Relitigating, Part 2: Manny Pacquiao Vs. Joshua Clottey Pay-Per-View Numbers

There have been a couple subjects that generated heated debate in this space in the last week, to the point that I believe they require a bit of relitigating. First up was the philosophy of boxing undercards. Now: analyzing the pay-per-view buys for Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey.

Let me start by saying that in my original post, I think people might have misunderstood my overall point. As I said then, the 700,000 buys for Pacquiao-Clottey count as a “grand success” for any boxing pay-per-view. But, by the standard of what we’ve come to expect from Pacquiao, what kind of numbers boxing has been doing lately and what it meant for a possible Floyd Mayweather-Pacquiao fight I think it was a bit of a letdown at the same time. These two things are not incompatible. I think I explained both the good and ill of the numbers fairly well, so I’ll largely let those arguments stand.

I am bothered slightly that a pair of boxing writers I like — Scott Christ and Dan Rafael — treated it like pure heresy that anyone could hold any opinion other than theirs. I don’t assume they were talking about me, but Rafael’s response to anyone who considered the numbers disappointing was that they were “insane,” and Christ acted like anyone who thought that was someone who simply was incapable of rational discussion. For what it’s worth, I think both their views about the numbers being a pure success were fair. I don’t disagree with them all that much, in reality. My goal was to present a few counterpoints that I thought people were neglecting, while simultaneously acknowledging the reality that 700,000 is an impressive figure.

With that, I’ll respond to some of the substance of remarks made here and elsewhere, and make a few additional points myself.

The numbers were strong for a recession. This is a point I admit I didn’t take into account. So if you brought that up, thanks for doing so. In that context, the numbers are somewhat more impressive. That said…

The economic environment was somewhat offset by fewer PPVs these days and boxing’s stronger overall position. Back when I was flipping out about the good numbers for Manny Pacquiao’s 2009 PPVs and the numbers done by Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez, someone — I think it was friend of the site roheblius — made the strong point that the numbers were helped by boxing cutting down on its PPV schedule. I agreed then, and I re-make that point now, because I failed to do so in my original post. And I refer back to my post on this point: Boxing is in so much better shape these days, that 700,000 sounds a touch low by recent standards. ESPN, Good Morning America, The Washington Post — everyone was covering this fight, and if you go back to 2008, none of those programs would have touched this fight with a million-foot pole. And they did it because boxing is more mainstream now than it was in 2008 and in many previous years, which is ultimately good news (something Christ and I agree on). Which means more casual fans tuning in, something I’ll get to a little later.

Keep in mind: These were two non-Americans doing these numbers. Some people objected to me comparing Pacquiao’s numbers against Clottey to Oscar De La Hoya’s, or Mayweather’s, or Mayweather’s potential numbers with Shane Mosley, since all of those gents were American and neither Pacquiao nor Clottey hail from the U.S. of A. My answer to that is that Pacquiao already has proven he can be a pay-per-view draw despite not being American. I’m not going to count that as a handicap against him anymore. That handicap is gone. And Ricky Hatton wasn’t American, and Miguel Cotto was Puerto Rican, and Pacquiao did better numbers with them than against Clottey. I understand why those fights did better numbers, but don’t pretend that a lack of U.S. citizenship for Pacquiao and Clottey necessarily means he does lower numbers, because Pacquiao has proven he has overcome that factor.

There was no “24/7” preview series. That would have boosted the numbers, for sure. But HBO passed on it. Consider the reason: It probably would have been boring. Clottey isn’t some amazing charismatic personality, and Pacquiao’s personality has its limits, too. This is part and parcel of why the card’s numbers weren’t as high as they could be. These things cannot be separated. Pacquiao’s marketing assets are thus: Good guy, interesting story, exciting fighter, fights the best. That sells tickets, obviously, since 51,000 people came to see Pacquiao-Clottey, and it moves PPV numbers, because 700,000 is a good number. But it means there are limits. If he doesn’t fight the best, the numbers go down. If HBO prefers to do a 24/7 show for something else (which I’m about to touch upon) that they think will be more dramatic, then you can’t really lean too much on “Pacquiao-Clottey would have done better with a ’24/7′ show.”  Pacquiao-Clottey isn’t the kind of fight that would get a “24/7” show from the start. Mayweather-Clottey is, because of the next point.

