By Ivan G. Goldman
Schemers in tailored suits are still beating their chests over rounding up an excellent junior welterweight match, Lucas Matthysse-versus-Danny Garcia, on the Sept. 14 Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez undercard.
Stephen Espinoza, maharajah of Showtime sports, exultantly tweeted, “So is everyone happy now? If you previously tweeted to push for Garcia-Matthysse, you are now morally obligated to buy the PPV.”
And Floyd Mayweather’s paid companion Leonard Ellerbee tweeted, “Floyd wanted to bring more awareness to boxing by adding this fight, his goal is to make boxing as a whole a mainstream sport.”
I fail to follow the logic of these messages.
For one thing, I’d feel a whole lot more “morally obligated” to subscribe to the telecast if they weren’t raising the high-def price tag at home to the all-time high of $75 so Floyd can pull in his estimated $90 million and his corporate entourage can wet their beaks on what he doesn’t soak up. If Floyd really wants to make boxing a mainstream sport, why doesn’t he put the show out there for nothing?
Then Super Bowl and World Series telecasts must be crazy too.
The Ravens and 49ers drew 113 million viewers to the Super Bowl in February. 77 percent of all sets turned on were tuned to the game. And monsoons of dollar bills rained down on the events. By comparison, boxing’s all-time pay-per-view record topped out at 2.4 million buys for Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, before the Great Recession hit.
When Mayweather jumped from HBO to Showtime in February his team eagerly pointed out that his new network pals gave him the most lucrative TV contract in boxing history. But no one would provide much in the way of detail. A few months later, we learned Floyd could pull in $90 million or even more for his Sept. 14 contest with Canelo, a superstar in Mexico with a big U.S. following. Only later did word dribble out that the pay-per-view broadcast price will rise to a record $65 for old-fashioned blurry reception and $75 for high definition Could these two sets of facts — Floyd’s predicted $90 million haul and the record viewing price — have anything to do with each other? You bet.
The executives who make these decisions always wait for a super fight to raise the pay-per-view price, and there’s an excellent chance that the toll would have gone up even if Mayweather’s percentage had remained the same. But by taking a bigger cut of the action, Floyd made a price increase a one hundred percent certainty. After distributing dollar slices of Mayweather-Robert Guerrero, Floyd’s first fight under his new Showtime contract, the network lost an estimated $12 million. Floyd walked away with a reported $34 million.
Yes, you could see this one coming from a long way off. And speaking of a long way off, we’d already been informed that the terrible seats way up top in the MGM Grand Arena would go for an unprecedented $350 each. The card will also be presented on a network of closed-circuit venues around the country.
Meanwhile, if history is any guide, the price for future bouts will flatten out for awhile at $65-$75 until the executives conclude it’s safe to spring another increase for some future super fight. Those of us who play along with this speedy escalation are in effect paying the tab for others who take shortcuts by way of black market Internet streams. The cable systems are in an eternal war with hackers and other nerds who get a kick out of breaking into the system and sharing their wares with others.
Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, was quoted saying that this price of $65 is no more than what was charged in 2007 for Floyd-Oscar. That would be an excellent point if it were actually true. The telecast he referred to was priced at $55. The tab for high-def was $65. That event was an awful stinker. We saw better bouts last week on ESPN2 (Incidentally, ESPN, owned by the Walt Disney Co., probably costs more than you think — about $5.54 per cable subscriber each month, according to an estimate from research firm SNL Kagan).
The $10 big-show rise from 2007 to 2013 represents an 18 percent increase, which averages out to 3 percent per year, approximately 50 percent above the rate of inflation. Keep doing that year after year and those numbers will play some awful tricks on your cable bill.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in June 2013 by Potomac Books. It can be purchased here.