Although we waited forever and ever and ever and ever, a news release from Golden Boy Promotions in conjunction with Mayweather Promotions Friday tells us that last month’s pay-per-view fight garnered 1.25 million pay-per-view buys and the second-highest non-heavyweight gross earnings in PPV history.
But what does it all mean? That is, in the ongoing “who’s the bigger star” debate with Manny Pacquiao, what does this figure tell us? What were the variables that made the buy rate higher or lower than perhaps it should have been? My short answers to those two questions: At least in the United States, it’s still Mayweather; and there are variables in both directions, but I am of the mind that this figure — while excellent for any boxing pay-per-view — is lower than anyone wanted.
A note on veracity, before we proceed: Since the networks usually announce these figures, not the promoters, there was some understandable skepticism about this figure, as there was to a far lesser degree with the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley numbers. So I picked up a phone and sent some e-mails. I couldn’t get anyone at HBO to comment on the record, but an HBO official said that “these numbers are indeed accurate.” We’ll talk more about this in a moment, too.
Richard Schaefer, Golden Boy’s CEO, had predicted beforehand that the fight would do 1.5 million buys. Promoters are always overhyping estimated PPV buys, so that’s no surprise. Originally, I thought 1.5 million was a realistic figure. That, though, was before we knew they would be charging $59.95 (standard) and $69.95 (high-def), or $5 more than any pay-per-view ever. And that was also before the undercard fight that had everyone buzzing most — Erik Morales vs. Lucas Matthysse — lost Matthysse to an illness.
In this economy and with people dropping their cable and satellite subscriptions in record numbers, that’s a very impressive number. Of course, those conditions have been in existence for past pay-per-views (although the subscription rates have been dropping ever-more over time), so it is not, overall, extraordinary for it to have mustered those buy rates compared to other PPVs.
That it ranks so high on the gross earnings list isn’t a surprise. A little basic math will tell you that $5 more than usual on the asking price on every one of those 1.25 million buys is going to add up to a lot of money. This is something for Mayweather and his team’s pocketbooks to celebrate in the short-term, but I think it’s a bad deal in the long-term. Maybe time will tell a different story and people will grow to embrace the higher fees, but I have to think that the extra $5 turned off any number of fans who might have been thinking of buying it — in part because I saw a fair number of people in the boxosphere saying that the price hike was the final straw for them not purchasing a card they were on the fence about. Some of them might have been lying, but I believe some of them, too. I suspect that the number of people they lost for the hike doesn’t equal the amount of raw cash they gained for it. It’s just that in the long-term, fewer people watching boxing equals a smaller number of eyeballs who even will consider buying the next show. Shrinking the audience is not a good idea for the health of the sport.
The undercard had to — had to — have helped the number of buys. Saul Alvarez is one of the boxers who does tip-top ratings for HBO. Morales is a legend who does respectable PPV numbers by himself on small independent shows. That Morales’ opponent Matthysse fell through hurt the undercard effect, I’m sure of it (the boxosphere got a lot of “not buying the card now” remarks after that happened), but Morales being there at all with Alvarez on Mexican Independence Day weekend surely drove at least some buys.
And this is the part where we get to the Mayweather-Pacquiao comparison. In his last fight, Pacquiao did better numbers than did Mayweather, if promoter Top Rank is to be believed. I bet the Mayweather camp isn’t happy about that one bit. There were various stories circulating for weeks about why the Mayweather-Ortiz figures were delayed, with one of them being that they thought they could equal or surpass Pacquiao’s last fight. (If the issue was the IRS deal, well, I guess we should all be happy for Floyd that it got worked out. Happy IRS Deal Day, Floyd! America is proud of you.)
