Haymon is building for a future after Floyd and has kept his company free of obligations to him. There was no Premier Boxing Champions branding during fight week. But Haymon was counting on the fight to give his vision a boost.
Mayweather could win or lose to Pacquiao. Haymon, it was thought, could only win. The key question was how Haymon would leverage the fight to increase his power. In that regard, he appears to have been successful in several ways:
(1) Some powerful people and institutions made a lot of money off Mayweather-Pacquiao and feel beholden to Haymon. The MGM Grand is already the venue of choice for Premier Boxing Champions fights that are contested in Las Vegas. It’s possible that the good feelings the MGM Grand has for Haymon as a consequence of Mayweather-Paquiao will spill over into contract negotiations for PBC fights (if they haven’t already). Showtime is also likely to look kindly upon Haymon when buying future fights.
(2) Haymon was entitled by contract to thousands of tickets for Mayweather-Pacquiao. Presumably, he made a lot of money selling tickets at a significant mark-up; money that he might not have been required to share with Haymon Boxing investors.
(3) Haymon had both tickets and rooms at the MGM Grand that he could give to Haymon Boxing investors, Premier Boxing Champions sponsors, executives at networks he’s doing business with, his fighters, and other allies. That sort of generosity strengthens relationships.
And perhaps most important –
(4) Haymon can tell his investors, “We’re losing millions of dollars now. But stay the course and there will be paydays in the hundreds of millions for us in the future.”
Mayweather-Pacquiao will gross close to $500,000,000. That will be divided among many parties, including roughly $150,000,000 to DIRECTV and the cable system operators that distributed the fight to the public. But after the pie is carved up and everyone else takes their share, a staggering amount of money will be left for the fighters and their respective teams.
Putting numbers in perspective; in 2011, NBC Sports negotiated a ten-year contract with the National Hockey League to televise NHL regular season and playoff games. The price-tag was $2 billion. Mayweather-Pacquiao, in one night, grossed almost 25 percent of that amount.
But there was a potential downside for Haymon in the way Mayweather-Pacquiao played out. The fight soured a lot of people on boxing - fans who felt suckered after buying the pay-per-view telecast and people who became aware that boxing’s poster boy has a penchant for physically abusing women. That might make it more difficult for Haymon to attract advertisers for his Premier Boxing Champions offerings.
One of the things that drove boxing off broadcast television in the 1980s was the fact that advertisers didn’t want to be associated in the public mind with Don King and Mike Tyson. How many advertisers will want their product to be identified with price-gouging for an inferior product and a leading man with a long police record for violence against women?
Haymon is well-endowed to face the future. He has the largest stable of professional boxers assembled in boxing’s modern era and contracts for time buys with multiple television networks. But a counter-assault against him is underway.
On Tuesday, April 28, the Association of Boxing Commissions sent a letter to the United States Department of Justice asking that the Attorney General investigate Haymon’s conduct and enforce the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which, the ABC says, Haymon is violating.
It’s also possible that one or more state athletic commissions will demand that Haymon or one of the companies he controls be licensed as a promoter.
More troubling perhaps, on May 5, Golden Boy and Bernard Hopkins filed suit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Haymon, various companies that Haymon controls, Waddell & Reed (Haymon’s primary source of funding), and Ryan Caldwell (a Waddell & Reed fund manager). The lawsuit alleges violations of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, the Sherman [Anti-Trust] Act, and other causes of action. It’s likely that, as the case unfolds, additional defendants and additional causes of action will be added.
More government inquiries and more litigation may follow. Haymon will have a unified defense and the best lawyers that money can buy. He has been planning for this eventuality for a long time. He might be most vulnerable legally for predicate acts committed long ago when he was building the foundation for his current empire. A faulty foundation stone at the base of a building is more potentially damaging than a faulty brick near the top. Ironically, some of these predicate acts might have been committed in tandem with Golden Boy.
There’s also an issue as to whether the plethora of fights currently on television will build interest in boxing among casual sports fans. Haymon’s business plan seems to rest on the hope that this will be the case. But with multiple fight cards on television week after week, fans are likely to become more discerning about what they watch. Oversaturation of the market could lead to a decline in ratings that would make it even harder to sell advertising in the future than it is now.
After all; boxing isn’t like football, where there seems to be an inexhaustible demand for content. It speaks poorly for the health of the sweet science that what would have been the sport’s biggest fight six years ago remained its biggest fight until two weeks ago.
Haymon has been enormously successful in the music business. But in boxing, it doesn’t matter what a person has done before. He, or she, has to prove himself all over again. Don King did it. The people behind The Contender couldn’t. Shawn Carter (a/k/a Jay Z) and Curtis Jackson (a/k/a 50 Cent) haven’t so far.
So a cautionary tale . . .
According to the Bible, there was once a wicked man named Haman (pronounced “Haymon”) who “set his seat above all the princes that were with him. And all the king’s servants bowed and reverenced Haman (Esther 3:1-2).”
But let’s not forget what eventually happened. In the end, “Haman was hung on a gallows that were fifty cubits [74 feet] high (Esther 7:9-10).” And now, each year at Purim, people eat pastries called hamantasch to commemorate the occasion.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.
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