Another pay-per-view blockbuster fight, another crippling
Operators last week were left to deal with yet another
black eye for the boxing genre after a controversial decision tainted the otherwise
successful March 13 Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis event.
The lackluster fight -- which ended in a draw after a
dominating performance by Lewis -- generated more than 1 million buys, but the decision
elicited heavy criticism from boxing observers and the media, as well as a criminal
investigation on fight-fixing allegations.
Despite the controversy, operators and industry executives
are already anticipating a potential summer rematch, which could net the industry an
unanticipated major payday during an otherwise barren third-quarter PPV-event landscape.
If a rematch does anywhere near the business that the first
event did, operators will be ecstatic.
The Holyfield-Lewis bout drew about 1.2 million buys,
according to preliminary estimates -- the first event to top the 1 million-mark since Mike
Tyson-Holyfield II pulled 1.8 million buys.
The Lewis fight generated more than $61 million, exceeding
even event distributor TVKO's best projections. If operators get about one-half of
the revenue, a second fight could generate another $25 million to $30 million for the
"The PPV revenue generated from the fight
substantially exceeded our expectations," said Mark Taffet, senior vice president,
distribution, marketing and operations for TVKO.
But the event's controversial ending clouded the
industry's glee over the fight's performance. Billed as the first
heavyweight-unification bout since 1991, the Holyfield-Lewis fight failed to crown an
undisputed champion after three judges scored the fight a draw.
The decision came despite punch statistics showing that
World Boxing Council champion Lewis clearly outpointed Holyfield, who holds the World
Boxing Federation and International Boxing Federation crowns.
The decision was immediately panned by boxing observers,
and it quickly led to accusations of fight fixing aimed particularly at the fight's
promoter, Don King. Last week, the Manhattan district attorney launched a criminal probe
aimed at determining whether the fight's decision was improperly influenced.
Meanwhile, the controversy has renewed calls for government
regulation of boxing. Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) legislation to regulate the sport,
which is currently before Congress, could gain momentum after the Lewis-Holyfield debacle.
"If this doesn't spur the government into looking
at the sport of boxing, nothing ever will," boxing analyst Tony Paige said. "It
could be the first step toward people finally seeing how poorly the sport is run."
For operators, the controversial decision comes at a time
when boxing was beginning to re-establish itself as the industry's major revenue
source. Revenues from Lewis-Holyfield, combined with those from two other 1999 events,
have totaled more than $100 million, more than doubling revenues earned from the category
But instead of further boosting the category, the
controversy has once again given PPV boxing a black eye in many consumers' minds.
"We have a credibility issue as an industry [due to
boxing] that we have to help boxing correct with the consumer," said Robyn Remick,
director of partnership marketing and PPV for AT&T Broadband & Internet Services
(formerly Tele-Communications Inc.).
Operators are hoping that a potential summer rematch will
bring some closure to disappointed consumers. While no deal has been announced, all three
boxing sanctioning bodies have called for a mandatory rematch within the next six months.
Sources close to the situation also said TVKO is already in
discussions with King to distribute a rematch, which could take place sometime in August
Taffet was hesitant to comment on a potential rematch, but
he seemed encouraged.
"We were pleased that Holyfield and Lewis indicated
that they wanted a rematch," Taffet said. "It's premature, however, to
discuss the issues surrounding such an event."
A rematch would also help operators to meet 1999
PPV-event-budget projections, which were compromised after Tyson was imprisoned on a
road-rage assault charge, eliminating a scheduled April event.
"I'm enthusiastic about a potential rematch
the public may have a few misgivings, but everyone is talking about the
event," said Karol Pinnick, programming-product manager for Insight Communications
Co.'s system in Columbus, Ohio.