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Lewis-Tyson Pays Off Big

6/16/2002 8:00 PM Eastern

After all the controversy and hype that led up to the event, the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight-title bout proved to be a financial knockout for the struggling pay-per-view industry, breaking the all-time record for event revenue.

But Lewis's eighth-round demolition of Tyson on June 8 also took out the PPV industry's biggest cash cow, and left industry executives wondering whether the fight's revenue boost to the category would be short-lived.

The Lewis-Tyson bout pulled in 1.8 million PPV buys and $103 million in PPV revenue, according to co-promoters HBO Pay-Per-View and Showtime Event Television.

It surpassed the $99 million revenue mark set by Evander Holyfield's second bout with Tyson in 1997, but buy figures fell short of Holyfield-Tyson II's 1.99 million.

Still, it was the first PPV boxing event to surpass 1 million buys since a September 1999 fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad delivered 1.25 million. It also provided a huge boost to the struggling PPV-event category. This single fight took in the equivalent of one-third of the $297 million generated by all PPV events in 2001.

"It was a PPV masterpiece that lifted the sport and gave boxing fans a night to remember," HBO PPV senior vice president Mark Taffet gushed. "We knew going in that Tyson-Lewis was taking place on a PPV stage that was bigger than any event that preceded it."

Showtime Sports and Event Programming senior vice president of sales and affiliate marketing Donovan Gordon added that the fight exceeded even the most liberal expectations.

"It was a big fight, and I think people feel like they got their money's worth," Gordon said. "We were able to mix the perfect recipe for a successful PPV event: We gave people a compelling event that they wanted and the industry aggressively marketed it."

Most operators also reported higher-than-expected buys for the fight, which retailed at an unprecedented $54.95. A majority of systems generated 45 percent of fight PPV revenue, with SET and HBO PPV evenly splitting the remaining 55 percent.

AT&T Broadband spokeswoman Tracy Baumgartner said the fight was "very popular," although she said it was still too early to provide complete performance results throughout the MSO.

"We did better than we had expected," Baumgartner said.

DirecTV Inc. set PPV event buy and revenue records for the event, although executives would not reveal specific figures.

"The fight performed well above our expectations," DirecTV senior vice president of programming acquisitions Michael Thornton said. Most buys came the day of the event, when DirecTV charged $59.95.

As with past events, many of the buys came a few hours before fight time, which some industry observers said overloaded the PPV ordering apparatus for some operators.

SET executive vice president of corporate strategy and communications Mark Greenberg estimates that as many as 250,000 buys may have been lost because some operators couldn't handle demand.

"We probably could have broken 2 million," Greenberg said.

Inevitably, the appeal of Tyson and Lewis fighting in the ring was able to supersede the controversies that led up to the event.

The bout — which yielded an unprecedented co-promotional agreement between PPV rivals SET and HBO PPV — was mired in uncertainty immediately after a January pre-fight press conference brawl between Tyson and Lewis.

Weeks later, the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to grant Tyson a boxing license in the state, forcing a postponement of the originally scheduled April 3 event from Las Vegas.

After Memphis, Tenn., stepped up to host the fight, a brazen Tyson was criticized for a verbal barrage of sexually offensive remarks aimed at several female reporters during interviews conducted at his training camp.

LITTLE ON HORIZON

Now, eyes inevitably look ahead to the next big boxing pay day. While there are some potentially intriguing matches in the lower weight classes, Lewis's thorough dominance of Tyson will most likely curtail any future blockbuster PPV events from the heavyweight category.

It's highly unlikely a rematch — part of the original fight deal — will happen in the near future, although neither side would rule it out.

"Mike Tyson is licking his wounds and Lennox Lewis is enjoying the high of his win right now, but time will tell if [a rematch] happens or not," Greenberg said.

Added Taffet: "The contract contemplated a rematch under certain circumstances. As we did prior to making Lewis-Tyson, we will sit down with Lewis and determine a course of action."

Both fighters hinted about retiring during post-fight interviews, although many boxing observers believe both Lewis and Tyson will continue to fight.

Ironically, the fight's record-setting PPV performance will not significantly boost either fighter's individual PPV strengths. While Tyson is arguably the most prolific PPV attraction of all time, his convincing defeat has all but completely eroded his PPV appeal.

"It will be a long time before Tyson ever fights on PPV again," said one PPV executive.

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