There was no trash-talking or gimmicks for Pacquiao-Clottey the way there would be for a Mayweather bout, which explains why the numbers were/will be lower than X Mayweather fight were/will be. This relates back to the previous point. Mayweather moves PPV numbers in part because of his gimmick. He plays the jackass and he generates controversy and heat to his cards. It makes HBO want to put him in 24/7 shows. If you’re saying Pacquiao’s fight sold less because he didn’t trash talk as much… well, that’s on him. His stardom is contingent in part on being a good guy, and saying “you can’t compare Pacquiao to Mayweather because Mayweather’s a trash talker” is ignoring the fundamental appeal of both men. What’s more, I don’t remember any trash talking in any Pacquiao fight of late, from either man, and all those fights did much better than Pacquiao-Clottey. So why is it a factor all a sudden?

Pacquiao did better against Clottey than Mayweather did against the likes of Zab Judah and Carlos Baldomir. I reject this entirely. This doesn’t come close to being an argument where each side of the analogy matches up. Mayweather fought Judah and Baldomir before he became a big star in 2007 following the Oscar De La Hoya bout. You can mark what kind of numbers Mayweather did pre-De La Hoya and post-De La Hoya, and it’s worlds different. You can make the same kind of marker with De La Hoya for Pacquiao, too. If you want to compare how Pacquiao and Mayweather have done against one another, comparing pre-De La Hoya Mayweather to post-De La Hoya Pacquiao tells you nothing whatsoever.

There was a short window, two months, for promoting the fight. I’m sure this had some impact, and I failed to mention it in my original post. And it’s a legitimate excuse for why Pacquiao-Clottey may have done worse numbers than otherwise. (In this formulation of the argument, a legitimate excuse translates to “it did well under the circumstances.”) It’s not like some of these other things where the excuses given are excuses that never were an issue before, or are excuses that the ignore the fundamental nature of Pacquiao’s appeal and such. That said, I don’t know quite how much impact it had. Does that much more important promotion get done in three months that doesn’t get done in two? To Top Rank’s credit, they got a lot of good promotional value out of having the fight at Cowboys Stadium at all, and there were the news conferences announcing the fight, and there was quite a publicity blitz in the first week. I think this is hard to quantify, but I grant it was a factor.

This fight reached casual fans. Rafael made this point. I don’t doubt it. But it reached a lot less of them than Pacquiao did in previous fights. I’m not sure what the real significant value of point of this is, although it is somewhat useful. We already know Pacquiao reaches casual fans. I guess we now know he does even with less desirable match-ups, albeit to a significantly lesser degree, but that’s a fairly secondary measure of a successful PPV in my opinion.

There was no fallout from Mayweather-Pacquiao not happening. Christ made this point. I do doubt it. Some of the people leaving comments on his own site said they refused to buy Pacquiao-Clottey out of protest for Mayweather-Pacquiao falling through. Unless he thinks they were all liars, or people who went back on their word, I don’t see why he wouldn’t acknowledge that those comments were representative at least some percentage of people were turned off of Pacquiao-Clottey because Mayweather-Pacquiao didn’t happen.

But one needn’t take the word of boxing fans vowing this or that. Top Rank’s Bob Arum said himself that there was fallout from the demise of Mayweather-Pacquiao. Per Time magazine:

“To be frank, we had to overcome disappointment,” he says. “People were looking forward to a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.”

I know Arum is tricky and one shouldn’t put too much stock in what he says, but tell me why Arum says there is fallout from Mayweather-Pacquiao’s demise if it isn’t the case. I’ve tried to think of a reason, and I can’t think of one.

The bad undercard didn’t have anything to do with the numbers. I addressed this in Part 1. Short version: I think it did, at least in some small measure, because people I know and lots of people elsewhere said they wouldn’t buy the fight because of the undercard, and there had to be more people like them who didn’t happen to mention it in at a boxing website.

People expected better. This is my argument. When expectations aren’t met, that’s one definition of a “letdown.” Arum expected more — he thought Pacquiao-Clottey would do 1 million. Christ expected more — he said he thought it would do in the 800,000-900,000 range, and that he wouldn’t be surprised if it reached 1 million. than the Earlier in fight week, I expected more — I thought it could be in the range of 900,000, but as the week went on and I saw the buzz was not there like it had been for other fights, I downgraded my expectations, and I still overestimated. There were people who were more accurate in their predictions (like SK), but the final number fell short for many of us.

About Tim Starks

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