ESPN Takes PPV to Web

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Pay-per-view boxing’s fortunes were lifted with a powerful one-two punch last week: ESPN extended the distribution of its April 23 pay-per-view boxing card to the Internet, and Showtime could be jumping back into the ring with an event featuring former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

In a first for a major PPV boxing card, fans will be able to purchase and watch ESPN’s inaugural four-fight show via ESPN.com, according to senior vice president of broadband and interactive sales Matt Murphy.

The $29.95 card features former three-time world champion Shane Mosley, as well as up and coming fighters Antonio Margarito, Kermit Cintron and Juan Diaz.

ESPN.com will feature an identical live feed of the ESPN PPV telecast. Following the fight, the video will be archived and available on demand to fans that purchased the Webcast until April 30.

“We are thrilled to be able to use both our online and television assets to offer this high-quality night of boxing,” said Murphy. “With four great fights on this card, it is an outstanding value for fans.”

Murphy would not project how many PPV or Internet buys the fight card will yield. He added that ESPN will split evenly revenues generated from each PPV buy with MSOs. The network has PPV deals with every operator except Cablevision Systems Corp.

ESPN will run a barrage of spots for the event distributed over all of its cable properties, including ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. In addition, ESPN will create a dedicated Web page for the event on its site, as well as place banner ads promoting the fight on ESPN.com’s boxing area.

Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser beer will serve as the official title sponsor for the event.

Elsewhere, beleaguered former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson will return to the ring. Tyson, who was knocked out last July by Danny Williams — which marked Showtime’s last PPV boxing event — will fight journeyman Kevin McBride June 11 in Washington, D.C.

While a PPV deal has yet to be worked out, sources close to the situation said that Showtime is close to finalizing a deal to distribute the event.

Representatives from Showtime could not be reached for comment at press time.

Tyson was the biggest PPV draw in the 1990s — his fights represent six of the top 10 highest grossing PPV fights of all time — but his appeal has waned of late, due to struggles both inside and outside of the ring.

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