by Charles Jay
NCM Fathom ( with “NCM” standing for National Cinema Network) has announced that it has made a deal to distribute the September 17 Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz fight in movie theaters. The company has the largest cinema broadcast network, and it’s not necessarily something brand new, as Golden Boy Promotions went the theater route four times during 2010.
This one goes into 380 theaters across the country, and what that indicates is that while it is not going to overtake the conventional method of watching these fights (pay-per-view), it certainly goes well beyond just being an “experiment.”
Generally these cinemas will be located within “multiplexes” which contain many different theaters. In that way it is a blast from the past, while at the same time providing a possible “blast off” into the future.
Years ago, theaters were an acceptable venue for the presentation of fights on closed circuit television. In fact, the 1960 rematch between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson drew at least a half a million attendees through theater television, generating better than two million dollars, which was about double what the first fight earned through that route. Back in 1958, Patterson had fought Roy “Cut ‘n Shoot” Harris, and it brought in over $750,000 in closed circuit TV revenue.
As we moved through the 1960’s and 1970’s, other venues were the norm, including bars, clubs, ballrooms, and in some cases, for the biggest fights, arenas were used. There were plenty of arena locations that carried the big fights that took place during this time period, and even in the 1980’s, and more often than not, the crowds were quite considerable.
Of course, this was all before pay-per-view became a very common and accepted way for the mega-fight (and other fights, for that matter) to be channeled into homes, so the viewer did not have to go through the process of getting in a car and traveling to a viewing location.
But when you think about it, the movie theater is a very natural place for the big fights to be shown, and it’s not a particularly bad idea for promoters to engage in it.
For one thing, it’s on a very big screen, and the fact that there are concessions – the life blood for the exhibitor – it makes it very feasible for those businesses to host it, when you compare it to a movie in one of the theaters in their multiplex that might be sparsely attended. Because it’s a “one-off” proposition, it is very easy to shelve a movie showing for a few hours while reserving the spot for a special event.
The movie theater has become an accepted place to watch entertainment, so it is already outfitted for that purpose. There is nothing that has to be “re-purposed” to make it such.
There’s always plenty of parking available for anyone who wants to come; comfortable seats, and a lot of them available. If you have enough advance ticket sales, just open up another theater.
There is the opportunity for the promoter (the boxing promoter, that is) to boost sales because these venues are practically built for foot traffic and in-house advertising. Or haven’t you walked through a theater lobby lately and seen all the posters promoting what was upcoming? If you’ve got imaginative promotional materials, you can surely make it work in a big way, and you can expose your event to people who wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.
Plus, just imagine how many movie watchers they can show the Mayweather-Ortiz commercial to in all the time leading up to the fight? Just stick it in there with all the movie previews at the beginning and you’ve got a captive audience that can’t push the “fast-forward” button. Oh , you say that people will be out there buying popcorn and soda instead? So they’d be looking at the stand-up display for the fight, sponsored by a soda company (at least I’m assuming the promoters are that smart) while they’re standing at the counter. And perhaps walking by the promotional poster on the way back to their seat?
If I was the promoter of this event, I would promote it in many ways like a movie. I would make up posters that made it look like a movie, and I would communicate to the average consumer that what he/she would be watching is a special “premiere” that was going to be well worth their while to attend. I would maybe even combine it with a free matinee movie ticket. But hey, that’s just me.
In a sense, while pay-per-view offers a lot of convenience for the fan, it keeps the experience very internal, so to speak. As we know, people still go to theaters even though they can see any number of things on television. Most people would say that movies are best seen in a theater, because of the atmosphere, and I would probably suggest the same holds true with a fight. Then, when the fight is exhibited outside the home it probably forces more external advertising, not mention more at the “point-of-sale,” and that in all likelihood helps the overall branding of the event and the participants.
And then, of course, there is the issue of pure numbers: when you hold the event in a theater, you know that whoever has watched it has paid for it. With home PPV, you might expect five viewers or more per household.
Al indications are the price is right, however; the theater closest to me has posted a price of $15, while others in my own metropolitan area are selling for $18. Any way you slice it, this beats the price of a pay-per-view subscription (if you watch these kinds of things alone), and considering the special nature of the event, it compares favorably with a movie ticket.
I’ll be reporting again after I get a look at what kind of internal promotion some of these theaters is doing.