Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Fifty Dollar Prizefight

Sure, the economy is in the dumper. Millions are losing their homes and their jobs. Right now at least, there doesn’t seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a Christmas scene that Ebenezer Scrooge would have loved.

But Golden Boy Promotions CEO, Richard Schaefer and Top Rank, Inc. Chairman, Bob Arum think they’ve got a cure for what ails the boxing fan. It’s coming on January 24th when WBA welterweight champion Antonio ‘The Tijuana Tornado’ Margarito and ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley lock horns at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

It’s a fight fans’ fight that matches up two aggressive boxers with marquee names and it’s a fight that is not going to be accompanied with a lofty pay-per-view asking price - it’s on HBO.

“I think when the country goes through a recession, the people also go through a recession,” said Schaefer of the world’s woes. “Everyone is going through a time of tightening their belts and we as promoters are obviously aware of that. What we wanted to do with this fight is ensure that we can do these kinds of fights, not just on pay-per-view, but on HBO.”

With the world in the vice-like grip of what some economists are predicting will be the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, the powerbrokers in boxing have been forced to be more frugal when it comes to their asking price. The recent pay-per-view flops of Bernard Hopkins vs. Kelly Pavlik in October and Joe Calzaghe vs. Roy Jones in November caused the executives at HBO and the promoters associated with the bouts to re-evaluate their future strategy.

Boxing fans, like all consumers, have had to become much more discerning when it comes to letting go of their dollars. As a result, those involved with the business end of boxing have been forced to take a much more serious look at ticket prices and what actually is, or is not, a pay-per-view worthy attraction.

Schaefer (left) and his business partner Oscar De La Hoya, have turned Golden Boy Promotions into one of the most significant boxing promotional companies in the world.

Even the recent Manny Pacquiao vs. Oscar De La Hoya “Dream Match’ affair fell well short of initial expectations and served as a bellwether for the health of boxing fans’ wallets.

Incredibly, stories abound of spectators that showed up in Las Vegas the very day of the Pacquiao-De La Hoya fight and were able to procure fight tickets at below face value for seats on the floor of the MGM Grand Garden. And even more eye-opening was the fact that they were able to book a room, too.

While somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.25 million households purchased the Pacquiao-De La Hoya event (keeping it from being the financial disasters that the aforementioned Hopkins-Pavlik and Calzaghe-Jones productions were) the buy number was well short of the record of 2.4 million that purchased Floyd Mayweather, Jr.-De La Hoya in May 2007. While the $70 million in pay-per revenue that Pacquiao-De La Hoya produced is nothing to sneeze at, it’s still $60 million short of what Mayweather, Jr.-De La Hoya churned out only a year-and-a-half ago.

So, those that call the shots in boxing, from the suits at HBO, to the promoters, to fighter managers and even the boxers themselves were forced to look around. And what they saw was the face of reality.

“For this fight, Mosley-Margarito, from a price point-of-view, this is their fight,” said Schaefer sounding like a carnival barker trying to lure in skeptical passers by. “For all of those people that complain that they can’t get tickets for these fights, well, you know what? Go and get your fifty dollar seats.”

It was somewhat difficult to determine whether Schaefer was happy or sad when he said that. (My observation is that he was the latter). But for fight fans that have long complained about ticket brokers and casinos buying up all of the seats for big fights, this fight is the answer to their criticisms.

Mosley (left) and Margarito, with Bernard Hopkins looking on, are set to meet again on January 24th in Los Angeles.

“To be able to go and see a fight of this caliber for fifty dollars is just unheard of,” said Schaefer, as he shook his head from side-to-side in wonderment, while practically kicking his foot at the dirt.

For his part, Arum is guardedly optimistic about the match-up on January 24th and he’s hopeful for the prospects of boxing fans that are on the prowl for affordable entertainment.

“Look, you’ve never seen Antonio Margarito in a bad fight and you’ve never seen Shane Mosley in a bad fight either,” said the no-nonsense, gravelly-voiced 77 year-old promoter who routinely talks himself hoarse.

“These two guys are fighters and they have different styles. Mosley is obviously the boxer of the pair, he’s the better technician and Margarito is the ‘Tornado’ who just overwhelms guys, as he did with Cotto, so this should be an outstanding fight.”

Margarito-Mosley, which Arum refers to as “the battle for Los Angeles” is a fight that almost wasn't signed as the money initially being offered to both guys was not enough for either of them to get motivated or take the risk.

HBO eventually stepped up to the plate with some bail-out funds and suddenly Margarito vs. Mosley was pasted together and rescued at the eleventh hour. But just last week the venue was changed from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas to the Staples Center in L.A. because the state of affairs in Las Vegas are such that it couldn’t support this fight as well as the NFL Super Bowl crowd that would have shown up in ‘Sin City’ the next weekend.

Bob Arum has been involved with boxing for nearly 40 years and has seen good times and bad.

While the economic meltdown has been bad for the planet, one possible good outcome for boxing fans is that 2009 is going to see less HBO pay-per-view events and more high caliber fights televised on regular HBO. The word within the industry is that 2009 will see fully half the number of pay-per-views on HBO compared to 2008, when pay-per-views were stacked up month-after-month like cord wood next to a fireplace.

With the ‘Golden Goose’ of boxing pay-per-view likely headed to a retirement village in Puerto Rico and with the heavyweight division in tatters, the number of truly well-known and marketable fighters worthy of pay-per-view is as shallow as the kiddy pool at Waterworld.

So with that, Schaefer and Arum forge ahead with their sales coupons in this frugal new world of boxing that is more like Wal Mart than Saks Fifth Avenue.

“Look, this is a terrific fight,” said Arum, who sometimes sees the glass as half empty. “We’ve made it affordable for the fans and we’re hoping for a big crowd at the live event.”

And for fifty bucks…step right up! You’re in the door!

December 2008

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