Perspective and point of view are critical to understanding what went on during the four-city, 6,000-mile world tour designed to promote the boxing match between unbeaten Floyd Mayweather and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor.
Their fight on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas is showing all the signs of the richest event in combat sports history. Gross revenues could exceed $600 million and could threaten $1 billion. Pay-per-view sales seem a lock to hit 4 million and a good bet to exceed the never-before-reached 5 million barrier.
The paid gate – revenue from ticket sales – at T-Mobile will be more than $80 million, maybe even approaching $90 million. Tickets, which go on sale July 24, are scaled from $500 to $10,000, and you can bet your life there are a lot more $10,000 seats available to be sold in the 20,000-seat arena than there are $500 ones.
From the standpoint of four men – Showtime Sports general manager and executive vice president Stephen Espinoza, Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather adviser Al Haymon and UFC president Dana White – this tour was all about maximizing revenues.
They wanted to whet the appetite of their fans, to get them to drop $100 for the pay-per-view. They hoped to convince their rich friends to come for a long weekend in Las Vegas, eat great food and drop $10,000 for the right to sit in a folding chair a few feet from the ring.
And they wanted to show potential corporate sponsors the vast public demand that exists for this fight.
The perspective of media might have been that the tour was crass and raunchy; from the point of view of Espinoza, Ellerbe, Haymon and White, Mayweather and McGregor sold the show and guaranteed a massive success.
It will be a huge success, have no doubt. It has the feel of a fight that will sell five million on pay-per-view, even after Thursday’s low-life tour stop in Brooklyn. It has a similar vibe to the run-up to the 2015 bout between Mayweather and Pacquiao, which set records for highest grossing bout at over $600 million and most pay-per-view sales, at 4.6 million.
This match is perhaps the only one made almost entirely by the fans. It grew via social media, first with McGregor and his fans mostly doing it to taunt Mayweather before Mayweather noticed it and saw an opportunity.
On paper, it’s a gross mismatch. Mayweather is an overwhelming favorite and while McGregor spoke confidently during the tour of his chances, most boxing experts believe Mayweather will win easily. The MGM Grand sports book has Mayweather as a minus-700 favorite, with McGregor available at plus-450. It opened Mayweather at minus-1200 and McGregor at plus-700.
To those in the fan base who yearn to see the best compete against the best, the interest in the bout is inexplicable, and goes against everything they believe in. But it’s worth noting that the hardcore fan bases on either side – boxing or MMA – make up a tiny percentage of the overall fan base.
This bout appeals to several groups: To the anti-Mayweather fans who have been disappointed for years as boxer after boxer promised, and then failed miserably, to be the one to end his reign atop the sport.
It appeals to the young person who lives in a loud, over-the-top world where conventional norms don’t apply and words don’t matter. It’s why there was little outrage when their shtick edged toward racism and why not many were all that angry Friday when Mayweather used an offensive slur to describe gay people. Those folks defended the crass talk by essentially saying, “What do you expect? They’re fighters?”
And it’s going to appeal to those who love a spectacle. It’s going to attract major stars from all walks of life – President Trump and his wife, Melania, attended the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in 2015, about a month before he announced his candidacy. Fans are drawn to the glitz and glamour of that scene.
The ball is rolling downhill quickly now, and there will be people who want to be in Las Vegas with no legitimate hope of ever setting foot inside of T-Mobile Arena. They’ll make it an economic windfall when they descend upon the city, filling its hotel rooms and gambling halls, eating in its restaurants, shopping in its fashionable malls and spending money on taxis, ride-sharing, rental cars and the like.
They’ll pack closed-circuit venues and deliver even more money to those running the promotion.
Little heed will be paid to the low-life taunts the fighters hurled at each other.
For all the progress we’ve made as a society in the last half-century, there is still significant racial animus, bias toward women and bigotry toward gays. But the despicable words the fighters spoke in a misguided attempt to sell the fight will sadly be forgotten as six weeks pass and the build-up turns into a frenzy.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a six-stop or eight-stop swing. Four was far too much, and two would have been best.
Los Angeles was good, Toronto was great, Brooklyn was ghastly and London was a mixed bag.
The next time the public sees them in a ring, they’ll be preparing to punch each other.
In this promotion, expectations were so high for the news conferences that it almost slips past that this is supposed to be a contest between two of the best at what they do.
With the focus on that for the better part of the next month-and-a-half, we’re all just a little better off.
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