Let’s start with a question: Where are all those folks who said a Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout was needed to save boxing?
When we find them, we need an explanation on what has happened in the wake of that mega-fight.
Last week’s middleweight title bout in Las Vegas between Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan is the latest in a string of pay-per-view events to significantly underperform expectations since Mayweather and Pacquiao smashed all records and sold 4.6 million for their May 2, 2015, showdown.
Alvarez and Khan combined to sell about 460,000 on pay-per-view, including 145,000 on DirecTV, about 230,000 on cable and about 60,000 on Dish Network. The rest of the sales came via companies like Verizon Fios.
Since Mayweather-Pacquiao did 4.6 million for their bout that was six years in the making, the Mayweather-Andre Berto, Pacquiao-Tim Bradley and Alvarez-Khan all seriously underperformed expectations. Gennady Golovkin’s October 2015 pay-per-view bout for the WBA and IBF middleweight belts with David Lemieux in New York did just under 150,000, though expectations weren’t high for that one.
The only bout in that time frame that came close to matching expectations was the November fight in which Alvarez decisioned Miguel Cotto to win the WBC middleweight belt in Las Vegas. HBO Pay-Per-View reported that show did 900,000 buys. Several industry insiders have said that number is grossly exaggerated, but Yahoo Sports has no specifics to counter the HBO Sports number.
Mayweather-Berto and Pacquiao-Bradley III both came in around the 400,000 mark, low numbers for fighters of their stature.
Adding the sales of all of the pay-per-views since Mayweather-Pacquiao together and they come out to only a little more than the 2.2 million that Alvarez and Mayweather sold for their 2013 bout.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the various bouts coming in lower than expected, though a reasonable guess would be the public’s extraordinary dissatisfaction with the way the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight went.
It was a money grab in which fans were even charged to go to the weigh-in. Now, all of the money from that went to charity and organizers said they did it as a form of crowd control, but it was the last straw on a show in which promoters did everything they could to extract every last cent out of their customers.
That might have been OK had the event lived up to the billing. The undercard was woefully lacking in stars and competitive fights, with both televised undercard bouts being one-sided blowouts in which the B-side never had a chance.
On top of that, Mayweather dominated the main event and was content to cruise to the easy victory instead of putting his foot on the accelerator, taking a little risk and going for a finish.
It was a brilliant display of boxing by Mayweather but it wasn’t entertaining for fans who had hoped to see the two best fighters of their era put on a dynamic match. It was a business deal between two veteran fighters who were each content to take their nine-figure paydays and laugh their way to the bank.
In that atmosphere, it was hard for anyone subsequently to sell. And Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who promoted Pacquiao-Bradley III last month, is going to feel the brunt of it in July when his pay-per-view bout between Terence Crawford and Viktor Postol is also a dud at the box office.
In Arum’s defense, the bout should be on HBO, and it’s normally one that HBO would buy. For some reason this year, HBO’s budget is significantly less than it has been and it declined to buy a highly competitive fight between two unbeaten (though largely unknown) champions.
But Arum chose Bradley as Pacquiao’s April opponent as opposed to either Khan or, better yet, Crawford or Adrien Broner. The public had seen Pacquiao-Bradley twice and neither were hugely compelling, so fans weren’t all that interested in buying it again.
Khan would have been a better opponent for Pacquiao than he turned out to be for Alvarez. He was far too small for Alvarez and had fought only four times above 140 pounds before challenging Alvarez for the WBC belt at a catchweight of 155 pounds.
Very few gave Khan, who had been knocked out in the first round in a lightweight bout, much chance of lasting 12 rounds with the heavy-handed Alvarez. Khan boxed well in the early portions of the bout, but Alvarez knocked him cold the first time Khan made a mistake.
But he would have had a good shot to defeat Pacquiao, considering he would have been the bigger man and he had the boxing skills, too.
Likewise, Berto had done nothing to earn a shot at Mayweather, and few gave him a chance to win. Considering that bout came only four months after the debacle with Pacquiao, fans weren’t going to give Mayweather the benefit of the doubt. The fight sold 90 percent fewer units than Mayweather-Pacquiao.
As it turned out, Mayweather-Berto delivered the same level of excitement as an “In the Kitchen with David” marathon on QVC.
The best fight to make in boxing now is one between Alvarez and Golovkin. Promoters Oscar De La Hoya and Tom Loeffler have had multiple conversations about getting it done.
But Alvarez speaks almost no English and Golovkin’s English is not particularly good. It will be a difficult sell, despite the quality of the fight. So much will go into determining how big a fight becomes, but it’s hard to see that bout doing 1 million on pay-per-view in the current climate.
What is easy to see, though, is that promoters have to start treating their fans with more respect. Jacking up the pay-per-view price and filling an undercard with dreck is the worst kind of customer service.
In selling pay-per-views, like anything else, customer service is king.
Put on the fights the people want to see, and make sure the fighters understand they need to give the customers their moneys worth, and the business will rebound.
Until, then, though, it’s just going to muddle along with low numbers.