New York -- For Media General Cable, it wasn't
just the loss of another pay-per-view heavyweight-boxing event -- the postponed June 6
Evander Holyfield-Henry Akinwande fight -- that was so infuriating.
The fight -- for which operators and distributor Showtime
Event Television were charging $39.95 -- was a big deal: It represented the first decent
PPV payday since November's Holyfield-Michael Moorer fight, and it was also the
biggest potential PPV event on tap for a while to come.
"We haven't had a mega-fight yet this year --
usually, we have at least two," said Cindy Caverly, PPV-product manager for Comcast
Corp.'s Sacramento (Calif.) Cable. "I've been calling to find out
what's on the horizon for the rest of this year, and it's bleak."
What's more, it was postponed the day before the
event, so most marketing dollars had already been spent and wasted. Fairfax, Va.-based
Media General and other Washington, D.C.-area operators alone figured that they spent more
than $500,000 promoting the nonevent.
Stuff happens when you deal with live-entertainment events
like boxing, though. "It's the nature of the beast," was how U.S. Satellite
Broadcasting PPV director Colleen Galloway put it.
SET certainly didn't want to lose the fight, which the
New York State Athletic Commission scrubbed when Akinwande tested positive for hepatitis
B, a highly contagious liver virus.
But the way that the postponement went down was too much
for Media General PPV manager Ted Hodgins.
Last Monday, Hodgins faxed letters to SET executives,
putting them on notice: His system, with 220,000 addressable subscribers, is not prepared
to offer any future SET events on PPV until it sees the distributor take steps to reduce
the risks of last-minute cancellations.
"We're not going to beat them up on the
past," Hodgins said last week. "But going forward, this is the deal. We're
not prepared to do business with companies that don't have good risk
Hodgins said he was confident that SET would give him the
assurances that he sought. Mark Greenberg, SET's executive vice president of
corporate marketing and communications, said earlier last week that SET would do what it
could to try to make sure that the required tests are done sooner, stressing that athletic
commissions, and not PPV distributors, regulate boxing.
The cancellation was painful, but it could have been a
public-health nightmare if the problem was detected after the fight, Greenberg said.
"I feel for all of us in this," he added.
Akinwande wasn't the only troubled fighter on the
"D-Day" card, which was scheduled for New York's Madison Square Garden. Ray
Mercer also tested positive for hepatitis, according to published reports. And female
boxer Maria Nieves-Garcia, who would have fought the popular Christy Martin, was shown to
be 21 weeks pregnant.
Operators said more than 90 percent of PPV-boxing buys come
on the day of the event, so it's hard to say for sure how well the fight would have
done. Greenberg said that generally speaking, the advance sales were tracking ahead of
Nov. 8's Holyfield-Moorer contest, which recorded a disappointing 600,000 buys.
Other PPV managers, including Galloway, agreed that the
fight was doing better than Holyfield-Moorer.
"Buys had really picked up," she said. "So
we ended up as of 10 a.m. Friday with over 16,000 orders."
Hodgins, too, said aggressive marketing had helped to nudge
advance orders up to around 340, which could have indicate a better total than
Holyfield-Moorer's 2,500 buys.
Others said Akinwande's lackluster reputation made the
fight a slow sell. Asked if buys were at the Holyfield-Moorer level, the PPV manager in
one big Northeast market said dryly, "I hadn't heard that."
Greenberg said SET's first aim was to reschedule
Holyfield-Akinwande, but various published reports indicated that talks were under way to
pit Holyfield against heavyweight contender Vaughn Bean -- a prospect that didn't
exactly set PPV managers' hearts racing. Several expressed hope that promoters could
match up Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, whose contract with Home Box Office lapses after he
fights in September. "That's the fight that the fans want to see," Galloway
The next sizable PPV bout is former heavyweight champ James
"Buster" Douglas versus Lou Savarese via TVKO June 25. Greg Graff, Coaxial
Communications' senior vice president of marketing and programming, said he quickly
plugged Douglas-Savarese media spots last Saturday, after hearing that the Holyfield fight
was canceled. Douglas lives in Columbus, Ohio, where Coaxial is based, so that fight
should be a strong performer for the operator -- and it may do better as a result of the
"I think that there are people who do have some type
of a budget, and they're not going to buy two $30-something events per month,"
In order to juice that Thursday-night event, TVKO offered
operators the chance to buy out the fight's PPV revenue by guaranteeing payment of
7.5 cents per addressable home across their systems, several operators said last week.
Those guarantees are hard for MSOs with high percentages of
addressable homes. But for Coaxial, which is centered in the Columbus area, it could mean
a better payday, Graff said.