Six years after the buildup initially began with two of boxing’s premier mega-powers rising to prominence, it’s finally here. Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquaio, the fight to end all fights, the super bout of gargantuan proportions destined to settle long-standing arguments and make two of the sport’s richest stars even more wealthy by the end of the weekend.
We’ve been told this is the fight that will save boxing and breathe life into what is considered a niche sport desperately hanging on to its last heartbeat, a sport long ago corrupted by greed and unscrupulous promoters chasing every last Pay Per View dollar while leaving the common working-class fan on the outside looking in.
As we approach the most highly anticipated fight since, perhaps, Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson in 2002, the irony in all this is boxing really doesn’t need this fight as much as it did three, maybe four, years ago. In fact, Mayweather-Pacquiao isn’t even the biggest boxing story of 2015.
Those who know better understand this fight alone won’t save the sport. Even if the fight itself is a snoozer, which most Mayweather fights are, it figures to be one hell of a night Saturday in Las Vegas no matter which side you’re on. Everyone involved in putting this together will be filthy rich by the end of the night – if they aren’t already – and the number of PPV buys will likely shatter the old record of 2.7 million set by Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.
Then what? Assuming there’s no rematch – and, if you know boxing well enough, you know a sequel is never out of the question – where does each fighter go from here? They’ve already annihilated every other fringe contender in multiple weight classes and at various catch weights. More importantly, who’s boxing’s next PPV megastar? Who will draw viewers the way Pacquiao and Mayweather continue to do each time they fight? Who will force casual fans to continue spending their hard-earned money on PPV events?
As big as this fight seems right now, it’s the boxing equivalent of a one-night stand. We’ll get our thrills Saturday night, but feel cheap and used Sunday morning when we realize it’s over. We’ll wonder why it took so long to happen in the first place while lamenting the fact it wasn’t as good as we expected it to be. No second date. Just shame and regret.
Mayweather-Pacquaio is all about instant gratification, but does nothing to protect or promote the long-term success of professional boxing. The real story this year is famed advisor and manager Al Haymon bringing the sport back to network television. This is what will revive boxing, a rare case where quantity overrides quality.
Known primarily for his relationship with Mayweather, Haymon is rarely seen on camera and doesn’t conduct interviews. For years, his primary influence on the sport was getting his fighters lucrative paydays on major networks, specifically HBO, in lopsided matchups that essentially only benefitted him and his clients.
This year, he paid NBC roughly $20 million to purchase airtime for his Premier Boxing Championships series on primetime television, which, for all intents and purposes, means “free TV.” That means even if you own nothing more than a 19-inch Zenith and a pair of RCA rabbit ears, you can still watch boxing on Saturday nights.
It’s a big gamble by Haymon seeing as though most of his profit margin is tied to sponsorship revenue, but it’s an idea that makes perfect sense based on the fact most fight fans who’ve distanced themselves from the sport in recent years still have fond memories of the halcyon days when they didn’t have to pay upwards of $70 to watch Cooney, Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Tyson or whoever ruled the sport at that time. Bring back that lovin’ feeling and you have a chance to win back that portion of the fan base and make boxing as big as it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The quality of the fights will never rival that of what we pay for whenever Pacquiao or Mayweather step into the ring, but it doesn’t matter. The casual sports fans Haymon and NBC are attempting to lure wouldn’t know Amir Khan from Genghis Khan anyway. Just provide competitive, quality matchups and you’ve already won half the battle.
In many ways, this is as equally self-serving for Haymon as it is a kind gesture on behalf of a wealthy boxing enthusiast rewarding the sport’s hardcore fans for decades of devotion. Since Haymon has essentially signed every noteworthy A-sider and B-sider in the sport, he wins no matter who’s victorious in the ring, but that’s no different than the NFL rolling out the red carpet in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month while simultaneously making money hand over fist with every pink jersey or wool cap sold in stores.
The other ironic twist here is that while Haymon bringing boxing back to network TV is widely considered a fan-friendly move, Mayweather-Pacquaio is the antithesis of a practical, accessible sporting event. The MGM Grand didn’t even put tickets on sale until last week and those sold out in just under a minute with the cheapest seats priced at $1,500. Seats on the secondary market could cost as high as $11,000. If you just happen to be in Vegas for the ambience with no intention of actually intending the fight, you can still purchase a ticket to the weigh-in for $10. The rest of us peasants will be forced to spend $100 for the PPV telecast, twice as much as what it cost to watch Mayweather-De La Hoya eight years ago.
Back in the real world, viewership for the PBC debut in March peaked at 4.2 million, the most watched boxing broadcast since 1998. The second edition on NBC peaked at roughly 3.07 million viewers, but still dominated the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, which proves boxing can attract fans young and old. The only potential issue is oversaturating the market. Haymon has also purchased airtime on NBC Sports, Spike TV and ESPN for his PBC series, while networks such as truTV and FOX Sports 1 have either already aired or are planning to air live boxing events in 2015. Too much of a good thing can eventually turn sour, but apathetic viewers can no longer cite finances as an excuse for not being able to find a good fight on TV. You’re either too lazy to channel surf or simply don’t care, at which point there’s no hope for you either way.
Mayweather-Pacquiao is expected to generate roughly 3.8 million PPV buys, but how many of those fans committed to spending $100 on this fight will still be watching boxing in 2016? That all depends on how long Haymon’s PBC series can continue captivating audiences and that is what will ultimately determine the shelf life of boxing beyond Saturday night.
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