Saturday’s marquee fight in boxing is one I have been looking forward to for quite some time, as undefeated champion Errol Spence Jr. faces undefeated champion Mikey Garcia. It’s an absolutely terrific fight between two of the very best talents in boxing today, and a great test for both men.
It’s also going to absolutely bomb.
Because for all my excitement about this as a boxing match, there are equal parts frustration about it as a business move. That’s because PBC made the decision to air this as a PPV. And not only that, but to charge $74.95 for it.
Pay-per-view has historically been a major part of boxing’s business model, with the biggest fights taking place there. And it’s been a great success at many times. For a number of years now, that boxing PPV landscape has been dominated by three names - Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and (to a lesser extent) Canelo Alvarez. There’s much hand-wringing regularly done about how “PPV is dead” and boxing’s business model is failing, but that’s simply not true. In 2015, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao pulled in a record smashing 4.6 million buys. In 2017, Mayweather came close to beating his own record with 4.3 million for his fight against Conor McGregor. Mayweather vs. Canelo in 2013 did 2.2 million, and both Canelo vs. GGG fights topped 1 million. There’s clearly still room in the market for big PPV events.
But if you remove the names Mayweather, Pacquiao, and Canelo, a look at recent boxing PPVs suddenly becomes considerably more bleak. Here’s a listing of all US PPV fights outside of those three from the past 10 years with their buys:
4/3/10 - Roy Jones Jr. vs. Bernard Hopkins II (150,000)
12/3/11 - Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito II (600,000)
9/15/12 - Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (475,000)
10/12/13 - Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (375,000)
6/7/14 - Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez (315,000)
10/17/15 - Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux (150,000)
7/23/16 - Terence Crawford vs. Viktor Postol (55,000)
11/19/16 - Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward (165,000)
3/18/17 - Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs (170,000)
6/17/17 - Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward II (130,000)
12/1/18 - Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury (325,000)
That’s 11 fights total, averaging out to a pretty unimpressive 265,000 buys each. The numbers get even worse if you just focus on the most recent years. Draw a line between the 315,000 buys for Cotto vs. Martinez in 2014, and the absolutely dreadful 150,000 buys for GGG vs. Lemieux in 2015 and you see two clearly distinct sets of data. From 2010-2014 you have one bomb in Jones vs. Hopkins, but the rest performing at 300K or above, including a very impressive 600K for Cotto vs. Margarito. From 2015-today you have six fights, with only one getting above 200,000. The average for this six is an embarrassing 166,000.
Which brings us back to Spence vs. Garcia. Because for as great of a fight that it is (and, to be clear, it’s a great fight), it does feature two fighters with virtually no widespread name recognition. You could look at the pretty good December number for Wilder vs. Fury and say there’s momentum here, but Heavyweights will always draw, and both Wilder and Fury have a certain fan base. Sadly, Spence and Garcia are closer in name recognition to Crawford and Postol than they are to Wilder and Fury. Add in the wildly expensive price tag, and the chances of this doing sub-100,000 buys are pretty large.
The big winner out of this event could end up being DAZN. The subscription service has made a significant advertising push of the idea that they are an alternative to PPV. Much of that push has centered around the crown jewel of their programming: Canelo Alvarez. And if the stars all line up, it’s entirely possible they end up with both GGG and Wilder under their banner soon, which would give them basically everyone who has drawn well on US PPV in the past 5 years and is not named Floyd Mayweather. If they close those deals, and if they continue to present big fights not on PPV, it could indeed mean serious trouble for the PPV business.
Of course, there’s a very big “if” in there. “If” DAZN stays off of PPV. Yes, that’s their big model right now. But it was also PBC’s big model when they came out. And here we are, looking at a PBC PPV that no one wants to buy. It’s easy to tell fans that the latest Demetrius Andrade fight won’t be on PPV. It becomes much harder to book Canelo vs. GGG III, look at those million buys they previously generated, and decide to make that one available for a $9.99 subscription.
But the model is there. For years, one of the top PPV performers across the board was WrestleMania. Then, a few years back, WWE unveiled their Network where, for a $9.99 price tag you could get a huge library of content and all PPVs for free, WrestleMania included. Buys for the big show have, of course, plummeted, but the model has worked for them regardless.
This weekend, PBC will surely see abysmal numbers, but without that subscription revenue to offset it. What steps they take in response, and what response that prompts from their competition at DAZN, will reveal much about the future of boxing’s business side. Hopefully that’s a future that doesn’t cost $74.95