Is “The One” the Big One? Estimating the Buyrate For Mayweather vs. Alvarez

Other than the question of whether Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (42-0-1) can be the first fighter to defeat Floyd “Money” Mayweather (44-0) on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada (Inside Fights will have much more on that question tomorrow), the biggest cause of speculation in boxing right now is how successful the pay per view event featuring this fight will be. Much of this speculation was brought on by Mayweather himself; the man known as “Money” constantly brags that he is the biggest thing in sports and that he is the “king” of pay per view. Various leaders at the promoters of the event, titled such as Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions and Stephen Espinoza of Showtime have gone on record as believing that “The One” will break the all-time record for pay per view buys. That record, 2.5 million pay per view buys, was set by Mayweather’s 2007 bout with Oscar De La Hoya. Such lofty goals have a lot of experts, media members and fans prognosticating on the commercial prospects of this pay per view.

An analysis of how well “The One” will perform is not an easy one. Networks, such as Showtime, that distribute pay per view broadcasts closely monitor how pay per views are “tracking” in order to make projections on how many pay per views they will sell. The data that the networks “track” has not been made public but early purchases of the broadcast are probably included. Regardless, early “tracking” by the networks is usually not helpful to form an opinion of how a pay per view will perform because the networks will always say that the broadcast is “tracking” to be a major success.

Thus, we must look to other factors to see how a pay per view will perform. One of those factors is media coverage. There is no doubt that the media coverage for Mayweather-Canelo has been huge. ESPN devoted an entire edition of its magazine to the fight and has a Sports Center “remote” set up at the MGM Grand where their crew has broadcast from all week. The conference calls to promote the fight were attended by huge numbers of media representatives. Steve Kim of Maxboxing reported that Canelo’s media day at his training camp was “tightly packed” and the third episode of “All Access: Mayweather-Canelo” showed that Mayweather’s media day was also very well-attended. All of this media coverage gets the word out about the fight and does a lot to encourage fans to purchase the pay per view. Similarly, the fight has attracted an unusually large number of sponsors who, according to Schaefer, have funded marketing efforts for “The One” to the tune of $40 million (including $10 million from AT&T). Further, while the marketing arm of CBS (the parent company of Showtime) has not really kicked in, Espinoza said that boxing fans are in for a treat at the start of the college football game airing Saturday on CBS. That game, featuring a rematch of last year’s “game of the year” between defending champions and number one ranked Alabama and number six ranked Texas A&M (led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny “Football” Manziel) should draw an enormous rating and be an excellent vehicle to promote the fight.

In order to promote the fight, the fighters participated in a multi-city press tour. These events drew large crowds and did a great deal to create big hype for the fight. Similarly, the fighters staged their “Grand Arrivals” at the MGM on Tuesday and reports were that the crowd was much larger than similar promotional tools for previous mega-fights. Reading the press tour and “Grand Arrival” tea leaves would suggest this fight could break the record.

Some other factors that prove that this is a big fight come with some negatives. Tickets for the fight sold out in minutes and set a new record for a live gate in Nevada. However, many of the tickets for the fight were set aside for ticket brokers and some of those tickets are still available for purchase on the secondary market. Schaefer has reported that sales of tickets for closed circuit broadcasts of “The One” throughout Las Vegas are through the roof. He also reported that “tracking” of how ticket sales will be for the broadcast of “The One” in movie theaters (through Fathom Events) is four to five times better than movie theater sales for Mayweather’s 2012 bout with Miguel Cotto which sold 1.5 million pay per view buys. That said, closed circuit and movie theater sales do not count as pay per view buys.

