Fox, PBC going big for their first boxing pay-per-view as streaming competition heats up

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the two biggest draws of the 21st century, will both be ringside on Saturday at AT&T Stadium when Errol Spence and Mikey Garcia do battle for the IBF welterweight title in the first pay-per-view show of the Fox and Premier Boxing Champions partnership.

The bout pits two of the four best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, who have a combined record of 63-0 with 51 knockouts. It also has historic implications, as Garcia is not only jumping two weight divisions to challenge the power-punching Spence, but he’s also looking to become only the second boxer, along with Pacquiao, to win a welterweight title after being a world champion at featherweight or less.

Though the undercard is not compelling, the Spence-Garcia bout is first-rate and one of the best matches that can be made in the sport.

Yet neither Spence nor Garcia could offer much of a clue when they were pressed about pay-per-view sales.

“I hope we get a million,” Garcia said, ever the salesman, ever beaming.

The truth is, it’s a crapshoot. Promoters are hoping to hit the 400,000 sales that the January bout in Las Vegas between Pacquiao and Adrien Broner did, but that’s probably not realistic. A more realistic goal is a number similar to the figure in the low 320,000-range that the Dec. 1 heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury sold.

Spence and Garcia are elite fighters, but they’re not household names. Further complicating matters is the presence of DAZN, the over-the-top online streaming service that charges fans $9.99 a month to watch all the fights, both boxing and MMA, it televises.

The suggested retail price for Spence-Garcia is $74.95, which is in line with recent pay-per-view offerings. But as DAZN hits the marketplace and captures fan and media attention with high-profile signings of fighters like middleweights Canelo AlvarezDaniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin, it’s going to be increasingly more difficult to hawk a $75 pay-per-view.

Bill Wanger, the executive vice president of programming, live operations and research for Fox Sports, said DAZN’s presence had created “a new paradigm” in the business but expressed little concern on its impact on the pay-per-view results Saturday.

“This is like any other sports programming that we run and it’s no different than say football, when there are multiple NFL games going on at the same time,” Wanger said. “We’re fighting for audience just like everybody else is. We try to put on the most compelling telecasts and create the best storylines and tell the best stories and have the best pictures and audio. It’s really no different than any other business where you have competitors out there.”

A month before the bout, the promotion kicked off its final push by holding a news conference in Los Angeles that was carried live on Fox. That helped create awareness, promoter Richard Schaefer noted.

Errol Spence puts his IBF welterweight title on the line Saturday in a pay-per-view bout at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Getty Images)
Errol Spence puts his IBF welterweight title on the line Saturday in a pay-per-view bout at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Getty Images)

The news conference reached an audience of 352,000, which is a very large number for that type of programming. The next day, the “Face-to-Face” show in which journalist Brian Campbell interviewed Spence and Garcia attracted 611,000 viewers on Fox.

All of the shoulder programming, including that live news conference, drew over three million viewers, according to Fox.

Schaefer said he thinks DAZN won’t be a factor because of what he called “the power of Fox.” He said having network television broadcasting boxing shoulder programming has created far more awareness for the fight than what occurred when the fights were the exclusive domain of premium cable channels Showtime and HBO.

“Showtime and HBO were great, very good for boxing and I’m not saying anything bad about either of them,” Schaefer said. “But it was a much narrower market. The reach that Fox has is much greater and it is making a huge difference.”

Fox has done many events at AT&T Stadium and that familiarity from covering NFL games has led to an ambitious plan for covering the fight.

It will use 22 cameras, including a camera that will be suspended directly over the ring. It will use six 6X super slow motion cameras and a 12X super slow motion camera that will be in the neutral corner.

“This is obviously a big event and so we challenged ourselves to do this up big and set a standard for a boxing broadcast,” Wanger said. “We have the best production and operations team in the world. This is a really big fight and it’s in a huge venue, and we needed a big production to make the show look great.”

Schaefer said that DAZN hasn’t had the can’t-miss fight yet. It will have that in May, when Alvarez fights Jacobs in Las Vegas, and presumably later in the year when the winner will meet Golovkin. DAZN has also made a mammoth financial offer to WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder.

If he accepts, a Wilder-Joshua fight for the heavyweight title would be on DAZN later this year.

Schaefer pointed out those fights haven’t happened, but said he thinks that DAZN’s model isn’t necessarily going to put PPV out of the boxing business. He said sales to bars and restaurants are tracking ahead of the 2018 Alvarez-Golovkin bout.

“Spence and Garcia is one of the most intriguing match-ups I can remember in a long time,” Schaefer said. “You have two guys who are on top of their games and neither of them is a little bit over the hill, or a former champion, anything like that. Both of them are world champions. Both of them are undefeated. I don’t really remember when we’ve last had a fight like that and I think the public is responding.

“My young heavyweight, Efe Ajagba, fought in the first fight on Fox last week and there was an audience of 1.3 million. Back in the days of HBO and Showtime, even the stars wouldn’t get an audience of 1.3 million that often. But having this, this is how you build someone.”

He said that the explosion of boxing on television and streaming will only help.

“There are more fights on huge platforms like Fox and ESPN than there ever have been before, and so if you’re just a person at home and not necessarily a boxing fan, if you turn on Channel 11 in Los Angeles and you saw Efe Ajagba fighting, you can easily become a fan of his and watch,” Schaefer said. “So Fox and ESPN, which isn’t free and over the air, but is basic cable and so widely available, they’re helping to create new fans.

“Before you had to pay for Showtime and you had to pay for HBO and you had to buy the pay-per-views. But now, there are free fights on Fox. There are free fights on ESPN. These streaming services, they’ll help to create some fans. And all of that in my opinion will work together to create more boxing fans and widen our potential audience. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

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