Reclaiming Pay-Per-View's Crown

Undefeated ex-boxing champion FloydMayweather steps into the ring Sept. 19 to fight Juan Manuel Marquez in the cable industry's first big pay-per-view boxing match since May.

Mayweather, who retired in 2007 after drawing more than 3.4 million PPV buys, the most ever for a boxer in a year, is looking to reclaim his crown as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, as well as the industry's biggest PPV draw. Manny Pacquiao arguably now holds both titles.

Mayweather is also tasked with delivering some needed revenue to cable and satellite operators' PPV coffers. After two years in which the boxing category averaged more than $200 million in PPV revenue, it will be lucky to break the $150 million mark in 2009.

That's not an indictment on marquee fighters like Mayweather or Pacquiao, who are almost guaranteed to draw more than 800,000 PPV buys every time they step into the ring. Mayweather alone averages 900,000 buys and nearly $50 million in revenue every time he laces up the gloves for a PPV fight.

But after generating strong PPV boxing returns in 2007 and 2008, HBO decided to pull back on the number of PPV boxing events this year and focus its efforts on a handful of major PPV fights. Given the poor economy, the network chose to swing for the fences with every PPV event and save the doubles or triples for its premium cable channel.

The problem for HBO and cable operators is there aren't that many power hitters in boxing these days. With PPV's “golden boy,” Oscar De La Hoya, hanging up his gloves this year, Mayweather and Pacquiao stand alone as the sport's must-see attractions.

The three boxers have accounted for all but one of the top five most lucrative fights over the past decade — the 2002 Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight being the notable exception.

No current fighter is even in the same PPV weight class.

That makes the performance of Mayweather-Marquez, as well as the officially announced Nov. 9 Pacquaio-Miguel Cotto PPV bout, critical for the category — especially as HBO has no immediate plans to schedule a December event.

Boxing is quickly losing its status as the face of pay-per-view events. That's because World Wrestling Entertainment and the Ultimate Fighting Championship consistently deliver entertaining and attractive events for cable and satellite subscribers — as well as a nice chunk of PPV change for operators.

Still, neither WWE nor UFC can pull in the audience that a true PPV mega-fight can.

The May 2007 De La Hoya-Mayweather fight remains the standard-bearer of the PPV event category, drawing in $136 million in revenue – which HBO points out more than doubled the opening-night box office revenue from the biggest movie premiere ever, 2008's The Dark Knight

Understanding the high stakes for PPV boxing, HBO is rolling out a massive promotional campaign for Mayweather-Marquez — an effort HBO Sports executive Mark Taffet calls “24/7 360 Consumer Surround Sound.” From spots on in-restaurant screens and Home Depot ads to Twitter fight “tweets” from the fighters, streaming content to AT&T mobile subscribers and interactive online ads on sports-oriented and multicultural Web sites, Taffet said consumers will be bombarded by more than 700 million ad impressions by the time the two fighters enter the ring.

The industry hopes that noise will translate into the sweet sound of remote-control clicks from consumers ordering the fight.

Mayweather and the PPV-boxing category also hope the fight is the first step in getting their titles back.

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.