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Business of Boxing: Manny Pacquiao – An Agent Changes the Game

By Charles Jay

Between his fists of fury and Top Rank’s promotional efforts, Manny Pacquiao has elevated himself into the biggest attraction in the game. And through sheer activity, which includes numerous jumps in weight class, Pacquiao has conquered that mythical throne known as the pound-for-pound championship. While Floyd Mayweather has often proven to be a public relations nightmare for boxing, Pacquiao has been one of its greatest triumphs. He is estimated to have made between $28 million and $32 million in the ring alone last year, and because of the slow “trickle down” of back-end dollars, which are not logged right away, that figure might even be higher.

Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank

Now Bob Arum, the founder of Top Rank, is in the process of steering him to an entirely new level. He and Top Rank president Todd DuBeouf made the savvy move of bringing in an agent with credentials, one that has operated in the mainstream, so to speak, to bring their man the kind of endorsements that have largely eluded boxers in recent years.

Lucia McKelvey learned from some of the best. That’s because she came from the ranks of International Management Group (IMG), the sports marketing giant that originated in Cleveland and is now headquartered in New York City, and revolutionized the way sports, both on a pro and amateur level, were distributed and sold.

IMG has its tentacles in just about everything these days; the company started with McCormack befriending Arnold Palmer and acquiring endorsement and appearance money for the man who was the biggest name in golf. Now it is into arena and stadium management, tournament promotion, ranking systems, corporate consulting, modeling agencies, sports and fitness academies, television production, and much more.

McKelvey isn’t just any alumnus of IMG; indeed, as the Vice President for Sales and Development at IMG Golf, she worked with the athlete that headlined IMG’s original division and became the record-setter for endorsements; that is, before the roof sort of fell in on him. Tiger Woods is a former client of hers, as is Michelle Wie, and when you are dealing on that level, you will have put together quite the Rolodex.

It is that kind of experience, and those kinds of connections, that people very rarely bring over to the boxing world, and that’s why it was such an interesting development that she was brought aboard to handle the endorsements and ancillary opportunities for Manny Pacquiao.

In a sense, McKelvey is Pacquiao’s marketing agent, but in a sense, she is not. She was actually hired as VP of Business Development and marketing for Top Rank, meaning that she is an employee of the promoter. However, since many promotional contracts make a provision for the promoter to share in the ancillary proceeds from a fighter, Arum and his company certainly has a common interest in seeing that the process of securing that kind of income is handled as deftly as possible.

the iron was most definitely hot, as Pacquiao was the most searched athlete on Yahoo during all of 2010, supplanting McKelvey’s ex-client Woods in that respect. Pacquiao was not exactly being ignored when it came to endorsements – he is signed to Nike, like Woods and a lot of other athletes, and has had deals with McDonald’s and San Miguel Beer in his native Philippines. Sports Illustrated had ranked him as one of the highest-earning athletes in the world, and certainly not all of that came from what he did in the ring.

Under McKelvey, however, the plan is to go the global, multi-media route. But that doesn’t mean that move was seamless. McKelvey was shocked to discover that more than three dozen people claimed to be representing Pacquiao, and that created nothing but confusion. “When you look at Manny’s world, there was no continuity,” she told the New York Times. “You name it – they were coming to him and saying, ‘Sign this contract, sign this contract’. That made no sense.”

So one of the major challenges was to streamline and focus the marketing effort. McKelvey’s aim has been to secure him a deal with, at the very least, a car company, a credit card company, a cellphone company and an electronic company. She may have taken care of the latter two with one fell swoop.

It’s a deal that will serve to be transformational in the “other” career of Manny Pacquiao – that of a pitchman.

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