Pacquiao’s Casino Impact Bigger Than UFC – Tonight Anyway


by Charles Jay

Much has been written about the impact of Manny Pacquiao, and other big-time fighters in big-time fights, on the economy of Las Vegas. Is it a hundred million? Is it in the hundreds of millions?


Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank

Whatever the real number is, it’s sizable. The casinos in Las Vegas may be a little more spread out than those in Atlantic City, but the operators of those places have a more comprehensive understanding of their common interests. And having the “big event” in this town is very much a part of those common interests.

If you’ve never been there, there’s nothing quite like being in Las Vegas during the week of a big fight. Obviously the hotel/casino that hosts the event sees more of the impact than others (and often they have paid for the privilege), but the reverberations can be felt throughout the city. Let’s face it – not everybody is staying at the same place, and not everybody who comes into town is going to the fight either’ they just like to be around the activity.

This is why the “big fight” will always be part of Vegas culture.

As big as the UFC is right now, it’s still not big enough to captivate a city like Las Vegas. The company is based in Las Vegas and owned by operators of Las Vegas casinos, yet has not developed a product that has penetrated casino culture to the extent that it can command the gambling crowd. Believe me, if it had, the Fertitta brothers, who along with Dana White run the UFC, would have built an arena for it on one of their own properties.

You would figure it might be a little different. Casino crowds have skewed younger, and for years it has very hip to be in Vegas. The non-gambling revenue that runs through the casino is higher than it has ever been, expressed as a percentage, and the UFC crowd is a younger demographic, as we know.

But there is still not a considerable impact in the area casinos make their living on. For a while, I was one of the holdouts on this, and in fact still believe there is a marketing angle to be played to make MMA more of a casino sport. Yet everyone has told me differently.

I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing that is galling to Dana White. A guy like boxing promoter Bob Arum, who has agitated White with some of the things he has said about mixed martial arts, positioning himself as something of a nemesis, and who is headquartered in the same town no less, literally owns Las Vegas when Pacquiao gets on the stage.

And as well as they have done on pay-per-view, the UFC can only dream of getting the kind of numbers the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight had (2.4 million). Even with the UFC’s initial appearance on Fox mucking up the picture – and you can debate amongst yourselves about how “intentional” the scheduling is – the Pacquiao-Marquez fight may still do better than, say, the second best pay-per-view night the UFC has ever had, the Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin fight last July, which drew 1,160,000 subscribers (UFC’s top draw was the Lesnar-Frank Mir rematch at 1.6 million).

I’m not saying the scenery couldn’t change, not just with pay-per-view but with the grip on the casino culture. Look – the generation that has grown up crazy about the UFC is going to grow into adulthood or middle-age before too long, and they are going to find themselves situated differently in life. They will be better established, with better jobs, their own businesses, more disposable income and more ability to take a weekend once in a while and spend in a Las Vegas casino. Some of them are going to become high-rollers. And then things will get interesting.

That’s because, as I have said again and again, that generation consists of a lot of people who grew up on MMA, and have never even let boxing get into their consciousness. The effect of that over time could be tremendous; that is, if the UFC keeps its nose clean.

So just in case that’s the kind of thing White is concerned about, he should be patient.

For this weekend, though, Pacquiao is the king of Las Vegas, which I guess might make Bob Arum the Lord High Steward.

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