After barely registering a pulse for the first eight months
of the year, the pay-per-view boxing genre is beginning to show signs of life -- and not a
moment too soon for operators.
The industry is hoping that several fourth-quarter fights
-- including a potential Mike Tyson bout -- can salvage 1998 PPV-budget projections, which
were ravaged by the lack of major boxing events.
Boxing's recovery got off to a good start Sept. 18, as
TVKO's Oscar De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez fight generated more than $25 million in
PPV revenue -- better than doubling the industry's best effort to date this year.
But it will take an $80 million to $100 million proposed
December fight from Tyson to really get the industry back on track, cable operators said.
Yet Tyson's boxing status is still in the air: The
beleaguered fighter has to pass a battery of psychological tests this week ordered by the
Nevada Athletic Commission before the NAC gives Tyson his license back.
Without it, he would have to fight overseas, which could
pose distribution dilemmas for operators. Tyson is scheduled to meet with the NAC -- which
banned him for life after he bit Evander Holyfield's ear in their June 1997 bout --
If the results of Tyson's psychological exam are
positive, sources said the commission will most likely grant Tyson his license, setting up
a major December PPV event.
With boxing generating a record $240 million last year,
according to Showtime Event Television -- due mostly to the record-breaking, $100 million
June Tyson-Holyfield rematch -- operators budgeted for a similarly strong performance this
year. But injuries to top stars and an inability of matchmakers to put together
high-profile events has crippled the industry:
Rising PPV attraction De La Hoya's injured
wrist forced the postponement of a June PPV event that was eventually rescheduled for Home
Heavyweight champions Holyfield and Lennox Lewis
were unable to come to terms to meet in a highly anticipated spring fight.
A June Holyfield-Henry Akinwande fight was postponed
indefinitely after Akinwande contracted the hepatitis B virus. Holyfield went on to fight
on Showtime two weeks ago.
As a result, most MSOs found themselves far below
1997's PPV-revenue figures through the first half of the year. MediaOne, for example,
saw PPV revenues for the first six months fall by $8 million -- a 42 percent decline
Cox Communications Inc. also suffered an $8 million loss,
or a 30 percent drop from last year, while Comcast Corp. reported a $6.6 million
PPV-revenue decline during the second quarter, or a 40 percent drop.
But operators said the De La Hoya-Chavez bout, a scheduled
Nov. 21 De La Hoya-Ike Quartey fight and a potential Tyson fight could give them a
"I don't know if [the fights] would make up for
the budget expectations set out at the beginning of the year, but they would certainly
help," said Marty Youngman, senior product manager for Cox in San Diego.
"These fights will continue to invigorate the
category, and we look forward to offering the matches," said Michael Woods, vice
president of marketing for Prime Cable. "The success of [De La Hoya-Chavez] indicates
that the consumer notices that there's been a lack of good boxing events and is
willing to pay to watch boxing on PPV."
TVKO's De La Hoya-Chavez fight -- a rematch of a June
fight shown only on closed-circuit screens -- proved to be a real shot in the arm for
operators. While TVKO would not reveal specific numbers, the event pulled in around
600,000 buys, easily besting this year's previous high of 300,000 buys, generated by
SET's March Chavez-Miguel Angel Gonzalez match, according to sources close to the
"In major markets throughout the Southeast, the De La
Hoya-Chavez fight achieved record-setting numbers; as a result, this will rank among the
highest-revenue-generating nonheavyweight fights in history," said Mark Taffet,
senior vice president of programming and operations for TVKO. "This fight exceeded
all of our expectations."
"Boxing fans really needed something, so this came at
a good time for the industry," said Youngman, whose system generated a robust 3.6
Cindy Caverly, PPV-product manager for Sacramento (Calif.)
Cable, also said subscribers responded well to this event -- the system drew more than
2,400 buys, or a 1 percent buy-rate --- especially since the first fight was not available
While SET executives said the company is waiting to see if
Tyson gets his license back before scheduling an event, sources close to the situation
said a Dec. 12 PPV fight is in the works, although an opponent has yet to be named.
If Nevada rejects Tyson, he would have to wait until July
1999 to reapply. Rather than waiting another year, sources close to the situation said
Tyson would probably fight overseas, where he would not have to be sanctioned.
But such a move would pose a dilemma for operators. The
industry has chosen not to carry Semaphore Entertainment Group's Ultimate Fighting
Championship events because the major state athletic associations have not sanctioned
the mixed-martial-arts competition.
At least one top 10 MSO PPV executive said that MSO would
have some concerns about carrying a nondomestic Tyson fight.
"We would have to take a real close look at the
situation before we make a decision," the operator said.