But that Pacquiao fight was against Shane Mosley, a relatively known name outside boxing circles, with preview shows on CBS. Ortiz is another boxer who’s done good ratings on HBO, and the fight got a boost via an HBO deal with Time Warner for broader promotion. But of the last several opponents Pacquiao and Mayweather have faced — Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Mosley again, Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez and Joshua Clottey — all of them except Clottey had at least some PPV track record, where Ortiz had none. On the other hand, despite Ortiz’ lower profile, I do think that the perception that Ortiz had more of a chance than some of the other Pacquiao and Mayweather opponents made him something of an asset. There are no apples to compare to apples here.
As much as I personally prefer Pacquiao to Mayweather, and as much as their respective most recent fights give an edge to Pacquiao, the fact remains that in every fight where Pacquiao and Mayweather have faced a common opponent (Mosley, Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya), Mayweather has fared better. I don’t think Pacquiao has benefited from coming after Mayweather most of those times; Mosley, for instance, was coming off the loss to Mayweather and a draw to Sergio Mora, which hurt his marketability as a Pacquiao opponent. The only fight where Mayweather followed Pacquiao was with Marquez, and Marquez’ own marketablity was enhanced by his two excellent fights with Pacquiao, rather than diminished by bad losses. If Pacquiao does better numbers against Marquez in November than Mayweather did, I might be inclined to see this differently — although Marquez’ game effort in a bad loss to Mayweather not only helped raise his profile but may have also made him an opponent against whom fans want Pacquiao to compete. We’ll see. I think things might be swinging Manny’s way. But until convincing evidence emerges rather than glimmers that go against the overall trends, I’ll be of the mind that Mayweather is the bigger star of the two in the United States.
Of course, all of this is a bit like living in a remote cabin and trying to tune the radio to listenable stations, because most of it is indecipherable static. Are we listening to “More Than A Feeling,” or is it one of any number of the current pop hits of the past couple years that have “party” in the title? There are just too many variables to make any strong conclusions, and what signals are available are weak.
A note on the veracity of the figures. Any time it takes forever for PPV figures to come out, there are going to be skeptics about how good the numbers are. That’s fair. Anytime a promoter rather than a network releases a PPV figure, there are going to be skeptics, which also is fair. And Mayweather’s tendency to inflate his own value is going to lead to some skepticism here, too. Beforehand, the figures were reported as widely different by several journalists: Steve Kim said he “heard” that it was 850,000, a figure he backed off of as not his own even though he threw it out there, while Chris Mannix reported that it was 1.15 million and is sticking to it. FightHype came in higher than the official number. None of them ever cited a named source or even the allegiance of the unnamed sources they cited, other than Mannix saying he had spoken to a source with “direct knowledge” of the number, a virtually meaningless detail about said source but better than some of the others.
Subsequently, it’s worth noting that at least two writers — including myself, obviously, but only because I had the day off from my regular gig — made the time to try and find out from HBO what their take was, and reported it as such. I’m obviously critical a good deal of writers relying heavily on anonymous sources, but I’ve always also said that if they have to be used (and sometimes they do) that the allegiance or affiliation of that source must be disclosed. I’ve done so. You can continue to be skeptical about the figure considering that no one at HBO has spoken on the record about this if you choose. But if you won’t take an anonymous HBO official’s word for it, then you damn sure better go back and cast serious, serious doubt on the Pacquiao-Mosley figure, because I don’t recall seeing any anonymous Showtime officials speaking on this at all. Somehow I don’t think that will happen, because some of the people disbelieving the 1.25 million figure are also some of the most pro-Top Rank people there are.
And if you doubt even an official at HBO is telling the truth about what Golden Boy claims, then you have to go back and view every previous HBO or Showtime figure as a lie. Hey, they might be. We’ve always really relied upon their official pronouncements. But absent extensive reporting from numerous credible journalists where everyone arrives at a similar or identical figure, there is no better figure than the 1.25 million we have now for Mayweather-Ortiz or any of the other HBO PPV/Showtime PPV figures we’ve received from the networks, because 850,000 or 1.15 million or at least 1.3 million all comes from sources with even less credibility, since we know nothing about who they are. But so might everything else be a lie, too, says the philosophical skeptic.