Then there is there is the madness that has already occurred this week and how it effects the promotion of the fight. First, Oscar De La Hoya, the figurehead and namesake behind Golden Boy and the former champion who acts as a mentor-of-sorts to Canelo, returned to rehab for treatment of his addictions. His press statement referenced the fight numerous times leading the skeptics to speculate that his return to treatment was planned given that it was sure to make the papers. However, De La Hoya would have been in Las Vegas doing numerous appearances and press interviews to promote the fight so the effect of his return to treatment is not so clear. Then there are the rumors coming out of Las Vegas that Canelo has “hit a wall” (those are the words used by Kim on his twitter feed, @stevemaxboxing) in his weight cut and he will not make the 152 pound catchweight. Canelo himself said on Tuesday that he was 153 pounds and would make the weight. The pictures from the “Grand Arrival,” where Canelo appeared to be a middleweight or super middleweight, tell a different story. This story will continue to develop and it is certainly possible that its evolution will either add drama that increases buys or leads people to believe Canelo is weight-drained and has even less of a chance of winning (which would decrease the motivation to purchase the fight).

With signals mixed like this, the next place to look is the internet. Inside Fights resident expert at using internet search data to project pay per view buys, Scott Sawtiz, had this to say:

“Will it break 2 million pay per view buys? I’m not sure. Based on web traffic alone this fight seems to be big, big enough to hit 1.7mm or so, but I’m not sure if it can do significantly better numbers than that. Canelo/Mayweather is getting good traffic BUT the problem is that web traffic isn’t always an indicator of how something will do. Floyd is a big enough name that 1.2mm against anyone is a near certainty but here’s the thing: Canelo is a name but he isn’t a draw. He’s not in the same spot as Floyd was for PBF/DLH that broke all the records. Floyd wasn’t a massive draw back but he had experience on top for big time fights. Canelo hasn’t. I think you’re crazy to think it’ll go over 2mm in buys … but 1.8mm feels about right.”

To make a prediction, we should look at Mayweather’s last few pay per views. According to Showtime and Golden Boy, his May fight with Robert Guerrero sold over 1 million buys but inside sources say it really only sold 875,000. The promotion of that fight was doomed from the start as no one knew who Guerrero was, there was no press tour or opening press conference and Mayweather did not make himself available to the media. Further, Mayweather documentaries that aired on CBS and Showtime as well as Showtime’s “All Access” show were sparsely viewed. Mayweather’s fight before Guerrero, with Cotto, was a different story because Cotto was an established star who had previously headlined highly successful pay per views. It also had a full promotional tour which was backed by Mayweather’s former network HBO (which has more subscribers than Showtime). That fight did 1.5 million buys.

One of the things that should be noted when comparing Cotto and Canelo is that Cotto’s fanbase in Puerto Rico that purchased the pay per view counted towards the pay per view total. Canelo’s fans in Mexico do not count because the fight is not pay per view south of the border. That negative is perhaps counterbalanced by Mexican-American Canelo supporters like the 40,000 who packed the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas for his last fight. But, similar to what Scott mentioned, Cotto had been a star for a number of years and featured on HBO and pay per view many times… Canelo does not have as much exposure.

Indeed, its Canelo’s lack of exposure and past drawing power that really makes this fight difficult to project. He has been showcased as a star without having fought the really tough fights to get there. He has not put forth the dominant performance or been in a fight of the year that has the general public demanding his fights.

The other issue is just how far behind HBO Showtime is with respect to promoting pay per views. They have not had a pay per view sell over a million buys in this millenium. Additionally, the ratings for Showtime’s “All Access” are abysmal compared to HBO’s “24/7.” Could it be that Showtime is just unable to captain a huge event like HBO does.

Keeping all that in mind, this is still Mayweather and he brings a lot to the table. The prediction here is 1.5 million buys, the same as the Cotto fight.

Such a result would be terrific for the sport but one must wonder if it would be enough to satisfy the promoters and Showtime. Remember, Mayweather is guaranteed $41.5 million, Canelo $12 million (according to Dan Rafael of ESPN), Danny Garcia is getting $1.5 million, Lucas Matthysse $800,000, Ishe Smith will be paid $250,000 and Carlos Molina $100,000. The purses for those fighters alone are $55.15 million. Thus, a lot of pay per views will have to be sold to allow the promoters to recoup those purses. How many buys will go a long way to determining the profitability of “The One” and probably have a lot to say about future Showtime pay per view offerings.

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