Marketing muscle drives Pacquiao-Hatton

If you turn on the television or the radio or sit in front of a computer or read a newspaper or buy a magazine or update your iPod, chances are pretty good you'll hear about the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight.

They'll meet for the super lightweight title on May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas in what will be the first superfight of the post-Oscar De La Hoya era.

If you've ever shown a scintilla of interest in sports, you'll be exposed to the massive multi-tiered marketing plan that HBO Pay-Per-View, Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions have put together to create interest in the fight.

Mark Taffet, HBO Sports' senior vice president of sports operation and pay-per-view, masterminded the brilliant promotion of the De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight in 2007, that resulted in a $19 million live gate and nearly 2.5 million pay-per-view sales.

He's at it again, with a larger, broader and more comprehensive plan than had been done for that fight.

Regular fights aren't going to get this treatment – it's simply not cost effective – though it's obvious that some elements of it must be staples of marketing boxing in the future.

The ball started the downhill roll on Saturday when HBO premiered "Pacquiao/Hatton: 24/7" before the Paul Williams-Winky Wright middleweight bout. The series will continue on the next two Saturdays before concluding after the weigh-in on May 1, the day before the fight.

Each episode will run 15 times on television and will also be available on the Internet, including Yahoo! Sports.

That, though, is just a fraction of the way the fight will be marketed.

HBO is running a contest to fly a fan to Las Vegas and experience fight week and see the fight. HBO Sports will film the winner's experience and post it on numerous Internet sites. Commercials will be purchased in the top 11 television markets. The fight will also be heavily advertised on cable television, including on Spike TV during mixed martial arts programming. They'll advertise during the NBA playoffs and Major League Baseball games.

There will be print ads in ESPN The Magazine, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Post. There will be a heavy radio advertising presence, including significant buys on five nationally syndicated shows that reach 220 markets.

There is a billboard promoting the fight in Times Square in New York that will be up the whole month and will be viewed by 40 million people. Online ads will be purchased not only at traditional sites such as Yahoo! and ESPN.com, but on numerous mixed martial arts sites.

Fans who own iPods will be able to download video clips. There will be a major presence on social networking sites such as Facebook.

"We're strategically focused on the future and we want to identify and engage the next generation of boxing fans," Taffet said. "I believe the best to time do that is when you have your biggest events. With an event of the excitement and caliber of Pacquiao-Hatton, we think it allows us to put our best foot forward."

The multi-million dollar marketing plan will help get Pacquiao-Hatton in the neighborhood of 1 million pay-per-view sales, but it's significant beyond what it will do for this fight.

Many of the elements of this marketing plan could, and should, be implemented to market boxing in the future, whether they're on pay-per-view or not.

Boxing on television is having its best year in recent memory, with quality fights on week after week. The latest to be added to the list were last Saturday's headliners: Timothy Bradley-Kendall Holt on Showtime and Paul Williams-Winky Wright and Cristobal Arreola-Jameel McCline on HBO.

The total viewers, though, for HBO's doubleheader on Saturday in Las Vegas was 1.5 million, or 400,000 fewer than who watched the two-month-old replay of UFC 94 on Spike TV. The MMA card averaged 1.9 million viewers and peaked at 2.4 million.

The idea of promoting the cards not only where the boxing fans are gathered but at places where they are not is critical. MMA fans, just like boxing fans, want to see a good fight.

Many MMA fans have turned negative toward boxing because of frequently one-sided bouts and poor matches, though that quality has changed dramatically in 2009. Those who consider themselves MMA fans and not just overall fight fans need to be made aware of the great product that is consistently being delivered.

Thus, reaching out to those fans on MMA websites is a stroke of genius.

So, too, is using Facebook, which numbers more than 200 million users. However, a static web page isn't going to be of much benefit, so it must be updated and constantly filled with new content.

An area that HBO should look toward is the growing use of "App Stores" in the smart phone market. Apple began it with its iPhone 3G, but there are now similar stores available or in the planning stages for customers who use a Blackberry, a Palm or the Google-based smart phone. Customers can obtain applications at either minimal cost or for free that extend the capabilities of the phone.

Major League Baseball has an iPhone application that lets fans see game highlights almost in real time. HBO and Showtime can take advantage of that kind of technology to make an application to help spread the word about great fights.

Why not have an application that will deliver highlights, say, of light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson as he prepares to meet Antonio Tarver in an upcoming rematch? It's something that consumers on a train on the way to work in the morning would eat up.

The traditional methods of advertising and marketing remain valuable and are essential to the success of a campaign. Boxing, though, needs to take much better advantage of emerging technology and needs to do a better job of locating potential fans.

Pacquiao-Hatton is an almost guaranteed hit in the ring and, thanks to Taffet and his team members, it's going to be just as successful outside of it.

It's important, though, for the marketing to stretch to the ordinary events and not just the big ones. Boosting the awareness of the great things going on in boxing has to be the primary focus of the sport's power brokers.

It's a brilliant plan. Hopefully, though, it's not saved for once or twice a year events, but is used to boost the image and awareness of the sport at large.