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Fight Fans Focus on Fallow Field

What a difference a year makes.

This time last year, cable operators were still counting the windfall from the May 2, 2015, Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view fight, which generated a record 4 million buys and more than $400 million in revenue.

Fast forward to today, and the category is preparing for HBO’s July 23 PPV event between undefeated welterweight champion Terence Crawford and undefeated contender Viktor Postol -- with far fewer performance expectations.

In fact, the combined revenue and buy take of the category’s two fights so far this year — HBO’s April Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. Fight and its May Canelo Alvarez-Amir Kahn fight — along with next Saturday’s fight won’t even come within a jab’s length of Mayweather-Pacquiao’s performance.

Still, with Pacquiao and Mayweather virtually out of the picture in retirement, HBO said it’s using this year’s PPV telecasts to nurture the next generation of PPV fighters, in the hopes that a few will break through and serve as the industry’s next big cash cow.

“When a promoter identifies a talented fighter and decides to build him up, at some point they have to throw them into the deep waters to see whether they have the thing that they could sell,” HBO vice president, programming, PPV, Tony Walker said. “Crawford is talented, he has an edge to him, and in the fight he’s going up against a fighter that is equally as skilled. Good competitive fights always sell, and it comes during a time where there’s not a lot of competition in the marketplace.”

Crawford has never headlined a PPV card, so it’s not surprising that Walker would not reveal projections for the PPV event. He added that HBO and fight promotion company Top Rank want to gauge Crawford’s appeal on the big stage.

“Manny Pacquiao didn’t generate a million buys in his first PPV event, so we’re going to see how it performs,” Walker said. “We’re optimistic — I don’t know a number, but I know that we and Arum are pretty enthusiastic.”

The industry has stepped up marketing efforts for the fight, committing to the traditional outlay of promotional spots, social-media promotion and other marketing tactics typical of marquee PPV events. With few PPV boxing cards on the slate, Walker said the industry is looking to maximize the revenue return from every fight that’s offered.

“All of the distributors are running cross-channel spots, digital ads and electronic program guide ads, as well as showing past fights featuring the fighters,” Walker said. “There is a lot of marketing around the show.”

While there aren’t any big PPV fights scheduled beyond Crawford-Postol, there maybe a silver lining for the PPV boxing category this fall. Published reports last week quoted boxing promoter Bob Arum as saying that Pacquiao will return to the ring then, just months after announcing his retirement following the Bradley fight.

Walker and HBO could not confirm a potential fall Pacquiao fight, but any in-ring appearance by the PPV category’s former pound-for-pound champion would provide a major revenue boost to the category, regardless of his opponent.

Pacquiao has generated the second-highest level of PPV revenue within the boxing category, behind only Mayweather.