When discussing the 700,000 pay-per-view buys netted by Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey March 13, many people — it seems to me — are emphasizing the positive (and there is some of that) rather than mentioning much about the negative (and there is some of that, too).
By the standard of boxing pay-per-views, 700,000 — the figure HBO announced Tuesday — is a grand success. It’s an indicator that Pacquiao has grown as a star in the sport, as the L.A. Times’ Lance Pugmire notes, since approximately two years ago he did 400,000 buys against Juan Manuel Marquez. But by Pacquiao standards, and by boxing’s recent standards, I think it’s a bit of a letdown. It’s the lowest figure of Pacquiao’s four most recent fights. And we already knew Pacquiao was a big star, so what’s the value in re-learning that?
Here are some other things I think it shows:
–You can throw just about anybody in the ring with Pacquiao and he’ll do very well, but not stellar. Clottey, practically speaking, was “just about anybody.” Yes, he was the #5-ranked welterweight, a tough boxer whom some believed had earned top-20 pound-for-pound status. But Clottey, for all the public knew, was nobody. And the Ghanaian had zero fan base, unlike the Puerto Rican fans who backed Miguel Cotto against Pacquiao, or the casual fans who backed Oscar De La Hoya, or even the casual fans who knew and loved Ricky Hatton from his “24/7” appearances and his fight against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Clottey also was widely viewed as having no serious chance, coming in as a 5-1 underdog. When I’d argued before that I thought Pacquiao was a bigger star than Mayweather, it was contingent upon one of his major competitive advantages over Mayweather: Pacquiao does better business because he goes after more formidable challenges. This time around, Clottey wasn’t as formidable a challenge, and that selling point was less viable.
–The numbers compare favorably to how Oscar De La Hoya, the last “face of boxing,” did against similar opposition, but when boxing was on weaker footing than it is now. When De La Hoya fought Felix Sturm in 2003, it did 350,000 buys. When he fought Ricardo Mayorga in 2006, it did 935,000 buys. In Sturm, De La Hoya was fighting a physically bigger opponent who had no obvious U.S. fan base, a la Clottey to Pacquiao; in Mayorga, De La Hoya was fighting a theoretically dangerous opponent who realistically had no chance but who had been visible like Clottey against top opponents. In that sense, Pacquiao is right on par with the biggest star in boxing over the last decade. But again, De La Hoya was doing those numbers during a time when the general public was paying far less attention to boxing than it is now.
–The numbers are so-so compared to how Mayweather did against Juan Manuel Marquez, although there are elements of apples-to-oranges in that comparison. Mayweather netted 1 million buys against Marquez. Not much of anybody thought Marquez had a chance in that fight — even less than Clottey did against Pacquiao — and they were right. What’s more, it was widely expected to be a bad style match-up. And Marquez was something of an attraction, but not much. He had never caught on with Mexican fans the way he should have, and probably drove some meaningful but ultimately small percentage of that 1 million figure. ESPN’s Dan Rafael pointed out recently that Mayweather never would have sold 51,000 tickets in Dallas for a fight with Clottey, like Pacquiao did, nor would he have done the kind of PPV numbers against Clottey that Pacquiao did. On the live gate side — true, especially since Mayweather absurdly overprices his tickets. Would Mayweather-Clottey have outsold Pacquiao-Clottey in the PPV department? That’s a harder question to answer, but I don’t think I’d pick Pacquiao automatically. Mayweather’s flamboyance gets attention that Pacquiao’s sportsmanship doesn’t. There was no “24/7” show for Pacquiao-Clottey; wouldn’t HBO have wanted one for Mayweather-Clottey?
–A better undercard might have helped. There aren’t hard figures on this, but I can tell you from talking with hardcore fans on this very site that some number of them were going to pass on Mayweather-Marquez until it was bolstered with a great undercard. I think there’s value in putting on a good undercard all the time, but the argument for doing it when the main event isn’t super-hot is thus: Why should anyone pay $50 to $60 for what amounts to one fight that isn’t all that compelling? If Top Rank had put one highly viable fight on the undercard, just one, I bet the numbers would have gone up.
–Surely, the letdown of Pacquiao-Clottey replacing Mayweather-Pacquiao affected the buy rate. Top Rank boss Bob Arum admitted as much beforehand. Then, it did worse than he expected it would — he said he thought it would be around 1 million, and while we all know Arum is prone to overly rosy prediction of PPV buys, that tendency could be more telling this time around. I have seen people in boxing forums say that they would turn their back on the sport after Mayweather-Pacquiao fell through. Unless they were making it up, and unless Arum has some motive in admitting the Mayweather-Pacquiao fallout hurt his card, the collapse of Mayweather-Pacquiao did real and tangible damage to the sport. It may be temporary, or it may not. That depends.
–The 700,000 buys will be dwarfed by the numbers Mayweather-Shane Mosley will do May 1, and after that Mayweather-Pacquiao becomes significantly more difficult to make. Mayweather agreed to a 50-50 split of revenues with Pacquiao when he was in a weaker negotiating position — his most recent fight’s PPV numbers were eclipsed by Pacquiao’s most recent fight’s PPV numbers. It’s gonna be real different after Mayweather-Mosley. That fight is going to do at least double the numbers of Pacquiao-Clottey. I don’t see it doing the 3 million Golden Boy Promotions predicts, but at least double Pacquaio-Clottey. And that makes Mayweather-Pacquiao way, way more unlikely than before, because Mayweather’s going to ask for a 70-30 split or something ridiculous. Plus the drug testing issue that killed the fight still is there, too. Will boxing go on, survive, maybe even do well if Mayweather-Pacquiao never happens? Absolutely. Will it stay at the level it’s at now or grow? I don’t see how.
Bottom line: Under some of the circumstances, and more generally, 700,000 pay-per-views is a very strong showing. But taking into account some of the other circumstances, the numbers are also a little bit disappointing.