Digging Into The 1.15 Million Pay-Per-View Buys For Manny Pacquiao Vs. Antonio Margarito

One point one five million is a really good number of pay-per-views to sell in boxing, and that’s what Manny Pacquiao did two weekends ago against Antonio Margarito, according to the news today. It’s a tribute to what kind of star Pacquiao has become that he is now the first non-heavyweight boxer to headline a pay-per-view that did 1 million or more buys in three consecutive years.

One point one five million is also a lot fewer pay-per-views than Top Rank was expecting for its show. In that regard, as has been the case with both Pacquiao fights this year, the number, while huge, is also a mild disappointment. And painful though it might be for some to hear, I suspect it is another data point that suggests although Pacquiao is the people’s champ, Floyd Mayweather, his nearest rival in both stardom and pound-for-pond rankings, is still the bigger attraction in the United States.

There’s no good science to any of this, and there are more variables at stake than you can shake a stick at, so examining pay-per-view numbers is more art than anything else, more speculation than reality.

Earlier this year, when Pacquiao did big-but-somewhat-disappointing business against Joshua Clottey, there were some understandable factors that mitigated the numbers falling short of predictions: Clottey was a nobody to all but the hardest of hardcore fans, his style was boring, the promotion didn’t have much time to get rolling, there was no 24/7 documentary series on HBO and so forth. Of course, we knew all that going in, didn’t we?

Here, we were told, Margarito would bring the big Mexican/Mexican-American fan base. We were told that he was a real challenge to Pacquiao because of his size. There was plenty of time to promote the fight, so that excuse doesn’t play. And Pacquiao/Margarito 24/7 was all over the HBO.

But really, I’m not sure what Margarito brought, if anything. Maybe some were lured in by the controversy over his gloves in 2009, but some definitely were turned off and refused to watch. Few genuinely believed he would pose a challenge, although to be fair very few people would pose a challenge to Pacquiao and Margarito exceeded my expectations for how difficult the fight would be. Supposedly having a big Mexican fan base… is 400,000 buys (the amount by which Pacquiao-Margarito exceeded Pacquiao-Clottey) all it gets you? It’s not a small number, but it used to get Oscar De La Hoya a lot more.

And then you can’t really isolate for how much Margarito accounts for those 400,000 buys. I suspect he accounts for far fewer than that. As the weeks went on, Pacquiao-Margarito never really took the scolding from the mainstream media I expected; if not for a last-minute controversy over Margarito’s camp mocking the Parkinson’s of Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, Margarito would have been virtually ignored. It’s interesting to me that Pacquiao did better numbers against Miguel Cotto last year, before Pacquiao was quite the star he is today. Cotto brought the Puerto Rican audience, but that’s eclipsed by the Mexican audience. Perhaps the fact that Cotto wasn’t a tarnished figure in boxing (he was quite beloved, in fact) — combined with the expected competitiveness of Pacquiao-Cotto versus that of Pacquiao-Margarito — were the difference in those two fights.

Rather than Margarito bringing much to the table, almost every mainstream media story focused on Pacquiao and his incredible story as a newly-elected fightin’ congressman in the Philippines. I don’t know how many buys that’s worth, but where Pacquiao-Margarito outsold Pacquiao-Clottey, I think Pacquiao’s the main reason. Same guy as in April. Different kind of star in November.

Which, again, goes to how big Pacquiao has become. He’s a transcendent figure in the sport, the kind that’s hard to come by more than one at a time, and he’s done it despite being from a country that, no insult intended, most Americans don’t have any interest in. My friends ask me about Pacquiao a lot. They talk about seeing one of his fights and coming away impressed. He’s crossed over, more with this fight than any before it.

But he still didn’t do the 1.4 million buys Top Rank predicted. It didn’t sound like too crazy a prediction, the way promoters are prone to issuing before fights in a bid to generate excitement for a fight.

That 1.4 million figure would have been a significant one. It’s the amount Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley did in May, good for second-best non-heavyweight fight ever. And the fight did that many buys even though Mosley has never himself proven a big attraction on his own. It’s gotten to the point that, whatever explanation you can come up with for why an individual Mayweather fight did better than an individual Pacquiao fight or vice versa, Mayweather overall does better more often.

I’m sure Kevin Iole is going to get death threats after writing this today, but I think he’s right: “Amid his many troubles, Floyd Mayweather Jr. probably cracked a smile on Tuesday because he remains boxing’s undisputed pay-per-view champion.”

Does any of this matter all that much? Nah. It’s just some kibbutzing about the business side of boxing. And really, it’s splitting hairs, who’s the bigger attraction in the United States. Pacquiao and Mayweather are both huge, and I suppose that’s good for boxing in the short run. The long run? As long as Mayweather continues to avoid Pacquiao, it’ll stunt both their growth and, I believe, continue to produce the following remarks from those who got a taste of a Pacquiao fight and liked what they saw: “What’s up with boxing that Mayweather isn’t fighting Pacquiao, again?”

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.