Pay-per-view boxing legend Manny Pacquiao will once again step in the ring Saturday night for a fight that boxing fans will have to dish out a fee to watch.
Yet instead of paying upwards of $50 on PPV to watch Pacquiao go for his 60th career win against hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse, fight fans will only have to pay digital streaming sports service ESPN+'s $4.99 monthly fee to catch the fisticuffs.
Pacquiao is the second most lucrative fighter in PPV boxing history, and his 2015 fight with all-time PPV boxing champion Floyd Mayweather remains the most-purchased PPV event of all time with 4.6 million buys. Even at 39 years old and well past his prime, Pacquiao's fight with Matthysse could have done decent PPV business, especially since the category hasn’t had a major fight through the first seven months of the year.
Yet the Malaysian-based fight—part of a full day of live boxing content that will air on ESPN and the ESPN app prior to the main event – will instead mark the highest-profile boxing match to stream live on the upstart digital service, which launched in March to much fanfare.
ESPN’s multi-year, multi-media deal with boxing promotion company Top Rank Inc. reached last year will provide the subscription service with several marquee boxing matches to offer in the near future, including last month's Terence Crawford-Horn welterweight title fight.
Pacquiao's last fight -- a 12-round loss to Jeff Horn in 2017 -- aired on ESPN and drew more than 3 million viewers, according to published reports.
“Saturday’s boxing lineup gives us the ability to own the night with boxing fans, and the Manny Pacquiao-Lucas Matthysse match is a perfect example of the world-class caliber of events we envisioned for ESPN+,” said Burke Magnus, executive vice president of programming and scheduling. “The match also provides us with an incredible opportunity to generate compelling storytelling across all our platforms.”
With new digital sports services like ESPN+, Turner’s Bleacher Report Live and combat sports-themed service DAZN seeking to secure rights to live boxing content along with traditional premium cable services Showtime and HBO, it’s not that far-fetched to question whether the PPV fight business is on the ropes.
The scheduled Sept. 15 Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin rematch will be the first major PPV event to be offered to fight fans in 2018 (the bout was initially scheduled for May 5 but was cancelled after Alvarez tested positive for performance enhancing drugs).
The last major PPV boxing match was Alvarez-Golovkin I last November, which drew approximately 1.3 million PPV buys, according to industry sources. That fight, combined with the 4.3 million buys generated by the August 2017 Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor PPV fight, made 2017 one of the more successful years in PPV history.
While the PPV boxing category is closely watching the increasing competition from digital sports services, executives say the category remains very viable. PPV boxing historically has been cyclical, and executives say the category is in a downturn right now.
“The PPV industry is only as good as the fighters it can draw, and right now there’s no doubt that there’s a lull with respect to fighters that can carry a PPV event,” said In Demand senior vice president of programming and business development Mark Boccardi. He also said the industry has been spoiled in recent years by the likes of Mayweather, Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto and Juan Manuel Marquez, who often fought multiple times a year on PPV.
“Even though there are some great fighters in the sport, right now there are fewer PPV draws than we’ve had over the past few years,” Boccardi added. “We’re confident that the big PPV's will remain tentpoles for the industry in boxing and in MMA.”
Meanwhile, HBO is still bullish on boxing and PPV. The network is confident that fight fans will ante up $74.99 in September for Alvarez-Golovkin despite the lack of marquee PPV boxing events this year.
“I actually think boxing is in great shape when you look at the people who all of the sudden want to be involved in boxing in a big way,” HBO pay-per-view vice president Tony Walker said.