Boxing hype finally reaching the 21st century

LAS VEGAS – Before he'd ever considered fighting Manny Pacquiao in what now is being billed as "The Dream Match," Oscar De La Hoya had already accounted for more than a half-billion dollars of revenue from his previous 18 pay-per-view matches.

His 2007 bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr. sold a record 2.44 million pay-per-view units and generated in excess of $134 million in PPV receipts alone.

Clearly, he's pretty good at this stuff. He's the QVC of the fight game.

But if Saturday's welterweight fight with the Filipino star at the MGM Grand Garden manages to come anywhere close to the 1.5 million sales that Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer is hoping for, not all of the credit will be reserved for De La Hoya's widespread appeal.

Promoters have implemented a new marketing campaign that could revolutionize how boxing is marketed.

HBO Pay-Per-View created an application on the popular social networking Web site called "Dream Match" that allowed friends to "fight" each other and register to win tickets for the fight.

It has a presence on the microblog site that allows it to post fight updates and communicate with fans.

Television personality Mario Lopez did 10 short video interviews with De La Hoya and Pacquiao which are hosted on an HBO channel on There are fight displays in 1,100 Terrible Herbst convenience stores throughout the West. DeWalt Tools built a display promoting the fight that it placed in many Home Depot stores.

Tecate Beer and Coca Cola, via its Full Throttle energy drink, put displays in stores as well and offered rebates that essentially will allow a fan to see the pay-per-view broadcast for free.

De La Hoya's 12 favorite songs are collected on iTunes and available for purchase, with a note about the time and date of the fight. He makes comments about why he likes each song.

Affliction has produced event t-shirts and begun an in-store marketing campaign for the bout at places like Macy's and Nordstrom's.

It's not just newspaper advertisements and sports talk show broadcasts any more.

"We're looking for a younger demographic and we're seeking them out in their favorite meeting places and speaking to them in their language," said Mark Taffet, HBO's senior vice president of sports operations and pay-per-view.

The net effect of the new approach has been to substantially heighten awareness of the bout, which figures to lead directly to more sales. You can't sell a product if no one knows about it and you won't sell much if the consumer doesn't understand how good it is.

In this case, though, the public is well aware of the product, not only from traditional media means but from the in-store displays, the online campaign at Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, from radio remotes and the like.

"I've had more interview requests and more people wanting to come to the gym and more demands on my time and my fighter's time than any fight I've ever been involved in," said Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, who was in De La Hoya's corner when he faced Mayweather.

The match pits two of the game's biggest stars and most popular boxers, so it is almost certain that the sport's core group of fans will buy the fight. But the success of a pay-per-view often is determined by how many of the casual fans opt to spend.

The price is high – it's $54.95 for standard definition and as much as $10 additional for high definition – and that might turn off some who are struggling in the economic downturn.

Selling a fight isn't easy when folks are worried about the ability to put food on the table, whether their job will exist in a month and with the holiday season just three weeks ahead.

The clever and varied marketing campaign, though, has so substantially increased awareness of the bout among the casual fan that promoters are counting on sheer volume to help them overcome their concerns about the economy.

Loretta Lucero, a long-time executive at Miller Beer who now owns her own company, Touch Point Marketing, mapped out much of the campaign. She has accumulated direct evidence of the success of the rebate campaign from Tecate Beer, one of the event's leading sponsors.

It offered a similar rebate for the 2007 fight between Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright, which she said sold 100,000 more on pay-per-view than had been anticipated. "You have a particular group of markets which are traditionally your top 10 pay-per-view markets when you have two African-Americans fighting, as was the case in this fight," Lucero said. "But on this fight, we saw a completely different mix. The pay-per-view I believe did a little over 300,000 and they thought it would be somewhere around 200,000. Of the markets that showed up, (Los Angeles) was in the top three. Normally, L.A. wouldn't have been one of the top markets for that fight. But because of the stronghold of the Tecate brand, we definitely see that when you do a rebate and activation with these accounts how much more business it brings to the pay-per-view."

Schaefer said the campaign clearly is designed to help sell more pay-per-views. But he also has a longer term goal to improve the visibility of Golden Boy Promotions as well as the sport and doesn't see this as a one-off effort.

He wants it to be the norm rather than the exception.

"So now, I have, say, an event shirt from Affliction promoting the event in all of the stores so it carries the message out," Schaefer said. "If you are a consumer, when you go into a store like Nordstrom's where they sell these shirts or you go into a supermarket or you walk into the liquor store or you go down to Home Depot, or wherever you have to go, you'll see that message. Eventually, it registers. It has its impact. You as a consumer, without even having to have me out there yelling from the mountaintop what a great fight this is, hopefully you get the message and decide you want to see it."

Having De La Hoya, who has surpassed ex-heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield to become the best-selling pay-per-view attraction in the sport's history with more than 12.8 million sales, makes the whole thing that much bigger.

A fight in December wasn't great for many sponsors from a timing standpoint, but Tammy Ross, HBO's vice president of sports and pay-per-view, said De La Hoya fights transcend barriers that would undercut the sales of other bouts.

The sponsors climbed aboard just in an effort to be aligned with De La Hoya. "Oscar De La Hoya fights on pay-per-view, among those partners, cable distributors, satellite distributors, are probably so significant that they will sometimes actually apologize that they can't support it in a way that they believe Oscar deserves to be marketed and promoted," Ross said. "They're always looking for ways to go above and beyond and looking toward us to help them get to that point. He transcends boxing and they look to market him the way they look to market other superstar athletes like LeBron James and big names like that. … We never find Oscar to be a tough sell."

The trick is make the rest of the sport sell as easily and as well as De La Hoya. And if the results from De La Hoya-Pacquiao go from good to great or from great to astounding, count on seeing more of the same.

There's never anything wrong with stealing a good idea.

"The thing is, there are so many great fights going on now and so many good things happening in boxing, and you know the kinds of events we've been able to put on with Top Rank," Schaefer said. "It's a process of educating people on how much we have to offer in this sport. I believe when they get our message, they will be sold. So it's our job to find a way to get the message out as effectively as we can and that's what we're trying to accomplish."