Heavyweight PPV Picture Shapes Up

Operators received some good news last week when TVKO finalized plans for a November Lennox Lewis-David Tua heavyweight championship fight.

But some industry observers worried that yet another controversial decision in a major heavyweight fight could curtail PPV profits from future bouts.

In an 11th-hour deal, TVKO secured PPV rights for the Lewis-Tua event, just hours before it was expected to go to a purse bid, said TVKO senior vice president of programming Mark Taffet.

Had Tua promoter America Presents outbid Lewis promoter Panos Eliades for the fight, TVKO would most likely have lost distribution rights to competitor Showtime Event Television.

Instead, TVKO will offer the fight via PPV, although no deals have been struck with the various PPV networks. It will retail for a suggested $44.95, Taffet said.

The fight, to take place in Toronto or Las Vegas, could generate more buys than the 380,000 for last April's disappointing Lewis-Michael Grant bout, Taffet said.

"Lewis and Tua are the two best heavyweights right now, and the press recognizes Tua as a tough challenger for Lewis," Taffet said.

"Tua brings a tremendous amount of charisma to the table and possesses a lot of the physical attributes of [Mike] Tyson," he added. "The fight has a tremendous opportunity to do business above and beyond the Lewis-Grant fight."

Meanwhile, SET inched closer to a big third match between Tyson and Evander Holyfield. Holyfield regained the World Boxing Association heavyweight championship Aug. 12 in a controversial decision against John Ruiz. That fight was on Showtime.

The heavyweights' previous two fights combined for more than 1.5 million PPV buys.

Tyson, however, will most likely fight Andrew Golota in an October PPV event before he meets Holyfield, sources said.

Several operators, however, expressed concern about a rash of recent disputed decisions and other boxing ills that could affect future PPV buys, particularly with respect to Holyfield. His March 1999 bout against Lewis ended in a controversial draw, prompting local and federal investigations over possible fight-fixing improprieties.

"I'm not sure how many more of these boxing controversies the buying public will put up with," said the operator. "Between Tyson's problems and the Holyfield decisions, I'm not sure if as many viewers would be willing to watch a third battle if it happens as the previous two."

Showtime Sports and event programming senior vice president and executive producer Jay Larkin said Holyfield-Tyson III would be a huge draw for the industry.

"In a time when the industry is going through a dry spell in PPV, I would think operators would get behind a fight such as Tyson-Holyfield," Larkin said. "There's no bigger draw in the heavyweight division than Holyfield, other than Tyson."

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.