Because the number has been so squishy — “at least” 1.3 million buys, according to Top Rank’s Bob Arum — the news might have been overlooked a touch that Manny Pacquiao just did the best pay-per-view business of his career last month against Shane Mosley. And that’s saying something. Pacquiao falls just short of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. when it comes to the PPV business, but it’s really a two-man market in boxing for massive PPV numbers, featuring those two men only.
As always, examining pay-per-view buy rates is an art, not a science. So, some questions: How much did the Showtime/CBS deal affect things? What role did Pacquiao’s opponent play this time? Why does Pacquiao keep selling fewer pay-per-views than Mayweather?
The numbers suggest to me that the CBS deal — where the network aired a couple episodes of the Fight Camp 360 documentary series — most likely helped with the PPV buys for the welterweight clash. Various reports had the show doing ratings in the order of 0.5 for the first episode (a single point equals approximately 1,159,000 viewers) and 0.8 for the final episode. By television standards, those are low ratings. By boxing standards, it’s double or more what HBO’s 24/7 series for Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito did. And remember, this is most likely a different audience than would have saw anything on HBO, so we’re talking about different kind of viewers who might have helped grow the potential buys beyond the hardcore fans. And Showtime’s PPV distribution — an area where HBO is more proven — most likely didn’t hurt the product.
The reason I say “most likely” so much is because it’s not like there’s any information out there polling people about why they bought the fight, or who they were. I think, for instance, that Pacquiao’s growing profile fight after fight makes it more likely that people are going to buy his PPVs simply because they know him more and they’re more interested in his story. That speaks to how well he’s been been promoted by Top Rank, but it also speaks to how interested fans are in just about whoever is considered the best fighter at the time, the reputation Pacquiao has for being a transcendent athlete and the general coolness of Pacquiao’s story. It’s all very synergistic — people also got to know his story better because of Fight Camp 360, after all. Ultimately, it stands to reason that if more people watched Pacquiao on Fight Camp 360 than watched HBO 24/7, and if many of those people wouldn’t have been able to watch HBO, then more people bought Pacquiao-Mosley than normally would have been the case.
You wonder, though, if there weren’t lost opportunities here. The ratings for both shows that aired on CBS almost certainly would have been better with a better time slot; the first episode aired on a Saturday at 9 a.m. Pacific time, for crissakes. If CBS gets involved with Pacquiao’s November rubber match with lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, it’d be great if Top Rank could convince the network to give its program more prominent placement, somehow. After all, CBS stands to gain with more PPV buys since it’s Showtime’s parent network.
For hardcore fans, Mosley didn’t help a thing. There were people I spoke to who said they didn’t buy the fight because they thought it was a poor match-up, since Mosley was surely over the hill, and those people proved correct. There’s another segment of hardcore fans who are going to buy just about any fight featuring boxing’s best fighter, one of its best performers and one of its biggest stars. So I expect he hurt a little bit with that fan segment, just not much.
What he did bring to the table is that he was an American. HBO viewers are probably a fairly open-minded type who are willing to read a lot of subtitles, but I also bet that Margarito’s inability to speak English hurt HBO 24/7 ratings last time out. There were other, more desirable American fighters that Pacquiao could have faced, but Mosley being an American at all probably helped. His name recognition might have helped ever-so-slightly, but I doubt the average non-boxing fan had heard of Mosley. Then again, he’s a fairly boring personality; it’s not like he did all that much that could have made people want to check out this fight, other than speaking English, having a hot girlfriend and having a quotable trainer.
The new fans also didn’t know what most of the hardcore fans did, which is that Mosley was going to get killed. And Fight Camp 360 really glossed over any notion that Mosley very well could be shot, giving scant mention to his one-sided loss to Mayweather or his draw against Sergio Mora. In that sense, the show probably helped its own bottom line, but it did a disservice as a documentary or act of journalism. These programs have always been part marketing, part journalism, but this series erred on the side of marketing. I wonder if that doesn’t hurt its credibility next time out, and therefore, CBS’ bottom line. After all, there had to be some new fans who felt fooled when they saw how terrible Mosley was in the fight itself.
Pacquiao Vs. Mayweather
This marks the latest occasion where Mayweather has trumped Pacquiao at the pay-per-view box office against opponents both have faced, assuming Pacquiao-Mosley figures don’t climb above 1.4 million, the number Mayweather-Mosley did. Mayweather did better figures than Pacquiao against Juan Manuel Marquez and Oscar De La Hoya, and similar numbers against Ricky Hatton. There’s no doubt in my mind that Pacquiao is a bigger worldwide figure than Mayweather. But when it comes to U.S. PPV buys, the subject of this post, he’s a clear second place to Mayweather.
I see there being two reasons for that. One is that you can’t underestimate how much people watch Mayweather fights to see him lose. It’s no coincidence that the Dallas Mavericks-Miami Heat did some of the NBA’s best ratings in forever for the Finals this year. People weren’t watching to root for the Mavs. They were watching because they hate the Heat, and wanted to see them lose. Mayweather has a similar effect on fans.
The other, again, is that Mayweather is an English-speaking American with a flamboyant personality; he has charisma, in the negative sense of the word, in that you’re drawn to watch him. Pacquiao, as cool as his story is, barely speaks English and hardly ever says anything interesting in it. That Pacquiao has become as big a star as he is speaks to the notion that Americans can follow non-American boxers the same way they’ve embraced non-American athletes in the NBA, but there’s always going to be a special place for the American superstar in American sports. Mayweather’s that. Pacquiao isn’t.
(I’m curious how the two men will fare against one another with so many variables in their next fights. Pacquiao is facing a Mexican who has a bigger fan base than Mayweather’s next opponent, Mexican-American Victor Ortiz, but Marquez doesn’t speak English and Ortiz does, Mayweather-Ortiz will probably be on HBO while Pacquiao-Marquez III will probably be on Showtime/CBS, etc.)
The Big Takeaway
I suspect Pacquiao-Mosley and similar low-quality match-ups will one day backfire on Pacquiao and Top Rank, but in the short-term, this all has to count as a success. Pacquiao did a better buy rate than ever before, and there are strong reasons to believe it was because of the CBS/Showtime deal, which was hailed as potentially revolutionary in some quarters (including here) before all the details emerged. In the end, I think it was more evolutionary than revolutionary. But it’s a generally a good thing when boxing is exposed to a larger audience and when it does good business. My hunch is that CBS/Showtime will end up with Pacquiao-Marquez III, but I don’t think the gap is so wide between what CBS/Showtime did with Pacquiao-Mosley and what HBO could do with Pacquiao-Marquez III to make it impossible for HBO to land it. Still: success.