Pacquiao: Next Pay Per View King?

News Philippines Dec 17, 2008 at 12:17 pm

By Romel Ferriol Bernardo

Top Rank Inc. Chairman Bob Arum has been one of the most prolific and successful promoters of boxing. Having promoted more than 9,000 fights since 1966 that include that of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, he knows when a fight will perform well when it comes to the bottom line.

Two days before the showdown between the sport’s most popular and bankable prize boxer and the game’s recognized pound for pound best fighter, Arum confidently told reporters that the pay per view buys for the de la Hoya – Pacquiao could get near, if not break, the 2.4 million pay per view buys generated by the Oscar de la Hoya – Floyd Mayweather fight in 2007 which is considered as the highest grossing boxing event in terms of gate receipts and pay per view sales.

“Based on those early numbers and based on experience the event will perform extremely well. If I had to guess, anywhere between 1.6 million and two million homes, which is a home run,” declared the 77-year old promoter basing his forecast on the early reports from Direct TV and Dish Network that keep track of pay per view buys in the United States.

De la Hoya as Pay Per View King

Arum’s optimism is very well founded especially when you have “Golden Boy” and “Pacman” fighting each other in the card. While Pacquiao arguably brings something to the table, Oscar de la Hoya, who many boxing experts say could be boxing’s last milking cow, is mainly responsible for the looming success of this pay per view extravaganza and Arum knows this very well. After all, he was Oscar’s promoter before the latter decided to put up his own promotional outfit in 2001. While their partnership didn’t last long, Arum and de la Hoya’s partnership has produced the biggest and most successful fights outside the heavyweight division, one of which is de la Hoya’s showdown with superstar Felix Trinidad in 2001 dubbed “Fight of the Millennium” which was bought by about 1.4 million homes. In all his 18 pay per view appearances since 1995, his pay per view buys totaled almost 12 million hits which can be translated to $ 626 million in sales.

Following his humiliating and shocking loss to Filipino bomber Manny Pacquiao, de la Hoya must now consider walking away from the game with pugilistic legacy secured – and his facilities still intact. When an HBO sports commentator brought up the possibility of retirement during his post fight interview, de la Hoya hints that hanging up his gloves is a possibility after he got the worst whipping ever in his professional boxing career. “My heart is still in it, that’s for sure. But you have to be smart and make sure you think about your future plans.”

Will the impending exit of boxing’s brightest star and biggest attraction spell bleak future if not the end for boxing? The answer is no if you ask Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports which carries and distributes pay per view fights of de la Hoya and Pacquiao.

Saying that the result of “The Dream Match” just signals a changing of the guard, Greenburg is still optimistic in the future of the combat sport. “If it’s the end of Oscar De La Hoya, it’s the beginning of the superstardom of Manny Pacquiao. In my eyes it’s just the passing of the baton, like when Marciano beat Louis and Holmes beat Ali.”

Aside from the imminent departure of the acknowledged pay per view king, boxing also has to deal with other threats to its marketability and survival like the rising popularity of mixed martial arts that attract predominantly younger demographics especially among whites – an important segment of the market that boxing doesn’t enjoy the support of. Bob Arum himself admitted that boxing now primarily appeals to minorities in America especially among blacks and Latinos and to older demographics.

This observation is supported by Dave Meltzer, writer for Yahoo! Sports who saw a “decidedly older crowd” in the 15,001 spectators who showed up during the fight. And while there were younger people present in the MGM Grand, Meltzer observed they were “nationalistic, with Latinos supporting De La Hoya and Filipinos backing Pacquiao.”

It’s also worth noting to cite that big fights that don’t have nationalistic or for that matter Latino element also did miserably in pay per view sales. Two of which include the recent fight between Americans Kelly Pavlik and Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones-Joe Calzaghe tussle which generated only 190,000 and 230,000 pay per view buys respectively.

Does Pacquiao fit the bill to be boxing’s next biggest attraction?

While Pacquiao’s crowd pleasing style helps sell his fights, his ability to generate big pay per view numbers is still a suspect. Yes, his three fights with legendary Erik Morales and his rematch with Mexican ring technician Juan Manuel Marquez sold one million and 400,000 pay per view buys. It should be noted though that in those fights, Pacquiao was with two named fighters who also have strong following. But when tasked to sell his fights on his own – that is when he is with lesser known opponents – Pacquiao’s numbers are not that impressive. His derby with David Diaz, from whom he snatched the World Boxing Council Lightweight title, performed disappointingly that official figures were not disclosed publicly. Various sources place the pay per view numbers of the “Lethal Combination” card at 250,000 at best. The same was estimate was also used in Pacquiao’s war with unheralded Jorge Solis in Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas.

With his Olympic background, good looks and achievements in the ring, it might be difficult, if not impossible, to replace de la Hoya whose popularity transcends the sweet science and whose charisma has captured the imagination not just of boxing aficionados but the general public who love and follow sports. With the swan song expected (or begged) to be heard from the Golden Boy anytime soon, his tormentor Manny Pacquiao is the only viable and logical successor who could try to fill in his (boxing) shoes.

Besides everyone seems to like Pacquiao who evidently won new fans and believers after his emphatic victory last Sunday.

Long time HBO color commentator Larry Merchant, the one who first floated the idea of Pacquiao fighting de la Hoya, is convinced that Pacquiao is what boxing needs at this point. “When you also have a guy who fights, who is willing to take to risks, to put his nose in there, a guy who thrills people, well, that’s a harder way to do it. When somebody does it, it’s the best boxing has to offer.”

They say great things like gifts come in small packages. Last Sunday, boxing received one – something that the sport badly needs to remain relevant.

(Romel Ferriol Benardo, a sports contributor to abs-cbnnews.com, is also the executive producer of ABS-CBN’s news documentary program, “The Correspondents.”)