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Major League Baseball blacked out in Las Vegas the three-game series between the San Diego Padres and the Pittsburgh Pirates that was held at Pittsburgh's PNC Park over the weekend. The rule, in which Vegas is blacked out as San Diego's "home market," is zany, makes zero sense and it misses a significant marketing opportunity: "Hey, fans, look, not only do you get every major league game when you buy the 'Extra Innings' package, but we'll throw in the games of a Triple-A team at no extra cost when you pay in full!"
It was frustrating, though, to not be able to watch, especially for the handful of us Pirates fans out there who are interested in seeing the development of rookies like Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata.
This frustration is nothing, though, compared to what it is like to be a boxing fan. Boxing fans are the most patient people on earth. We deal with zero free fights on network television. Not only do we have to buy cable to see the fights, we have to buy premium cable to see the stars fight.
And even after paying the $300 or so a year to add HBO and Showtime to your satellite or cable bill, you have to pay more if you want to see the really good fights. Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of pay-per-view.
For a minimum of $50 (or another $10 if you are living in the 21st century and have an HDTV), you can buy the biggest fights. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Shane Mosley? Pay-per-view.
The upcoming Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito? Yep, pay-per-view.
And that's only the major fights on pay-per-view. You can buy a card just about every weekend if you want to reach into your wallet. This year, I've paid $14.95 to watch Wladimir Klitschko sleepwalk to a win over Eddie Chambers (who was even sleepier). I've paid $24.95 to watch a Wilfredo Vazquez fight and, gulp, another $50 to watch Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., among many others.
Most of the time, there is just one fight worth seeing. Occasionally, there is a second. Surprisingly, the cheaper the price of the broadcast, often the more compelling the fights are on paper. Top Rank's "Latin Fury" series frequently has quality bouts up and down the card and is usually cheaper by at least $10 than the HBO Pay-Per-View offerings.
That, though, is an anomaly in the business and particularly so for Top Rank. The company's septuagenarian promoter, Bob Arum, has contended for years that no matter how many bouts there are on a pay-per-view card, only one matters when it comes to sales: the main event. The buying decision, Arum insists, is determined almost solely by whether fans are interested in the main event.
If they want to see Mayweather or Pacquiao fight (of course, not against each other; that would make too much sense), they'll buy no matter the dreck that all too frequently fills the two-and-a-half hours on the broadcast before the stars enter the ring.
Most other boxing promoters have adopted that stance, though Top Rank and Golden Boy are the only ones who regularly stage major pay-per-view events. The result, though, is an outlay of $50 or $60 for a card filled with one-sided bouts. Promoters far too often use the undercard to show their most promising prospects in set-up matches, in which the opponent has little ability, or incentive, to win. The sole purpose of those kinds of fights is to build up the prospect's record, though true fans would far rather see those prospects in fights that actually test their abilities.
On Saturday, Golden Boy Promotions is going to try something that, among its peers, must be considered radical: Its pay-per-view card will feature fights that seem worth watching. The main event of Golden Boy's card features a rematch between Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz, a bout that was chosen as the 2009 Fight of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
The show will air on HBO Pay-Per-View and will set you back $50 or $60, depending upon if you opt for the high-definition broadcast. This, though, isn't one of those cards where you're safe if you barbecue and chat with your friends until moments before the main event. This is one of those rare pay-per-view offerings that has, you know, intriguing fights on it other than the main event.
"I really wanted to put together an undercard that would be meaningful from top to bottom and have one compelling fight after the other," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said.
That's a great start, but here comes the kicker:
"I read all of these blogs and I sometimes hear fans complain about the undercards," Schaefer said. "So I decided to invest the money on the undercard and see if doing that would help us push the pay-per-view needle."
None of the undercard fights figures to be the 2010 Fight of the Year, but there are three attractive bouts. Danny Jacobs, a top Golden Boy prospect who in his young career has been fed more cupcakes than a fat kid on a picnic, will meet Dmitry Pirog for a vacant middleweight title. Robert Guerrero will move up to super lightweight to take on Joel Casamayor in a battle not only of former world champions, but also of former sparring partners. And one-time super hot prospect Jorge Linares will meet Rocky Juarez.
None of them, at least going in, will make you forget Hagler-Hearns or Corrales-Castillo, but they're good, solid matches. They're far better than the awful bouts you got beneath the Mayweather-Mosley fight on May 1 or the Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey fight on March 13.
Schaefer is going to use the card's showing as a barometer of whether it's worth the expense to beef up the undercard. It costs more to put on Guerrero-Casamayor and Linares-Juarez than it does Daniel Ponce de Leon-Cornelius Lock and Said Ouali-Hector Saldivia, which was underneath Mayweather-Mosley.
It's not fair, in a way, because the paying customer has been conditioned to expect less-than-stellar undercards for years. That, though, is business.
On most pay-per-view undercards, the promoters could act like Major League Baseball and black the fights out, and probably 2 percent of the paying customers would notice. This time, there are fights that actually have intrigue.
Whether the trend continues is open to a great debate. Just don't expect the deep pay-per-view undercards to continue unless Saturday's show does far better than expected at the box office.